It was just another night in my apartment. I’m alone, and miles away from my home. I’m in such a great place in terms of career, but I’m lonely. I’m not worried about what my next meal is going to be, but am I geniunely happy? I’m not sure. There were nights when I reminisce memories of myself munching my favorite Tinolang Manok with my family in our make-shift wooden table back at home in the Philippines. We would talk about victories and problems. We would laugh and quarrel. We only have a roof without a ceiling over our heads, but I can remember how happy and content I felt in those moments. My sister and I would then do the dishes while we sing our favorite songs, our voices echoing in the woods. I miss my family. There are also nights when I think about my man and those days when I get to see him everyday. Now we’re both far away trying to make a living. Every time my thoughts direct to him, I feel a clawing pain in my chest. I no longer remember how it feels to be squeezed in his tight embrace. It’s almost a year now since we last saw each other personally. Everytime I mull and rant about this kind of life of a constant long distance relationship, he just comforts me with the assurance that once we already saved enough fortune, we can both go back home and live normally like we used to. I would just try to relax just so he can stop worrying, however, the thought of having these limitations just never stops flashing back.
Every time I tuck myself to sleep, all I feel is the pain of longing for people and the pain of knowing that I don’t have a choice. It’s funny how I’m lamenting over this. Going far away for work was my personal decision. I told myself it was for a dream. I told myself it was for a future worth fighting for. However, recently, I’m starting to question if this is all really worth it. Is it really worth sacrificing the present in order to prepare for an uncertain future?
I know that I am not the only one. You are going through this, too. Majority, if not all, of us are sacrificing and gambling our present just so we can prepare for a future that we don’t even know will exist. Many of us are giving up our chance to live in the moment just so we can make a living. There are too many of us who are forced to sacrifice things just so we can fullfil society’s expectations. We are all inside modern-day cages. Have you ever wondered if this is all even worth it? Have you ever had the mad idea of escaping the loop, and just say “Fuck! I’m so done with all of this!” As for me, I have.
The Standards of Society
I find myself in some occassions debating if I should just give everything up. The idea of living simply on top of a mountain, in a small hut with a garden seems like an ideal way to go. The idea of being a free spirit seems to be a great way to go. No one would tell me when to wake up, no schedules, just a pure carefree life. It’s not going to be much, but for me, it’s what real freedom looks like. I oftentimes find myself dreaming about that kind of life. However, I always find myself being pulled back in by systematic complications of the current society that we live in.
As a civilization, we’ve organized ourselves in ways that forces people to follow one structure. All kids are expected to start schooling at the age 7 or younger. They finish Elementary at the age of 12. Then all of them are then expected to continue to High School and finish at the age of 18. Imagine forcing kids to spend 9 hours or so at school from a young age of 7 to 18. It has become a strict standard for everyone that those who are not in school during those ages are considered as garbages of the society. Not only that, people are then expected to pursue college for another 4 years or so. Those who were not able to go to college are then considered by society as uneducated, and are looked down at. As I look back to all of these now, I can only think that since we were kids, we’ve already been inside modern cages. For the first 25 years of our lives, we basically were caged in schools. Now that we’re adults, we are then expected to cage ourselves in corporations in the name of building a good future, or perhaps in the name of making a living. We spend at least 8 hours of our precious time everyday working our butts off until we turn 65, and that’s when we officially retire. If you are lucky to be alive by the age of 65, perhaps that time you can finally rest and explore the world with your Arthritis aching as you climb mountains to go to tourist spots. Isn’t it disappointing? Recently, this thought is what comes in and out of my mind as I go home from overtime at 10pm and tuck myself to sleep at 12am because I need to go to work again at 8:30am the following day. It is exhausting not because of the responsibilities and the heavy work. No, it’s not that. It’s exhausting because we do not have the option to break away from the loop of being a slave to this kind of system eversince we were younger. The only option that society gives us is to follow, and I can’t do that. My heart is too tired to do that.
Is Contentment the key?
My favorite life story is my grandma’s. She’s poor, but she was geniunely happy and contented with her life. You can clearly see it on how easily she exudes happiness when she moves.
Every Siesta time when I was younger, she would fill me with stories of her younger days. She would tell me stories about their daily trip to the nearby river to apply Coconut Oil on their hairs, because they didn’t have Shampoos back in the 1930s. She told me the joys of braiding her sisters’ hairs while telling afternoon stories to pass the time inside their small Sari-sari Store. She would giggle every time she starts telling me about the annual dance she and her sisters attend, where they would usually become the apple of gentlemen’s eyes. Oh how raw her eyes light up geniunely everytime she tells me these stories. That’s just how she is. The joys of simple things matter to her the most.
She told me about how happy she was to have married the love of her life at the age of 19. When she first told me about it, I was taken aback. My instant reply was “19? Isn’t that too young, Lola?” She then replied; “We were in love! What else should we do?” It still didn’t make sense to me after that reply. Realizing what I was thinking, she tapped my forehead and said; “Yes, we were too young, and we had nothing. Yes, we had a small hut for a house. Yes, we ate Sweet Potato for dinner. Yes, we needed to fetch water from a well far in another hill. But, we were happy. It didn’t matter.” I was 16 when I heard that reply. I’ve always been an ambitious kid, and I couldn’t comprehend when my grandma particularly said that it didn’t matter. Years after, as I have become a corporate slave overworking myself day by day, I finally understood her. I envy them, for having the courage of making that difficult decision. I envy my grandma for having that kind of mindset and that level of contentment, because I don’t have that.
I can still remember when I watched the story of Siddhartha Gautama in a musical. How he threw away all of his manly ambitions and strived for inner peace and contentment. It was there when I was first enlightened that perhaps contentment is key to our ever restless souls. I’ve known people, personally and virtually, who searched for inner peace and simple contentments. I respect their choices because I also believe that contentment might be the key to breaking out from the loop. However, I was raised to become a champion. I’m afraid of being contented. I’m afraid of oblivion. I’m afraid of settling. I’m afraid of poverty. I’m afraid of inconvenience. I’m afraid of not winning in the eyes of people. It seems that this kind of mindset has been embedded in me deeply that I cannot seem to find the courage to strap myself out of it. So what should I do?
When I graduated from college way back in 2014, I devised a plan on how to escape this kind of a structured life. I told myself that I would do my best to achieve financial freedom, because back then, I thought that being able to afford necessities will allow me live a carefree life in the future. However, as years passed, I saw billionaires live in the same loop as I am. They are also in their own modern cage and it seems that it is even harder for them to escape compared to those middle class people like me. So I concluded that the only way is to play along the loopholes of the system.
I consider myself lucky to be born in a generation that belongs in a time that is privileged with specific levels freedom. We are blessed with the existence of the Internet. It is also liberating to know that our generation knows how to speak out and not conform to oppressive standards. My generation is fighting this paralyzing system, and I am very happy and thankful with that. The fight to freedom has led to the availability of opportunities like Remote Work, Flexible Working Hours, increase of Leave Credits, and many more progressive moves in the corporate world. I found myself thinking of using these new systems to escape my own modern cages. Perhaps someday, I’ll find myself working remotely from my laptop in my own Nipa Hut on top of a mountain. I promised myself that someday, I will have enough time in a day to do things that I love because I will no longer be enslaved with working in an office from 9 to 5. I will make sure that in the next years to come, I will no longer miss my family and loved ones because I will live seeing them day by day for the rest of my life. I am also making a promise to my future children, to not force them to conform to the standard of schooling. I promise to protect them from the oppressive standard of the society that I myself lived in. Someday.
Perhaps, freedom, for each of us, means very different things. Some would feel more comfortable working in an office everyday, and some won’t. Some would prefer settling as housewives or husbands managing household chores, and some won’t. I definitely acknowledge and respect that. Become your own self. What is most and only important for me is for all of us to find the courage to set ourselves free when we feel like we are suffocated with the system we are living in. Yes, you would be alienated when you are seen to be different. Yes, it would mean compromising a lot. Yes, it would result to many uncertainties. But, have you ever questioned if living inside modern cages is even worth it? Because I did ask myself that a million times, and I’ve come into the conclusion that feeling more alive is what is definitely worth it. So, learn to seek for liberation. Do not be afraid to set yourself free. As for me, I definitely will.