PERSONAL ESSAY: Sail on full speed ahead, till we reach the horizon and beyond

Ours was a dazzling UP campus romance which started at an invitation to a frat ball and continued on long after our college days. It was far from a fairy tale romance for ours was born out of untold differences of personality, outlook and style.

She was focused on her studies, aimed for excellence (as a matter of fact, she earned university/ college scholarships for several semesters in her pre-Law days) while I was an adventurous young man, a free spirit who just simply wanted to pass his subjects while putting premium to adolescent fun and enjoyment.

Gari and Gladys Tiongco with their six grandchildren — two-year old Pax (carried by Gari), Gavin, 14 and Jilly, 15 and on the front row, Gorgy and Dino (both 8) and Geri, 10. Gavin are children of GT and Jenny, Geri and Dino of Gino and Anne and Gorgy and Pax of Greg and Tinine.

She honed her leadership skills and garnered awards as Miss Lakambini, elected councilor at large of student council. among countless others. In short she was a public figure while I was a hoi polloi kind of  UP student. She teased me that I was like a floating debris whom she was instrumental in saving from disaster!  Of course I didn’t agree, I was probably coursing along but not aimlessly, though my only claim to fame then was that I was prematurely appointed illustrious fellow of Upsilon.

We did not struggle to lessen the gap.  We accepted the fact that we were not two peas in a pod. What mattered most was that we immensely enjoyed each other and time was never enough to have each other. We laughed, made fun of and joked about our differences, our deficiencies. We even enjoyed the silliness of incongruities. There were no pretensions of who we were and what we were. We were two genuine and real persons.

Three years after law school, it dawned on her that she wanted to risk her life with me. To be honest I was hesitant because I was scared to discover more differences than similarities. A lifetime commitment with a spouse from the opposite pole goes against the gamut of traditions and against the grain of accepted norm.  It is doomed before it started, so I read.  But if time was never enough with her, why not have her for a lifetime?

The risk was well worth the reward. Throwing all precautions to the wind, we hopped in to the ship of life and plotted our life’s journey with me as captain and her as co-captain or probably vice versa! We took the biggest gamble of our lives.

But alas, early on I discovered more incongruities, more differences. She was an Ilocana tightwad, she was a professional woman and knew no household chore. She was a gregarious social being and loved to be at the helm of civic clubs. I was frugal but with no painful cutbacks. I loved to cook, I was a homebody but I was no angel. We did not welcome these inequities but again, we also did not endeavor to change one another. We knew it was not incompatibility nor a mismatch.

Gari and Gladys Tiongco at Stonehenge in England.

We used these differences to balance the sail, to steady the course of our journey, to maintain our equilibrium. She was my countervailing force and I to her.  Our differences supported our weaknesses. We controlled  the force of the wind and the direction of the sail from different sides. More importantly along the journey, we found no serious issues with one another. Instead we laughed and cried at our differences and imperfections.

We were thrilled no end to discover that through  our divergent personalities, we worked efficiently and effectively. In times of  stress we found stability, calmness and sobriety in the bosom of  a person who viewed the world from a different perspective.  Whatever modest goals we set our sights on, the cooperation,  coordination and chemistry of our efforts were rich rewards by themselves and these always gave us the courage, the inspiration to plod on and face the odds.

From the diversity of their parents’ personalities, our children were born and raised under these circumstances. Here, we were united in the obsession of rearing them properly, to be law-abiding citizens and imbued with our Christian values. As they are now raising their own families,  I silently observed that they are doing to their children what we have done to them. My heart glows in quiet appreciation.

Gari and Gladys Tiongco with sons GT (left), Gino (center) and Greg (right) and their wives Jenny, Anne and Tinine.

Their careers are taking off and are  establishing their  niches in their  respective professions. Needless to say, they are our trophies, the living testament of the best achievement we ever had in our simple lives. Regardless of  whose image and likeness of character our children inherited from, they are our greatest source of pride and utmost joy.

In the course of our 44th year journey,  we looked back with fond fascination how  we  pulled through  he tempestuous typhoons  and the perilous seas unscathed, yet we managed to reach so many milestones.

My fading memory recalls Walt Whitman’s words, which I recited with much gusto in grade school: “the ship has weathered every rock, the prize we sought is won.”

Even at the twilight of our lives we shall not coast along. We shall pursue with more vigor our developmental projects to be of good use to society.  We  shall sail on full speed ahead, till we reach the horizon and beyond, happy in the thought that to best of our ability, in our own modest way, we shall have touched so many people’s lives.

Laced with happy paradoxes our incredible  journey continues and  goes on and on…….
(Retired lawyer Gari M. Tiongco of Bohol and Davao City but now based in Metro Manila, considers his six grandchildren as his barkada. He turned 72 on April 17).