What will give

The look I hate most on me is ‘the look of a person who is dependent on someone else’.

There are a lot of other looks which I consider to be major faux pas, such as ‘the look of someone who does something so predictably that people already know what I want before I say it’, or ‘the look of someone who has been made happy by something that’s so obvious that almost everyone in the world would also feel happy about it’.

But it’s ‘the look of a person who is dependent on someone else’ that really makes my wrists contort, shoulders narrow and throat hiss in horror and shame. I recall an incident about two years ago, at the infancy of the relationship between my wife and I, when I was out with her family. We were trotting along a packed mall when I, like all men who had quenched the thirst wrought from clam chowder with a jug of ice lemon tea, felt the urge from nature to tinkle. I casually mentioned to her that I would at some point need to scoot to the gents if any pops along our quest. She, helpful little fairy that she was, announced to her family that I was in need of relieving, which led to a minor commotion cum discussion about which direction was towards the nearest little boy’s room so that we could help Adrian with his ‘predicament’.

There I was, protagonist in the tale of the boy that needed to pee. I was as comfortable as a leech in a microwave. I remember chastising my wife (then-girlfriend) for bringing it up and making it into a minor event. My expectation was that I would slip off while everyone was getting ice-cream or something, and double back before anyone’s reached the cone bit. She was genuinely perplexed with my negative reaction. I suppose for her, the important thing was that I no longer had to carry unnecessary urine in my bladder and the faster I reached there, the better.

I’ve also been known to dislike waiting in front of a store for it to open, just because I don’t want to look like I am desperate for something they had. Or to be the first to pick up the lunch boxes at an office workshop, just so I won’t look like a person who was desperately famished, never mind I was actually hungry enough to swallow a wolf and Duran Duran in a single mouthful.

I just don’t like to look like I am in any sort of need.

I have not exactly understood why this is such a detestable thing for me, and why it makes me feel like curling up into a fur ball and hibernating through winter. My wife seems to have no qualms looking absolutely dependent on her parents. In fact, I think she takes great comfort from it. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve spent a lot of years existing within one dysfunctional relationship or another, that this is just another defense mechanism I have to not get hurt by foolishly being dependent on someone that is undependable. That it’s just a way for me to ensure that I never let my guard down and be lulled by the comfort that comes from knowing that I have someone to depend on when things start going south. That if I have that ‘look’, pretty soon someone would come along and try and meet that dependency.

Trying to be functional when you’ve gotten so used to dysfunctionality for so long is like trying to unwind a chord that’s been twisted. Even if you succeed in doing so, there will still be obvious traces of its previous form. I still have pockets of dysfunctionality popping up here and there like unexpected blackheads. The Bible in 1 Peter says that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’. There is a lot of truth in that. Only love can make us functional again, if we are dysfunctional. It’s like rebooting from heartbreak. I often feel like a feral kid that’s been picked up from the woods and who now has to learn how to be loved and to love again.

The unfortunate thing as people is that sometimes when we are unloved, we do not go seeking after greater love, but after hate and darkness. And it never ends well from there …

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In transit

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I’ve been administering something called the ‘ambulance test’ on myself.

The conditions are simple – just what is your first thought when an ambulance requires your way during rush hour? Do you immediately think it queer that an ambulance always seems to be requiring your way during bumper-to-bumper rush hour or do you hurriedly shuffle your vehicle aside as to not contribute to any delays that would endanger the life of someone on it?

I used to frequently think the former. That it’s fishy that every time I am stuck listlessly in traffic, inching towards my intended destination, that an ambulance would come barreling along, demanding way, and moving up the traffic queue. It just reeked of, ‘ambulance driver doesn’t want to sit in traffic so turns sirens on to skip it’. Mainly because it happens so frequently that it can no longer be just a coincidence. I used to not consider the latter.

I have been considering the condition of my heart and mind recently. Largely because I am starting to realise that it’s rather impossible to try and be a semblance of a person trying to do good if I am allowing bad thoughts to run wildly in my head. I used to think I could be like Luke, balance the light and darkness and offer objective glimpses to either outcomes. But the cliche holds true, the heart is like a factory, if we carelessly feed it gunk, it would end up producing garbage.

Or a Ben Solo.

The modern adage is ‘we should be who we are’. But I loathe large portions of the person I am. Cause the person I am can sometimes be a vermin that thinks only selfishly about himself and drops all good intentions when it no longer suits his mood or emotional state. What then? Do I continue to allow it to thrive based solely on that adage. Or do I teach it to try to be better?

These days I only occasionally think the former. The other occasions, I rein them in by reminding myself that while there will be more than a few occasions where I am just making way so that the ambulance driver can get to where he wants to get to, sit down and have a smoke over a cup of milk tea, there will be situations where it’s someone’s father or daughter, in utter desperation to get to the hospital, so that a lifetime of memories and experiences, can be preserved. In those moments, I find myself feeling less cynical about giving way.

More importantly, it trains my mind to not just shuffle along hurriedly to the nearest cynical station. To at least stop for a moment and consider the possibility of a different outcome. The mind is a deceitful thing indeed. Leave it alone long enough and it starts laying roots, building a kingdom and ruling with an iron fist. Subjecting it completely is probably also impossible. The best we can hope for is to train it to not be so evil all the time.

For now, I will take that as victory.

 

Aren’t we all found out

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I’ve been spinning sad songs again. I find that when I am a little lost for words, I turn to the people who have them in abundance. Today it’s Conor Oberst, Tears will dry if you give them time/Life’s a roller coaster, keep your arms inside, he sings. On another day, this restraint would be comforting, but today does not feel like one of those days.

Time has got its talons into my back but my burden’s too heavy for it to lift me off the ground. The weight’s mostly in my head. That’s the bane of someone with an overzealous imagination.You are both apt at building castles in the clouds as well as gulags in the valley.

I’ve been thinking about my relationship with time. Some people treat it like a shadow you can’t seem to outrun, or a sleeping giant you have to tip-toe around. I’ve always treated it like the boy that sits at the middle section of a class, not quite brainy enough to be the first in line to answer a question nor delinquent enough to make merry with the louts at the back. Someone who was necessary to make up the numbers but doesn’t really leave an impression on anybody. Or that crazy bearded man you see on the street occasionally. The one that has you hoping that if you avoided eye contact with him long enough, he may just not notice you and leave you alone. I’ve been going about my life like time does not exist, avoiding any meaningful eye contact with it.

As such, it’s gone on its merry way, doing what it usually does and I am left here wondering if I had just missed the party of the year by going to the wrong home. The shout from the the societal yonder assures me that there is no such thing as too late. That we always have time to make something out of what resembles nothing. But I’ve been begging to differ. Or at least my head’s decided to.

I’ve always allowed myself time. Time to read a book. Time to grow up. Time to allow my tears to dry. Allowing yourself time in this existence is not a problem. My problem is that I’ve always allowed myself too much of it. My more encouraging friends have called it resilience and on some days, I’ve worn that as a bruised badge of honor. Today, it feels like a curse. Like I’ve missed a memo announcing something important and I’ve walked in on the tail-end of it and everyone’s staring at me with disbelieving eyes. My shoulders droop just a little more …

.   .   .

Conor is still singing. And find you a sweetheart to treat you so kind/Take her to dinner and kiss her goodnight/What I couldn’t teach you, soon you’ll realize/She’s the only thing that matters, he reminds me later on the same song.

I suppose every day has an end, just like today …

Fight test

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To some, life is like a piano, to other it’s like a polo game. To one ex-military, bearded long distance runner and sometime ping-pong player, it’s like a box of chocolates. To me, it’s always been more like a war.

And no, it’s not because I’ve felt like I’ve spent a lot of it in the trenches, caked in grime, with no hint of a recall in sight and with the enemy inching closer with each passing day. You only need to look around you. Don’t you see a battlefield?

Look beyond your bonus paycheck, comfortable apartment sofa and candlelight dates. Don’t you see people who are so paranoid that they are certain that someone is going to end them if they even have one moment of negligence? Don’t you see people who take shots at one another as soon as they have one? Don’t you see so many dead hearts, desperate to do anything just to not feel the pain of existing, even for a moment. But more importantly, don’t you see people who would toil sacrificially, just so they can gain ground on the person next to them? Forrest may not know what he was going to get out of life, but I’ve always known. It’s a battlefield.

‘When the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him. If he attacks downhill. do not oppose him.’ – Sun Tzu.

I have an almost chronic compulsion to concede moral high grounds. It’s probably why I always find myself with my back against the wall, one more bullet in the barrel and with Mexican troops closing in. I concede them because of a variety of reasons. Horrible decisions in the past that discredit me in the present. The lack of consistency in my decision-making logic over the years. But mostly because I usually have a stronger inclination to make peace more than the other person. I sell away my high grounds cheaply in many cases, bartering them off at throwaway prices just so we can have less awkward meals together or a more peaceful rest-of-the-night.

On many occasions in my life I’ve found myself on lower ground, with my opponent on a higher vantage point, with a clear shot. And in most cases, they’ve taken it.  Why? Well, because they could, and because like I’ve said, life is a war, so why wouldn’t you want to win another battle against the other person? Never mind that if it was a family member, a loved one a friend, the business of life is about gaining ground on the next person right? Even if you do love them, there is no harm in keeping them within a clear shot so you can take it if you needed to.

It was therefore an important realisation for me that God was someone that consistently had a moral high ground on me but never took a shot. It’s not like I was ever going to catch him with his pants down. He always had the shot, but he never took it. Instead he showed me how to find my way back up to high ground, gave me the space to get myself there and offered me a helping hand up when I needed one. It’s a realisation that has humbled me tremendously and has helped me re-orientate my perspective on life. Well, a little at least.

I still believe life is war. But you can choose who you want to fight by your side. If you have that someone in your life who’s always had a clear shot on you but has never taken it, hold on to her or him tightly. They are special. Life is a lot easier to live when you know that you have someone next to you that’s not going to clock one in your head when your back’s turned or when you have a moment of weakness. Someone who will give you the time to right the obviously wrong choices you have made, someone who would give you the time to climb back up to high ground to be next to them. Someone who would even offer you a hand when you are trying to.

Cherish these …

 

 

I’ve tried everything

I’ve been thinking about a line in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, ‘The bitterer the medicine, the quicker the cure’. I’ve been wondering if that’s why God puts us through the things He puts us through sometimes.

Perhaps He starts by giving us unobtrusive home remedies for sickness. The equivalent of jack fruit grime and chicken soup.  If that doesn’t work then he moves us on to the less ideal, the equivalent of putting an onion into a pair of socks and wearing it throughout the night (apparently this stop you from coughing). And if that fails then he moves us on to the toxic and bitter stuff. The ones that taste like we are swallowing mangled road kill dipped in detergent. It will cure us in the end but in the meantime it will feel like hell on the sharp end of a barbecue skewer.

I’ve been thinking about these things because I’ve been trying to reconcile why some people’s lives resemble the Alamo’s last stand while others get to cruise through their existence on butter wheels fastened to a bubble bath. I’ve been thinking about the friends I love who have been put through a painful ringer and contrasting them to the laughter of those who have fashioned an existence of little concern and is allowed to continue to be unconcerned with a lot.

I know, it’s a slippery slope, especially for one with as active an imagination as me. It’s a road that can lead to an infinitely dark place. In fact, I’ve been down this road before and I very nearly did not make the trip back.

Christianity has always assigned, through theological learning and personal experiences, a parental posture to God. It’s one of the things that makes us unique. That we begin our journey to discovery not to avoid punishment, but to receive grace. But this lends itself to a massive assumption – that God always has our best concerns at heart. Without this assumption, most of us would experience something akin to having the religious floor boards we’ve always stood, on being ripped out of its hinges and us along with it. Because what is left then? A god that plays favorites? Or worst, one that does not exist.

My feet are still planted on those boards. They creak at times, their hinges look fatigued and their facade worn. But I am still standing on them. Which is why I am currently exploring the possibility that most of our misery is really just a product of us carelessly contracting a sickness so stubborn that this is the only way God can cure it.

 

The kids were wrong

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So I have a mind that behaves like a three-year old.

Mind you, it’s clearly not actually three, it just behaves like it is. How so? It goes where it’s not supposed to go without remorse and then expects everyone to have a laugh about it when it’s caught. It drops dung when it needs to and expects someone to clean it up. When it doesn’t get its way, it ensures that everyone knows it’s not happy by flinging toys around and making an obvious good old-fashioned racket. But unlike an actual three-year-old, it actually knows better not to behave this way. It’s experienced the pangs of adulthood and the scarring that come from growing up and having responsibilities. It just sometimes decides it doesn’t want to be an adult.

I’ve tried the hard way to get it to behave, to discipline it into submission by either spanking it with the Bible or shouting logical reasoning at its face. I’ve also tried the softer approach by appealing to its happy side through a combination of cute ‘I-come-in-peace’ monkey faces and the gentle cooing of sunny thoughts.

But it’s futile. It still continues to behave like a three-year old when it wants to.

Perhaps like all petulant three-year-olds, you just have to give it space and years and pray hard that it develops into a reasonable adult. Perhaps. But at this moment, I am growing weary at slugging and jousting with something that has purposed so intently to not listen to what I have to say. I wish I could literally just drop everything, pick up my car keys and just drive off for a few hours, away from the madness. But alas one can’t divorce oneself from a bodily appendage.

So instead I pull up a chair, and start making cute monkey faces at it again …

One day you’ll be there

IMG_20170718_133737I can still vaguely remember the moment.

It was within the first week of Standard Three. I pulled out my pencil box and there it was sitting in there, a blue and red pen. It was all pencils for the first two years of schooling life but the time has come to graduate to the big leagues. To have your thoughts, right or wrong, dry permanently on to a paper with no eraser to help you. Well, technically there were ink erasers but those things are like paper dozers, rub a little enthusiastically and you’re going to be a page short. There would no longer be a clean erase of your past. It felt exciting. It was like stumbling on to your brother’s porn stash without him knowing or finding a box of coins your dad has forgotten about at the bottom drawer that would serve you super at the local arcade. A lot of the ‘naughty’ when I was a kid was centered around being at places you were not supposed to be. But this was school. I am supposed to be here and yet, I am now encouraged to do something that was wrong just a year ago. The ‘pencil’ box was no more.

While this scenario would suggest we afford more grace to our young, it also suggests just how hung-up adults are about permanence. Like how our belts go from having adjustable clasps (which are honestly, insanely practical as a design) to leather ones where you have to punch gnarly holes through, as we get older. Woe is you if you decide to drop some weight or forbid, gain some. What then? Bring it back to the store to have them re-punch new holes or purchase a new belt because that’s what adults do. We are meant to make things nonadjustable and terribly inconvenient.

But there is a flip side to that coin. That perhaps permanence also means having to own up to one’s mistakes. No magic eraser to make things peachy again. If you talked it, you better be prepared to walk it as well. But the less-than-ideal byproduct of this is that a lot of us get muddled up in the guilt and shame of our failures and mistakes with seemingly no reset button to bring things back to zero.

But that was what initially attracted me to the idea of grace. Not that we can do all the wrongs we desire and have God come in and backspace everything to oblivion. But that without it, even in the light that I was able to change, I would still have to drag guilt and shame around like a corpse, and that just filled me with such hopelessness.

I would like to think that God’s idea that we should have child-like faith is not just linked to the idea of acceptance, but also that every situation we find ourselves ditched in is not meant to be permanent. Like how a kid takes every situation at a time and if they did stumble, they only focus on dealing with the physical hurt at that moment and not the lingering guilt and shame that comes from failing.

Or at least they do not deal with it for long.