I Can’t Complain (But Sometimes I Still Do)

Back in the late 70’s I was finishing up high school and enjoying various bands on vinyl such as Supertramp, STYX, Fleetwood Mac, Tears for Fears and Joe Walsh to name just a few. Little did I know that their songs would follow me decades later to the Philippines.

life in the philippines girlfriendEvery so often someone will ask me, “So, how’s life treating you?“. My most accurate, yet short, answer to that is, “Better than I deserve.”. It’s been a long strange trail that led me to now sitting here at my laptop, tapping out this article from my nipa style patio as I look out upon a lush, green Philippine courtyard.  Meanwhile my lovely girlfriend is singing from somewhere inside the house. The weather is balmy, as it it most of the year here in the tropics, and while I only jump in the ocean maybe once a week or so it’s nice knowing it’s just on the other side of the trees just down the driveway.

The skies are pristine blue with puffy, cumulus clouds floating lazily along overhead. Not even the slightest hint of that brown smudge of smog in the sky that would often overtake the valley basin area back in California. I don’t worry about my bills and I never have to check a mailbox. I meet cool, interesting people every week of the year (in fact, meeting a new expat for dinner tonight) and literally made hundreds of new friends in person during my four years here in the Philippines from all over thelife-in-philippines (1) world. I must know at least four guys from Africa alone, plus a whole lot of Aussies, Brits, Canadians, a Frenchie, Jamaican and a lot of Americans from just about every state. I can say without a doubt I have a fantastic girlfriend and we spoil each other daily. No arguments, jealousies, kids, extended family or drama to deal with. (She just now asked me if I was hungry and is busy cutting up some apple slices for me.)

And for a nocturnal person such as myself, the nights here are amazing. In California I waited all year for the ‘sweet spot’ of summer evenings in August. When the weather was still warm at midnight and being outdoors felt like a warm embrace. Here in the Philippines, it’s like that all year. Not for just three weeks a year.. but all year. I love it. There’s nothing like getting on the bike at midnight and taking a leisurely tour of town with the streets all to yourself and the warm air under the stars. Stopping along the beach to listen to the jet black water hit the shore while a full moon’s reflection dances into the distant horizon. Even the rainy evenings are warm and enjoyable. The rain can come down as if the ocean itself was pouring down from above. Lightning and thunder rip across the sky from only a few miles away. It’s nothing short of amazing, these late evenings in the tropics.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that an inevitable trait of life is ‘undulation’. Just like the high and low tide, Life has it’s high and low points for all of us. I look back on some of the hell I have been through in the past. Some of it was my fault, some wasn’t. But either way I had found myself in the past in situations where I honestly felt it was just time to throw in the towel and die. When death looks like an improvement to your situation, you know things are going badly. And yet, here I am. In the Philippines this day. For now, the tide is high and who knows what tomorrow will bring. But for now, life is good.

Which brings me back to Joe Walsh. One of my favorite songs of his is, “Life’s Been Good“. Some of you may be familiar with it. Despite all the weirdness I’ve survived over the decades, “life’s been good to me, so far.” Decades ago I worked for about nine months in a room which was no bigger than fifteen feet wide and long. For 8 hours a day myself and an older woman had the monotonous job of opening small boxes all day. Several thousand a day. For months. To pass the time we talked about books and of course, our own life experiences. At one point, after sharing a bit about myself, this elder woman from the Midwest looked at me and said, “So you’re one of those people.”

One of ‘what’ people?“, I asked. She replied, “You’re one of those people who can fall head-first into a pile of crap and walk out smelling like a rose.”

That was way back in 1985 that she said this and it’s stuck with me since. Not because life has been easy for me. Not even close. But I do eventually come out of it and things turn out okay. Not always as fast as I’d like, but somehow I find myself rescued from some of the most life-ending situations a person could face. I suppose I’ll go into detail on that when I get around to writing my autobiography. But sitting here now, looking at the mango and palm trees swaying in the afternoon breeze, I am thoroughly amazed I made it this far. I was sure I’d be dead by the time I even reached twenty-four. Yet, here I am.

As Joe Walsh sang, “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do.”, so it is with me. I have much to be thankful for. I almost feel guilty. Almost. By sheer good fortune I have been loved all my life. I was born in a country (USA) that allows me to travel to any country and get all the education I was willing to reach for. I’ve had the freedom to pursue various businesses and my own way of life. I have a loving circle of family with my Mom, three sons and one daughter. I have much to be thankful for. And because none of it was the result of my own efforts, I have nothing to boast of. I am just a lucky recipient. I could have just as easily been born as a starving kid in Haiti or some war-torn village in Africa. It was just the luck of the draw.

But every so often, I do complain. Only rarely do I complain out loud though. Usually I complain inwardly, silently, to myself. And it always come back down to the question, “Why??”.

philippines-mosquitoWhy do we need mosquitoes?“, comes up every so often. What positive role do they play in the circle of life? Couldn’t we get along fine without them? I’d like to know. And why do I have zero compassion when swatting mosquitoes with an electric swatter (or spraying down a cockroach).., and yet just a moment ago I saved a small fly from a spider’s web here on the table? Should I have let the spider have it’s meal? The fly will never comprehend nor be able to thank me for my act. So why even bother? Yet I did.  But “Why?” and what difference does it make in the grand scheme of things?

When I’m out riding through town, navigating traffic, so many complaints come to mind. “Why is that guy endangering his life and mine by texting while driving a motorbike in the oncoming lane?” “Why is itphilippines-street-people that elderly woman finds herself at the end of her life collecting plastic bottles to make ends meet?” “Why is that kid tossing garbage out of the jeepney with zero regard for blatant littering?” “Why must these mall workers work for so little pay?

I could go on and on, and many days I do.. in my head. It becomes such a stream of, “Why?”s that at some point you have to just shut it off. Without a solution, it’s enough to drive a person insane. There are more problems in this world than any one person can fix. And to make things worse, as if it were some perverse joke of the universe.. often the people who try to fix a problem end up being punished for it. Like some expats I read about several years ago who came to the Philippines to start an orphanage. Next thing you know, a bitter neighbor made false claims of sexual abuse of the children against them. The man was held in jail. The kids were dispersed to random families. The orphanage was shut down. And eventually it was seen that there was no evidence, no testimony and all charges were dropped. Just two people trying to alleviate some of the suffering they saw around them. A couple of people who saw those kids, asked “Why?” and then tried to do something about it. That was their reward.  And all it took to destroy a good work was one bitter neighbor’s malicious gossip.

I could go on about the man who tried to save the coral reefs in Palawan for years. That incited resentment from the dynamite fisherman and next thing you know, he and his small family are all murdered. Again I ask, “Why?”. Or I could mention the man who devotes his time, money and energy into feeding local school kids and improving their school.. and then his own business gets robbed.

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “No good deed goes unpunished.” It’s sad but there is too much truth to that. Which is why I have such great respect for anyone who does good for others, and sticks with it even after suffering some unjust setbacks. Some of it is caused by others. Some of it is just part of life. But despite changes in their health or encountering bad fortune, they continue to help others in some minute, specific way. They may not be solving national issues, or even community issues. But they are making a positive difference. And that is admirable.

In my own case, I’ve lived with my girlfriend being faithful, loving and compassionate with her. And she’s a very happy woman for it. And yet on occasion I find myself asking, “Why?..” do some people feel the need to spread the most horrible of slanders on her and I when they know nothing of our personal life? I could account it to jealousy, envy or just general hatred.. but why it has to occur in the first place is my real question.

It’s my belief that all people are by default a practicing philosopher and theologian. They often cannot articulate what they believe if you ask them to. But they do cope with life by having a certain belief about religion (or the absence of it) and how they believe the universe operates on a grand scale. Not all people believe in or practice morality, but they definitely have an opinion about it that they live by. And often their belief and their practice may not even be the same at various points of their life.

Getting back to the 80’s, I rarely watched television and I never watched the Arsenio Hall show. It simply didn’t interest me. However as I was scanning channels one day I saw that on his channel his guest was Mariah Carey, during the debut of her career. After she performed, Arsenio came out and just before fading to commercial he said to her that he believed her career would sky-rocket because, “Good things happen for good people.”.

True, good things ‘do’ happen to good people. But rotten things happen to good people all the time as well. In fact, it’s the rotten people in life who specifically target good, decent people as their victims. Single mothers get raped on their way home from work. Unarmed civilians get suicide-bombed in a street-side cafe. School buses of kids go off a bridge into the river. Tornadoes rip a church of people to shreds and pass by the local casino untouched. Robberies, murders, gossip, slander, beatings.  Bad things happen to good people all the time. And in contrast, ‘good’ things happen to rotten people as well. Police don’t catch some criminals for their crimes, ever.  And then there are just the ironic instances, such as one case which happened at a company I worked for. The weekly State lottery was coming up again and so several hundred people on the production line, who could really use the money, each bought a ticket for the State lottery. Guess who won? The high-five-figure senior executive in the company who already was earning more money than he knew what to do with. Go figure.  He even got an extra ‘spin’ for even more winnings after the initial win.

I’ve put a lot of energy my entire life, starting since I was about 8 years old, into trying to make sense oflife philippines this ‘Life’ I found myself engaged in. I didn’t sign up for it. I was simply awakened one day and told, “Your alive now.  Deal with it.” Thus far the only solid conclusion I’ve come to is, “Life is strange.” There are some principles and fundamental elements about human beings that apply in most cases. But never to the degree that you can predict what people or circumstances may put into your path ten minutes from now.

I suppose I could do as others have done. Look at the futility of it all and go into a deathly depression about Life. I’ve read of some who went that route after trying to “make a difference” and seeing so little progress after their life’s work had passed by. Instead I choose to be thankful.

I’m thankful that I have food to eat and clean water to drink. I’m thankful I have a place to lay my headlife-in-philippines (2) at the end of the day. I’m thankful I have friends and family who genuinely care about me.  I’m thankful for the great weather and I’m thankful for the warm rains. I’m thankful for the health I have. I’m especially thankful my neighbor just came by and gave us some home-made flan dessert.

Several studies have been done trying to find out from those who have lived beyond 100 years of age what common denominator was among them. The diets they had were of all varieties. Their genetic background had no commonality. But there was one thing found among so many people who had lived so long and it was their sense of humor. They didn’t take the massive heaviness about Life’s injustices too seriously. I’d say that thankfulness is a part of that. Being able to deal with the stress of just ‘living’, year after year. It’s also known that carrying a lot of mental and emotional stress is a killer. And that expressing yourself can alleviate some of that stress. It’s not good to keep it all bottled up.

While I still haven’t found all the answers I’ve been looking for, I do know this much; being thankful and having a sense of humor are two virtues worth keeping in practice. I’d say having a realistic outlook, seeing things for what they are, is also one of Life’s essentials. Some say, “Life is good.”. Another says, “Life is vanity.” And still others say, “Life is what you make of it.” Me, I’m reminded of lyrics from a Tears For Fears tune..

 

“Welcome to your life
There’s no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you

“Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on mother nature
Everybody wants to rule the world

“It’s my own design
It’s my own remorse
Help me to decide
Help me make the most

“Of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world”

In closing, all I can say is; Life is a trip, so travel safely.

Reekay
www.lifebeyondthesea.com

 

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Author: Reekay

After 49 years living in Southern California, USA, I decided to move to the Philippines despite never having been here before. In July, 2012, I took a leap of faith and transplanted myself to the amazing Philippines. I am a single man taking an honest look at all that the islands here have to offer, one day at a time. I hope you find my LBTSea site informative, entertaining and hopefully a bit of each. 🙂 Be sure to visit the Forum and other parts of what the site has to offer. Browse around and be sure to sign up for updates via email. Enjoy!
— Reekay

28 comments

  1. Excellent post Reekay. I often don’t read all your blogs because most of them happen the 90% of my time where I’m saving for this 10% to stay a couple of months in my Pinoy paradise and they break my heart.
    I’m currently in the middle of my.2 month vacation here on Negros Island. It’s so cool being the only whitey in a town of 100000. I’m 12 hours out of sync with my world so I’m voraciously reading all I can.
    Thank you much for the great little read. It really resonated with me.

    1. I’m re-balancing out my time, giving more attention to writing and podcasting.. a bit less video, but I believe it’s a balance I’m long overdue for. My first love is writing.

    2. yes well written indeed and everything you said is what I feel about life in general. The unfairness the lack of human concern etc WELL WRITTEN

      1. Sounds like you might be ready for the read “The Freedom of Choice” by Dr. Tom Chalko which addresses the “Purpose of Existence.” Very intriguing read and I believe you can download for free. I have a copy if you need one. I’m on my third read and it gets better each time. http://thefreedomofchoice.com/

  2. Nicely written Henry. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this long story, but once I got started, I couldn’t stop. It’s a nice writing style and you have lots of good thoughts. I’m glad things are going your way (at the moment) and I hope they are mostly positive throughout your life.

  3. You mentioned Clive Lewis. I used to have 36 of his books. When you spoke of mosquitoes and of C.S Lewis I remember his answer when he was asked if there were animals in heaven. He said he didn’t know but he thought that a situation where there was a heaven for mosquitoes and a hell for humans could be “conveniently arranged.”

    1. Ha!, yes, I remember that. Lewis was an amazing thinker, always blending the micro and macro view of any topic he handled. I still have some of his works to finish, but I’ve loved everything I’ve read from him so far. By the way, there is an audio version of the Screwtape Letters, read by none other than John Cleese. Very entertaining.

  4. Really enjoyed the article. Have you read ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ by C.S. Lewis? – an interesting attempt to explain his own philosophical and religious journey. I think his writing got a lot better later though with ‘The Screwtape Letters’.

    1. Yes, I’ve read Pilgrim’s Progress (twice). Excellent allegory, although it was written by John Bunyan. (while he was jailed if I remember correctly). C.S. Lewis’ ‘Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe’ is excellent as well. There is an audio version of Screwtape Letters, read aloud by John Cleese (from Monty Python) that is a great listen as well.

        1. Ah, okay. 🙂 I began reading it but didn’t finish for some reason or another. I’ll have to pick it up again. “The Great Divorce” is another great allegory by Lewis. Some very clever imagery.

  5. Nice. I enjoy reading your thoughts. If you ever decide to publish a book, I am in. It’s obvious that you’re in the stage of life where you’re experiencing true “contentment”. And that is a nice place to be.

    Would love to have lunch with you (and Lyn) one day in Dumaguete.

  6. Reekay, another great piece of writing. I have had most of those same thoughts, and I really appreciate your point of view on them. I am still in my 10 year plan to get to the Philippines on a more permanent full time basis. The house should be paid off in the next few months and then i will tackle the rest of my debt. I am currently in year 7 of my 10 year plan. Seven years ago when i first visited the Philippines I didn’t even have a house of my own i was renting a room, but my job was solid.

    Three years ago i lost that job and had to find a new one, which i did after returning from my 4th trip to the Philippines. It has now been 3 years since i have been there, but that’s because I am completely focused on paying off my debt, getting my things in order, and then finishing up my 10 year plan. I bought my house only less than 5 years ago and will have it paid off in right about 5 years on a 10 year fixed loan. My house has more than doubled in value and hopefully it will have tripled in the next 3 years. I also have taken on a new venture as a delivery driver working as a private contractor to increase my earnings over the next couple years so far it’s been good but I am sure it will have its up and downs so to speak.

    I am staying single for now even though i do have friends there in the Philippines as long distance really hasn’t worked out and I agree with most of what you have to say on that matter. We grew up in the same part of So Cali, so I guess i can really understand a lot of what you are saying and where you are coming from, although i am not you, nor have i lived your particular set of circumstances. I am so happy whenever you have another video, pod cast, or piece of literature that you have written for us, so keep up the good work.
    Also continued success in your relationship with Lynn, i do believe she is a keeper.
    As always all the best,
    Shawn

  7. Heeeyyyyy,Reekay great writing.I don’t think you can call that complaining,you should spend a day with my wife.hehe

  8. Henry, you have a fortuitous combination of an engineer’s mind and a writer’s skills. Makes for very interesting reading, good job! I am married to a Filipina and living in the USA, but we are looking forward to retirement in the PI in about 3 years. Till then, I will live vicariously through you!

  9. I enjoyed the entry. The writing was excellent. Have you read Haruki Murakami? I always enjoy that he throws in music and song references into his novels, and enjoyed it as well in your writing here. This was my first read here on the blog site, but I have listened to quite a few of the podcasts and YouTube vlogs. I was an avid reader as well in my younger years, though I have never read CS Lewis, who you mention often. Maybe I’ll get back it soon when I take my turn in relocating to the Philippines. Keep up the good work!

  10. This is what i have learned….U can sit in ur house in Seattle, the P/I, or Thailand, or China or where ever…n U can get that girl…..n all that……+ more
    But…in all those places…….its only becomes the same …but cheaper….than Canada ..Usa… Uk…….but in a way it becomes same – same…….
    Really…most important….. u need to enjoy the place u live………..thats the answer…….

  11. Reeky, that was some of the best writing I have read in most of my life….. pure self reflexing honestly…… I must say I feel much of the same way…… Damn good shit ! Never mind Scott’s comments he must live in a hole! I will be coming to the philippines hopefully we can have a Beer sometime! Keep up the good work , I go online and read what you have to say…… I want to move there by mid summer 2017.

  12. Thank you for this message.. . … yes, things are different in the Philippines, I very much appreciate your postings. times are different now……… I wish for the better, but I am worried also… The people love him, but…. ..

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