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 …

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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.

 

 

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 …