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How happy?

By Jullie Y. Daza

In the usual fashion of men of leisure shooting the breeze while scratching their bellies, a small group gathered on the sidewalk of a carinderia near the pier. It looked like their usual routine, the jobless unemployed swapping exaggerated tales and improbable dreams. Along came an American and his host, stopping by to buy water, when one of the men tripped and fell on the pavement.

As his friends laughed boisterously at his misfortune, he picked himself up and started to laugh also, with gusto and as much amusement as his friends, for now everyone was laughing loud and hard, including the American and his Filipino companion, the laughers and the laughed-at caught in a cosmic comic moment.

Years later, Tony Pastor still enjoys a hearty laugh whenever he recounts what he calls an “only in the Philippines” phenomenon. “The American could not help himself,” Tony recalls. “When he stopped laughing, he said to me, ‘You’re a strange people!’”

All right, so we’re the third happiest people on earth despite our sufferings. That should be enough to drive some unhappy people crazy, to know that we’re happy in spite of their unhappiness! What explains this ability to laugh when we ought to be angry and thoroughly, absolutely unhappy? Tony Pastor is 89 years young, brimming with health and joie de vivre, a daily churchgoer, philanthropist, pianist and tenor, occasionally an impresario at the soirees he organizes for music lovers. Rich with the wisdom culled from a “balanced life,” he considers himself a happy man because, “No wife!”

To Tony, that LOL incident in Tondo affirms what we can only suspect as “mababaw na kaligayahan” – it takes so little to be happy. “Friends with little or no money, sitting in the sun, as long as they have something to eat, life’s okay.”

In Tony’s case, happiness is a bit more than that. “To exist, I’m a lawyer. To live, I’m a musician. The most tragic thing to happen to an old man is to be pitied. At 89, I can still give joy to other people.” Recently, as requested by Mrs. Felicidad Sy, Tony performed for 90 minutes at SM’s Sunshine Place, where he was vigorously applauded by an audience of senior citizens. Ask any performing artist, the sound of hands clapping is the sound of happiness.