I know what love isn’t

There is little in this world that’s more frustrating than trying to love someone that no longer wants to be loved by you.

In this increasingly capitalistic society, we are taught to believe that if one is willing to pay the adequate or higher price for something, that it will be yours. That everything has a price. The person who coined that term has probably never loved someone who no longer loved them back.

It’s one thing to have an unreciprocated crush. I would know a bit about that because yup, never been overly popular with the ladies. But yeah, unreciprocated crushes usually offers you, at most, just a hint of what may have been. In most cases, it’s like grasping at cotton candy. But if you were in a wholesome loving relationship but for one reason or another, see that love evaporate over time, it can be tearfully frustrating to try and make that person ‘re-love’ (apologies for this ghastly term) you again. Especially since you’ve properly experience what it was like to love and be loved by that person. It’s a little like tasting a drug that removes all your anxieties and worries for a day but you’re told after that you’re never going to be able to taste it again for the rest of your existence.

I’ve spent some portions of my life in this predicament. Don’t get me wrong, not here to sling mud at ex-lovers. I believe a lot of issues in relationships should be co-owned after all. But I have found myself kicking at the rafters, desperately wanting a person to love me back or in some cases, love me like they used to. In most cases it’s like quicksand, make more of a play and you sink in even further into oblivion. Never mind that you’ve realised the folly of your ways and wish to turn back the clock through good deeds of redemption. To them, the hour has passed and you are required to now serve your sentence.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re willing to pay the ultimate price to ‘buy’ back that love. Your currency is no longer good. To have the capacity to purchase something and not to be able to own it belies the logic set by our world. That’s why it’s so achingly frustrating to us. That if I am willing to love you this much, then shouldn’t you love me back equally as much?

I’ve often thought about how love works in this world as opposed to the way love was intended to work by God. We’ve come to distill love down to a series of conditions. That love has to be proven for it to be reciprocated. That it has to somehow fit our self-centred lifestyle and world views. We’ve taken what was meant to be a world-changing force of nature and broken it down to ‘loves dogs’ and ‘hates red velvet cake’.

Humans have no capacity to truly love the way God does. To be able to do that would make us God, and there are few things I am as sure of in this world as ‘we are not God’. We are wired to love, that much is clear and certain. And we are compelled to seek ‘love’ that makes sense to us. But I’ve thought about the love that is offered by God to us and as far as I can tell, it’s the stupidest, most senseless and illogical love ever, if you base it on the standards of what love is in this world.

Imagine a lover that comes to you only when they want something. Who spends more time with other men/women than you. Who when they are going through problems, would seek solace either in their own arms, or the arms of another. Who never listens to anything you tell them but would often do the opposite even. Who rarely credits you when things are going well but almost always blames you when things are going wrong. Sounds like the biggest douchebag/bitch in the world right? But that’s really how we treat God. If God subscribes to the philosophy of love in this world then He would certainly make us ‘sleep on the couch for the rest of our lives’. But yet He chooses to love us, even though we often treat him like thrash.

There is so much heartache in this world that’s borne out of people just logically making decisions on what love should be. If I had a magic wand I would wave it around so that people in this world would learn to love a little illogically sometimes. After all, anything great in this world should require an element of toil and sacrifice. That we would learn to love a little like God, to punt when not many boxes are ticked. That we would be able to see the sincere and repentant love being offered by another and be able to find it within ourselves to love them back.

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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 …

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.

 

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 …