living | now

She lies there on her bed, in a room where all is quiet. It’s been two hours since she opened her eyes but she hasn’t moved, save to clumsily stretch out towards the bedside table, hunger propelling her hands to pick up a biscuit. It takes her ten minutes to finish her little meal. Thirsty, she ponders on her ability to get some water but she knows it’s not something she can do, not now.

Closing her eyes, sleep escapes her. She isn’t tired. Her ears perk up whenever someone shuffles past her apartment, but it will be another hour before someone walks through her front door with lunch. It’s interesting how the body becomes sensitive to the slightest pressure, when forced to keep to one position for long periods of time…

She thinks about the pain. It’s a welcome relief from the tormenting thoughts that demand entrance into her mind. Not much longer… she tells herself. I can wait. I can do this.

*

‘I’m flying back to Japan tonight,’ Mother said to me.

‘What time’s your flight?’ I didn’t need to ask why. I already knew. Still, this was a departure grossly accelerated.

‘10.45pm. Enough time to head home after work, pack, and reach the airport for check-in.’

Earlier that morning, Mother told me that an email had arrived from Obachan’s care manager. Obachan lives in an elderly care estate and while it’s stipulated in their contract that all occupants must be able-bodied, Obachan was completely immobile. Two weeks ago, she hurt her back and since then, had been confined to her bed.

‘Why won’t she hire a full-time nurse?’ I asked.

‘She’d rather be alone than to have a stranger in her apartment the whole day. She’s obstinate that way.’

Obachan did have a full-time helper for a while, but a week ago, fired her. They had been quarreling and she was tired of being told what to do.

‘She’s only comfortable with a nurse coming in at lunch and dinner, for an hour each visit. That’s barely enough time to feed her, clean her and tidy things up.’ Mother sighed. ‘And this morning, the care manager wrote to me saying that it seems she’s starting to become a little delusional. Can you imagine lying there for the whole day? Unable to do anything but think? Anyone in her position would start having weird thoughts. And she’s talking about darkness and oppression, being unable to breathe at night…’

‘When will you be back?’ I asked.

‘A week later. I’m just hoping to help get her eating again and well enough to manage things on her own… at least till I return to take care of her for good.’

I nodded, refusing to let the tears fall.

But after Mother left, I did cry.

For my grandmother who’s fighting for her life.
For my mother who’s trying to stay strong and positive.
And for me who’s trying to say goodbye.

*

‘I’m not ready for this,’ I marched up to the Dream Maker. ‘Seriously, this is all too rushed!’

I had plans to visit Obachan, to take her stories and document them down in a book for our future generations. These were stories that needed to be told – stories of her courage and commitment, of living through the war and raising up a family amidst poverty, of a life that today, doesn’t exist anymore – there is still so much to learn from her. And I wanted her to see that.

I didn’t have the chance to celebrate Mother’s birthday either. We were planning on taking her out with the family to do everything that she wanted to do…

‘What is going on?’ I sobbed angrily.

‘Are you crying for yourself or for them?’ He asked.

‘For all of us! We had plans… but now, it feels as though we’re barely able stay above the tidal waves, there’s no chance to breathe in deep nor think clearly…’

‘There is only now.’ He replied. I glared at Him in frustration. What kind of one-liner was that?

‘You are angry because the future doesn’t line up with your plans. You feel guilty because you know you could have done more in the past. But both don’t exist. And that’s why you’re frustrated. You aren’t where you’re supposed to be.’ He continued.

‘Now? And what can I do with now?’ I shot back.

‘What would you do, if that’s all you have?’ He asked.

I kept quiet. I thought about the Mother… perhaps she’d appreciate it if I sent her an encouraging email. And grandmother? I could do a video recording of the family telling her she was in our prayers… that we loved her and were looking forward to seeing her get better.

‘The future is for Me to handle…’ the Dream Maker said. ‘It’s what I’m here for. And I am faithful.’

For a split-second, I thought I saw a fiery glint in His eyes. Then bowing my head, I nodded.

*

‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these… is love.’

– 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

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little. and scared.

I’ll go right out and say this.

I’m scared.

It feels like I’m in a little wooden boat in the middle of the lake, and the stormy clouds have rolled in. I see the changes in my surroundings, feel the winds shift on my skin, see the waters begin to stir… but the full impact of my situation hasn’t hit me yet. I just know that me and my puny arms aren’t going to make it to the shoreline in time.

If I’m alone, that is.

*

Did you ever face such demands on your life that you don’t even know where to begin to meet them?

There’s not enough time in a day to fit them all in.
I’m not disciplined enough and procrastination is still my best friend.
I don’t have enough resources, talent, intelligence, money…

All I want to do is bury my head under my pillows and pretend I don’t exist.

But! (And here’s the big BUT)

I don’t exist. Theoretically speaking… because I died and rose again in Christ. And in that union, well, I’m never actually alone. It’s like playing a game on your iPhone and time is running out, you can’t conquer the zombies, it’s going to end… when you suddenly realize you didn’t activate the superpower in your pocket. Which, once you do, clearing that level is easy-peasy. Almost fun, in fact.

Righto. So it all boils down to the Person with me. The extra Hands in my little rickety boat.

I just need to remember that when the storms begin…

*

‘Do one thing everyday that scares you.’

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Little me can face fear when big Him is by my side. No matter how scary the future of things may appear. Who knows? He did calm a storm before. I’m sure He’ll be able to do something about my life.

 

the bridge

‘I can’t do this,’ I murmured to no one in particular. ‘Is there an easier way?’

‘There…’ Sajan pointed to the waters. ‘We’ll follow Binod.’

The four of us trooped down to the waters and crossed the river on the rocks. Getting our feet wet just felt like a better option than falling off a rickety, wooden old bridge. Besides, we were exhausted from trekking nearly 1,000m up that one day and doing a balancing act just wasn’t something we wanted to face.

On our way back down from the Annapurna Base Camp the next day, we started towards the river again when I felt a strong, deep pull towards that bridge. It meant something to me. I didn’t want to come home knowing that there was something I didn’t do out of fear.

‘Hold on guys, I’m going that way…’ I pointed to the wooden thing. I climbed back up and stood there for a bit. Then screaming silently (although my friend swears I did it out loud), I started walking.

Images of me falling into the cold waters flashed across my mind.

‘I can do this…’ I muttered to myself as the bridge bounced under my weight. Halfway across, I nearly lost my balance and flung my hands out. Steady. Deep breath. My thoughts weren’t sentences anymore. They were fragmented ideas. I guess that’s where my mental scream became audible. Whatever.

‘Only a few more steps…’ I gritted my teeth, doing my best to ignore the rest watching from across the river. And then… ‘I did it!’ I screamed as I stepped on solid ground again.

Turning around, I watched as Binod (my porter) nimbly walked across in under 20 seconds.

‘Damn boy, you sure are a mountain goat.’ I said. He laughed. I’m not sure if he understood.

But there. I did it. The final bridge that I feared.

I was a finisher.

*

‘That’s my favourite mountain,’ my friend said, pointing at Machapuchre.

We looked at its fish-tail peaks, bathed in the morning sun’s glow.

‘I guess being quirky is a beautiful thing,’ I replied, thinking about more things than mountains.

*

Cradling heating packs in my pockets (yes, I am a wimp when it comes to the cold, especially my hands), we walked out to the back sides of the Annapurna Base Camp and were greeted with this amazing view.

Standing there as the clouds rolled and swirled all around us, I sighed. It was such an exhilarating feeling, knowing that I’d trekked all the way up there. I made it. My first time.

‘You know what sucks?’ my friend said, after a few minutes of silence.

‘What?’ I looked at her, puzzled. The view was fantastic and I was still high on the adrenaline (and lack of oxygen, possibly).

‘The fact that we have to go down the same distance we came up.’

Right.

I sighed again.

*

Would I do it all again? Definitely.

I’ve decided that every year, I want to conquer a mountain (or base camp, or bridge, for that matter) just before my birthday. It’s a symbolic act, to close each year of growth with an adrenaline rush. Because life just seemed that slight bit different, when I returned.

Or it could be though, that I was the one who came back changed.

[All pictures courtesy of Coralie, a lovely girl we met on our journey]

iRun

I like to celebrate before I’ve actually done something successfully.

It’s nice to savour the moment of decision, plunging ahead into the unknown where you don’t know what the results will be. Of course, when I’m thrown into a project and scrambling to break through the waters for a quick breath, I don’t get that chance to celebrate. However, when the decision to do something rests in my hands…

I celebrate.

I am going to run my first race tomorrow. I put that word in italics because truthfully, I won’t actually be racing against anyone. I just want to get to the finish line in one piece, and as long as I’m not the last person doing it, I’m happy.

I’ve been holding on to my white iPod nano (one of the most thoughtful gifts from Spike) and actually enjoy taking it with me while I run as I imagine my muscles working that little bit harder… but I thought that maybe, it was time to get another smaller one. It was almost perfect timing when DigiBoy called me from the Apple Shop in Houston.

I missed that call but he helped me one anyway, since he knew I’d been eyeing the latest stainless steel version. And so, today, I got my new baby.

Isn’t she a sparkling beauty?

Even better, I met Pale Beauty at an open mic event and she offered to pick me up early in the morning. We’ll set off at 5.45am (ack!) and hopefully, be at the start line 30 minutes before flag off, with ample time to warm up. I am going to head to bed early today to try for a full 7 hours of sleep.

I’m actually doing it. My first official run in… 17 years.

‘You don’t look like someone who runs!’ Trish, a makeup artist laughed when she heard about my plans for tomorrow. ‘A race for the best shopping maybe, but run? Why?’

‘Well… I thought it’d be nice to do something I’d never done before,’ I answered.

‘That’s a good reason,’ she nodded.

‘I walked yesterday!’ piped up the Designer.

‘Oh really? That’s great! Are you into exercise?’ I asked, looking at him as he set up the lights for our photo-shoot.

‘I used to be, until my body couldn’t take it anymore.’ He said. ‘It’s a miracle I’m walking today, that’s what the doctor said to me.’

‘What happened?’ I couldn’t imagine what type of sport he once did to warrant such extreme accidents.

‘I jumped out of a plane but my parachute wasn’t working well that day. I broke my spine and was told that I’d be crippled for life. Guess the doc was wrong,’ he smiled. ‘Before that, I also broke a couple of bones, twisted both ankles at least ten times each, tore more than five ligaments in various parts of my body… I guess I just get too excited when I do sports.’

‘How about swimming? That’s a low impact thing you could do…’ I suggested.

‘Ah… if there’s one thing I detest, it’s to get into the water,’ he wrinkled his nose, ‘so now, I walk.’

‘Let’s celebrate!’ I said.

‘I already did. I bought myself the iPad,’ he chuckled.

*

Baby steps after a fall.

Haruki Murakami was right. Pain is inevitable but suffering? It’s optional.

Pain comes in all forms, physical or emotional but whether we resign ourselves to a state of suffering, or we get up and walk on is another thing.

Doing this run tomorrow is monumental to me.

I signed up alone – and no longer fear being independent. I don’t need to wait for others till I make a decision, something that I used to do. I don’t need to fear failure, a bad trait I have as the perfectionist in me wants to only do things in which I know I’ll succeed. I may flail and flounder in an environment that’s unfamiliar but for once, I’m getting out of my comfort zone and reaching out for goals that I don’t need to conquer. This is a goal I just want to accomplish, for myself.

I got more disciplined in training for the run. In the past, I relied a lot on others to do the research and pull together plans while I lazily went along with them. This time, I actually got off my ass to make things happened. I went to the library, read a few books, bought a couple of magazines, subscribed to newsletters… all to familiarize myself with this thing called running. Oh yes, and I actually ran too.

The best part of it all? I made new friends. Friends who love running too. Friends who offer tips, advice and support. It’s a weird, wonderful feeling. My world has grown that little bit bigger.

And to think it all started with a question that Smiley asked me months ago…

‘I just signed up for the marathon in December. Are you going?’ He texted me.

‘Yeah, I think I will,’ I replied.

I immediately went to the website and for some strange reason, signed up for the half-marathon (I’m not that ambitious! Baby steps, remember?) and was subsequently hit by fear. ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’ I gasped at the laptop screen.

Since then, I signed up for an easier run (tomorrow’s) and have entered this new world that really, dear reader, is exquisite.

Amazing then, what putting one foot in front of the other can yield.

I am a runner, albeit a slow one.

But unashamedly so.

*

Something has changed within me, something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. Too late for second-guessing, too late to go back to sleep. It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap.

I’m through accepting limits coz someone says they’re so. Some things I cannot change but till I try, I’ll never know…

So if you care to find me, look to the western sky. As someone told me lately, ‘Everyone deserves the chance to fly’. And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free. To those who’d ground me, take a message back from me. Tell them how I am defying gravity, I’m flying high…

– Defying Gravity (from Wicked, the musical)

taking the leap

‘Live in the present, remember the past, and fear not the future, for it doesn’t exist and never shall. There is only now.’

– Christopher Paolini

If I can get through tomorrow in one piece, with everything intact, I’ll know a miracle took place.

I have three shoots scheduled, back to back in the evening. Besides having to script these ‘interviews’ in a foreign language, I’ll need to direct a very important guest and two testimonials. I couldn’t find a makeup artist in time and so, I’ll be doing makeup on my own. While coordinating with the camera person the shots I want, making the guests feel comfortable and directing the entire production. Brilliant. And hugely impossible.

Once that wraps, I’m off to the gig which I’m guessing, I might be late for. I wanted to back out but the tickets have already been purchased so I’ll just have to pop in for a bit and hopefully, catch my favourite songs.

Just before the gig ends, I’m off for the final appointment – the mother of them all. And it is this final appointment that I’m most anxious about. Because this is the second instalment of making my dreams come true and I’m just worried about how it’ll end. The conclusion is beyond my control.

I stand before my day… a ball of nerves.

This is it, people. This is really it. I’m actually going to do it. It’s impulsive, rash and yet, something I’ve deliberated over for years. But I’m walking ahead, ready… to take the leap of faith.

(while I chew my nails)

*

‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.’

– Paulo Coelho

‘How was the run?’ A complete stranger asked me on Sunday as he walked past, before waiting for my answer.

‘Heard you’re running now, since when?’ DigiBoy said when he popped by to help me burn some DVDs.

‘You too?!’ Dimples squealed when she found out I’d been talking to Kitty about training.

‘What’s up with the marathon?’ A few members of the band asked me when I told them I was unavailable for some dates.

I told them I wanted to lose weight, that I just wanted to run for fun… the reasons were many but all of them half-truths. The real reason is that I’m doing this for myself. I want… no, need to know that I can do this. That is my only reason. I want to do something I’ve never been able to do before, never even thought I could accomplish.

I’ve faltered so many times when it came to long-distance running. It was always my mental strength that failed me – not the burning legs or the lack of stamina – it was giving up in my mind long before I even saw the finishing line.

To do the races, to cross that finishing line, is just for me. I need to know I can complete something hard, something I’ve always failed to finish.

Tonight, I hit the tracks again although everything in me rebelled against the idea of going out. Out of sheer habit, I changed, took my iPod and went downstairs. The music I selected failed to energize me. The weather was humid. The tracks empty. Quietly, I began my run and very nearly gave up before I’d even finished one round. Then it hit me.

This was how it’s going to feel in the middle of the race. Can I overcome the immense sense of ‘quit’ in me?

I continued running. It burned my legs and for the first time in weeks, I developed stitches in my side. Still, I carried on for no one else… but me. I met a rat who ran alongside for a bit. A lizard crossed my path. A large cat watched my heavy steps. I ran on.

And crossed the 40 minute mark. I did it.

*

‘To me, Fearless is not the absense of fear. It’s not being completely unafraid. To me, Fearless is having fears. Fearless is having doubts. Lots of them. To me, Fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you to death.’

– Taylor Swift

As long as my gaze is fixed on the Dream Maker, it’ll be alright.

I’m taking the next big leap, my eyes on Him.

Fearless.

in all my fears…

Can I be thoroughly honest here?

You won’t judge my frailty or vulnerability will you?

Will it change the way you see me?

Do I become a lesser person, if you know what I fear?

*

I was called in for a quick rehearsal with the girls, for a song that we need to perform two weeks later. I have not spent any time practicing nor developing my vocals this whole year, so I know that when it comes to singing, I am severely lacking. Which is one of the reasons why I was initially reluctant. True enough, whole solo sections were handed out to the other singers and I was given what I guess I do best, the harmony lines. The supporting act.

Add to that the fact that I’ll be leading the worship session that day, I am again, faced with this huge weakness that I have: in this team of singers… I can’t sing as well as them.

I can hold a melody line, and yes, they say that I am good at rhythm, but darn it, I can’t sing as well as they all do. So why am I here?

‘I wish I had what you have,’ Softspeaker said to me.

‘Wha… What in the world are you talking about?’ I asked her.

‘Your groove, your infectious ability to lead people to sing along with you, I wish I had that. Can you help me?’ She smiled.

This is the girl I first heard singing when I came to church more than ten years ago. She was the one I saw leading people… whose voice could reach the hardest of hearts and melt them with her song. When I first began singing in the team, I did my best to imitate her, to sing like her, to blend with her. And she was asking me for help?

‘Babe, I wish I could sing like you…’ I trailed off.

‘Funny huh…’ she mused. ‘We fail to recognize our place in the team. We forget that each of us brings something special, something that no one else can replace. And we long for what others have, ignoring what we have. We fail to realise that we’re contributors too.’

Yes. She was right. In my pity-party, I was overwhelmed by my lack and couldn’t see beyond myself to the truth that it didn’t matter how little I think I have, I still have something precious that I can give. This thought plainly boggles my mind because when I listen back to my recordings, all I can do is cringe.

‘Why are we so pathetically small-minded?’ I wondered as I walked out of rehearsals. ‘Why do I look at myself when really, it’s not about me?’ I was slightly irritated with my pride.

Alone, I sighed. ‘Here you go, Lord. It’s little, it’s all I have.’

And I could almost here the gentlest of whispers in my ears saying, ‘Thank you. It’s all I need.’

I am humbled.

*

Bob Dylan (featured above) was never known to have a good singing voice. If anything, they described his nasal tones and sandpaper voice as almost grating. Still, he won millions of fans with his passion and lyrical song-writing. His recent album showed more of his lack in vocal prowess (due to age, I figure) but he keeps at what he’s doing, and he’s recognized for that.

‘Have you ever written a song?’ Smiley asked me.

Yes, I have done that. One actually was recorded and funnily, I tried to hide that fact from him.

‘Why? Why won’t you tell me where it’s been recorded?’ he asked.

Honestly? Oh, it’s going to hurt to be this truthful but it’s because it came from the heart. And if someone judges the song… I feel almost as if they are judging… me – in my most vulnerable of moments.

I thought about it though, on my way home. The fear of not being accepted. The fear of my weaknesses on display for the world. The fear of being… not good enough.

‘If it’s not good enough for you, will you give it to me?’ I heard the Dream Maker ask. ‘Because to Me, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard. You are the most beautiful thing to me.’

And I crumbled.

The song doesn’t belong to me. It never did. It’s a mere tool of passion, that hopefully, will continue to touch the random listener one night, in a deep, quiet moment.

The singing doesn’t belong to me. It never did. It’s a mere tool for Him to use, at any level.

Am I willing to lose control of these elements – whether they fail or succeed – and to release them wholly into His hands?

‘I do.’

I smile as He takes my hand.

‘Dear god, I do.’

mad world

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

– Rafael Sabatini

How often will two trains, on two completely different lines, fail the moment I am about to step in? Once on my way to work and the other, on my way home…

How often will cabs disappear when I need to get one?

How often will I walk out of the house on a warm day, wearing a cardigan & fishnet stockings?

How often will my fly be unzipped on my way to town?

How often will I make a Freudian slip and ask a total stranger to meet me at my place? Only to see him stammer in reply…

How often will I be woken up at 5.30am by the little girl, crying and asking for forgiveness because she’d stolen money from me?

Hopefully, not too often. It was a day filled with the most absurd of happenings. I threw my head back and laughed because like Akira Kurosawa said, ‘In a mad world, only the mad are sane.’

‘You truly believe that people always sing in life? Like in the musicals?’ Scooter Gal asked me.

‘Yes, I do.’ I smiled, before bursting into song for effect, and walking out, for drama.

*

I have this sense of impending doom. I know it’s largely due to the fact that the event is drawing closer and I have less than three weeks to see it all pulled together. The demands are quiet but strong, and while I can still laugh and find the humour in it all, I feel a little terrified. Like I always do.

‘What is your greatest fear?’ I asked Smiley last night.

‘Failure, and the shame that goes with that. I hate how it shapes some many things in my life. I know it holds me back, it keeps me from being happy… but I thank God it’s getting better.’ Smiley replied.

I do fear failure. I fear letting balls drop onto the floor. In my mind, when it happens, I can see the balls hit the ground in slow motion, the ‘clunk’ of their impact echoing all around me while a hush settles in the room of observers. I see myself looking up in horror, watching their faces, then…

Do I run away? Do I pick the balls up? Do I stand there and cry? Do I laugh, shrug my shoulders and try it all again?

It never lets up – Fear’s attack on my mind.

I find that I always need to make a choice to stand on what I believe in. If I can’t move forward, the least I can do is look up to the Dream Maker and cry, ‘help me, please.’

The beauty of it all is that He never once stopped to ask me what my plans were, or to evaluate my strategies, strengths or weaknesses. He always swooped in to gather me in His arms and meet my challenges, for me.

Am I mad for believing in His saving grace? I’ll let my life sing it’s song. If you listen carefully, it sounds like… hope.

*

‘Anxiety is nothing but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.’

– Seth Godin