If you were still in the Philippines in the ‘90s, you must have heard of her name. She was the toddler who already read science books; the little girl who played a lot of musical instruments. She was the eight-year old kid who was called the junior anatomist for knowing how the cardiovascular system works. She was the “Promil gifted child” who, in the Promil (milk formula brand) commercial, recited that the sun is the center of the solar system, and so on and so forth.
She was so popular that time that moms would like their children to be just like her. When my mom knew that Shaira spends her time reading Encyclopedia books, my mom bought me a set too. But of course, I did not read them. I was not Shaira Luna, and my mom realized that right away.
I saw Shaira once. She was the guest speaker in one of the Regional Schools Press Conference I attended in high school. She was only 12 that time, and was about to enter college to earn a Human Biology Degree. As a guest speaker, she told us that we should not let anyone look down on us just because we are young. She furthered her speech by talking about intelligence and excellence, and ended it by playing the song “Ikaw” on her flute. I was astounded by how smart and talented she is. I guess at that moment, I wished to be on her shoes.
Fast forward. Five years later, there were talks of the town about her becoming “astray”. She was not the gifted child anymore; instead she was a typical teenager hanging around in bars, listening to the bands playing. She was no more the nerdy girl who spends her time studying, and digesting every page of the book. She did the opposite. She skipped classes, strolled in the malls, and chose to just have fun. She did not become a doctor at 19, as people expected her to be. She did not make it to the political world, or to show business, or to the community of nation- builders or scientists. Shaira’s fame just went with the wind. Gone. Most people eventually learned to forget her.
Few weeks ago though, she was featured in ABS-CBN’s Storyline. Shaira is really now a lady, far different from the first time I saw her in person.
She still is smart but her looks will make you clueless that she was the kid whose IQ was for the genius. Shaira talked about her life- how for some years she lived according to the expectations of her mom, and the people around her. She grew up with the public all eyes on her. She had to be at her best because she was told that it’s the way the gifted should behave. She was ridiculed whenever she flunks the tests or could not answer class recitations, and her being a “genius”, everytime that happened, was taken against her. Shaira decided to quit school, and tried to see the world she’s missed to look at, because of the pressures of her being a genius, and of the people seeing her that way. Now, Shaira is a freelance digital photographer, and is happy on what she is doing. She has lost and found herself. She is independent and free. Shaira now lives her life the way she chose it to be.
Watching the feature story about her, I’ve come to admire Shaira Luna more, for braving to become who she wants to be. She walked away from people’s expectations and pressures upon her. I guess this is what sanity and intelligence mean- you create your own life story because you want to be happy, and you are happy because you were the one who created it. What Shaira Luna did was an act of overcoming the fear to be different- something that a lot of us remain powerless with. She may not be as popular and phenomenal as she was before, but does she really care? She is still smart and bright, and she knows herself better than anyone else who feels sorry for what she has become now. Actually, she can still be at her best in her chosen craft. She still is gifted. This time though, she does not have any business being told by the world on what she should do. She will discover life at her own pace, and through the decisions, that she, and not anyone else, makes for her.
I will end this article quoting some lines of Paulo Coelho in his book “Veronika Decides to Die”. Here it is:
“You have two choices: to control your mind, or to let your mind control you. You are already familiar with the latter experience, allowing yourself to be swept along by fears, neuroses, insecurity, for we all have self- destructive tendencies. Don’t confuse insanity with a loss of control. Remember that in the Sufi tradition, the master- Nasrudin- is the one everyone calls a madman. And it is precisely because his fellow citizens consider him insane that Nasrudin can say whatever he thinks, and do whatever he wants… That’s how it should be with you; stay insane but behave like normal people. Run the risk of being different, but learn to do so without attracting attention. Concentrate on this flower and allow the real “I” to reveal itself”.
“What is the real “I”?, asked Veronika.
The man seemed surprised by the interruption, but he answered her question.
“It’s what you are, not what others make of you.”