Photo credits: Aneta Pawlik

“What’s your birthday wish?” I asked, as I turned to one of my closest friends.

We celebrated her birthday a few hours prior. Salad, pasta, and chicken. A handful of guests just enough to fill her dining table. No cake, I noticed. Or maybe that was intentional.

I recall, years before, we used to go across town to celebrate her birthday. A high-end Japanese restaurant. A wandering tour around the museums and parks of Manila. Making our own paintings. A nice dinner.

“I don’t really have one,” she said.

A day before, I spent lunch with another one of my friends who also celebrated her birthday. It was Good Friday. The city was a ghost town with the exception of the few crowded restaurants that decided to open that day.

I asked her the same question to which, resounding the friend I mentioned earlier, she also admitted to not have one in mind.

I was led to think about my birthday happening in a few months. (27. Scary age.) And the more I think about what my birthday wish is, the more I am dumbfounded at how quickly my list got shorter and shorter. I could see, with my mind’s eye, how the gadgets and clothes and bags would be the first to go. Poof! Poof!

How strange what aging does to you. It reduces, both bloodily and aggressively, the things you thought would once make you happy.

That nine year old self that wanted the latest Nokia phone. That fourteen year old self that needed that outfit for a party. That twenty year old self that wanted to win the org elections.

And while they were grateful in getting all of those and so much more, it was their older self that saw just how fleeting and time-bound those things were.

In place of the things I once swore to my dad would make me happy forever, I now wished for things that had an element of forever in them. Saint-Exupéry calls it essential things. Other words to describe it include eternal things. generations-after-me kinds of things, healing, the ability to give and forgive, humility, greater faith, and hope.

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