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.

 

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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.

 

 

No dreams last night

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The sun streaks through the exposed window, bathing the room in glorious brightness. I’ve always loved exposed windows, how unfettered and aesthetically clean they look. It’s a Saturday morning and the time is 8.45. She’s still in bed. I get freshened up, thinking about what exactly do I have in the refrigerator that I can make breakfast out of and just why I can’t grow a beard like Sam Beam. 

I walk into our work room, pick out a Clientele record and put it on. ‘Isn’t Life Strange’ gradually swirls throughout the apartment. The water’s come to boil in the kitchen and I make my way there to put together my cup of coffee. I catch a whiff of it but leave it on the counter and open the refrigerator door. Some slices of bacon, eggs, leftover rocket, garlic butter and bread. Sandwiches it is. I fry up the bacon and eggs and start toasting the bread. The counter top is now bustling with food items and utensils. I pick up my cup of coffee and take a sip and I go back to the pan. She’s awake. She hugs me from the back and heads into the bathroom to freshen up. I finish up the fry and plate the sandwiches. 

I pick up my cup of coffee, settle on the couch and take another sip. The record’s moved to ‘These Days Nothing But Sunshine’ now. 

Everything I do today I do for the day above, that’s hopefully to come …

 

Two tongues

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Today I am severely missing the gorgeous view at the Hooker Valley Track

I have come to understand that society in some ways, was built on contradictions.

When I was a kid, I was served a pair of opposing philosophies to approach the larger world. Firstly that ‘good things come to those who wait’ and secondly, ‘if you want something, you have to go out there and get it’. Both were served in largely equal measures depending on the situation and what my parents perceived to be the most effective strategy to get me to shut up.

If I dragged that out to a more adult context, it would be me shutting my whining about not getting that girl because who knows, she could walk in through the door if you wait long enough (I have come to know this as being completely bollocks) and if you want that well-paying executive job, you have to get into the face of the interviewer and show them that you really want it (can backfire and make you look like sad try-hard sod). I grew up not quite understanding how each philosophy properly applies, except to know that neither has really worked for me, in almost equal measures.

Then again, if you scaled that back further, a middle class Asian upbringing is often filled with stacks of ridiculous contradictions. How our parents want to feed us well and gawk at our salad-chomping ways but then complain when we get too fat. Or how they want us to work hard to earn an honest living but nag when we have to work late to meet deadlines. It’s like trying to score against a constantly shifting goalpost and feeling like a loser when you don’t, which is most of the time.

But it got me thinking about the byproduct of these contradictions. What happens to the people who have been raised this way? What kind of an adult do they end up being? Can someone really be untouched by such perplexing parenting and if so, what does that say about the effects of rearing anyway? We might as well just leave a child to grow up in the corner of a room if that’s the case.

Perhaps this is one reason why we have people who are quite adept at missing the point of something. I have watched families slowly being put to sleep because the father pours himself completely into work so that he can provide for the family. I have seen romantic relationships end because one person decided that the other ‘loves them too much’. Or how about people who accept the wonderful terms of a gracious God for their wretched existence, only to turn around and judge another for being not good enough to accept those terms.

It’s tragic when these things happen, because it’s one thing to stride for something and fail in our efforts to, it’s another to be served the assessment that the reason why things did not pan out was because you were busy trying to make that very thing work. It’s somewhat insane and yet it is happening everyday at places that are near each and every one of us.

That is somehow so sad and incomprehensible to me …

Weights and measures

ZillaWhat we define as reality is really just perspective …

I used to love a good moan. I would moan about anything from the state of my personal relationships to how overcooked my sunny sides where in the morning. Age has extinguished a lot of the unnecessary fires of youth so I moan a lot less these days but there was a period where I absolutely adored a yummy chunky moan.

Over the weekend I was in the presence of someone who was having a ‘moan’, lambasting her existence and the people who are forcing her to be in it. At the height of her moaning aria, she stopped herself and said, ‘But actually I can recognise that my life is not that bad’. Her half-serious facade suggested that she was clearly aware that the high drama of her moan, does not commensurate with the severity of her problems. She was aware that she was just having a bit of a moan.

In the last couple of days, I have been combing my 40-year existence in my head, with a keen eye and a checklist tagged to an imaginary clipboard . Why? I’ve been wondering if the % of my existence I’ve spent moaning and mopping about stuff was justified, or just fluff.  Perhaps I was just cursed with a terrible perspective of my existence and was consigned to being a whiny little bastard for little reason. Jury’s still out.

It often fascinates me that while a lot of us occupy the same spaces as other individuals, our perspective of our surroundings could be colored radically different from the person standing just next to us. I have experienced seasons where it felt like the ground was being re-mattered into muesli and I am struggling to hold my existence together, to keep it from dissipating into a thousand pieces. At the same time, a close friend would be experiencing the life equivalent of being a oft-ignored bachelor coming home to Miranda Kerr standing at the doorway of the apartment with a beer in her hand while excitedly preparing a dinner of bacon casserole with a side of Doritos Cool Ranch.  That’s better than good, by the way.

The physical world rarely matters to us as a collective. Our agendas are often markedly dissimilar despite existing under the same patch of clouds or occupying the same roads during a big demonstration. Our colors may be the same then, but our perspectives could be quite different. So until we are invaded by Martians and forced to band together to fight the threat of extermination, perspectives are probably going to rule the coop.

It concerns me that I fundamentally have no universal baseline by which to gauge my existence. How do I know if the contentment I feel these days is a result of an actually fulfilled life, or just a temporary rose-tinted perspective with a side of delusion? Being ruled by these incredibly unsettled facets worries me. I would prefer to plant my flag on something a little more unmovable, so that I can be certain of at least some portions of the outcome.

Perhaps that is why we have a thing called faith, and the person we have faith on …

Baby, you’re my light

Blog-1That 10 seconds, it’s what separates love and apathy.

I used to have a habit of assigning value to superfluous things in a bid to obtain more meaning to my surroundings. In regards to the partner I wanted, I was certain that she would be absolutely perfect for me if she could sing ‘There’s a Light that Never Goes Out’ by heart (actually, in hindsight, this cannot be further from the truth).

With age I’ve gradually realised my folly, mainly that the heart-flutters you’ve reserved for your partner’s ability to karaoke Smiths classics quickly vanishes if they are unkind, vindictive and unreasonable. The truth is, we may dress our needs up in Salford Lads Club threads and train them to speak like dialogue from a Richard Linklater film but our based need to connect with another is really not based on the lyrics of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, no matter how much we think it is.

She affords me those 10 seconds. 10 seconds to gather my shoulder-drooped, scatterbrained thoughts over an issue. 10 seconds to rescind a gob-smacking decision before she sounds the red alert. 10 seconds to just breathe. I’ve never been a boot-to- door kind of guy. I do not rise to duress. I am the schmuck that needs 10 seconds to make the right decision, on just about anything. She gives me that. As such, for the first time in a relationship, I do not feel like I am the last rich cocky Chinese kid in a zombie yarn. It actually feels like I’m going to be around until the end.

I’ve actually taken an unnecessary rendezvous around the derriere of relationship junkyards and ended up back at the words of just about anyone’s mother, ‘Marry someone kind’. Actually it’s more than that for me, ‘Marry someone that gives you 10 seconds to be the best person you can be’.

Yeah …