the land ahead…

Surreal.

While many around me watch with a mixture of fascination & horror as events unfold in Japan, I sit with Mother, discussing her move to Atami. Ironic how she was traveling back to a place filled with disaster when the rest of the world was trying to get out.

‘Sakiko’s relatives are still missing,’ Mina-san said to me at the table, as we tried to enjoy ourselves at Mother’s farewell dinner. ‘Her mother and father are here, but everyone else is back in Miyagi.’

‘Did she grow up there?’ I asked. Sakiko was her colleague and close friend.

‘Yes… it’s her hometown. She received news that her best friend is dead. Her mother can’t eat because her younger brother is still missing, as is the rest of the family. And her father’s entire business was built in Miyagi, so now, he basically has no work to return to.’

The sashimi managed to get stuck in my throat. And that was when our phones beeped. We had set it to receive notifications whenever there was news from Japan.

‘Five minutes ago, there was another earthquake, this time further down south, in Shizuoka.’ I said. ‘The earthquake measured 6.0 in magnitude…’

‘Shizuoka?’ Mother looked up. ‘That’s far away from Miyagi.’ And a little closer to where Mother is going to be in two days’ time. Mina-san quietly began texting on her mobile. Her family was in Kanagawa, a prefecture beside Shizuoka.

‘Is everything okay?’ I asked.

‘It should be. They’ve already suffered the worst on Friday, but I’m just checking to see that they’re all doing well.’ Thankfully, they were. ‘Although my sister just had a massive quarrel with her husband.’

‘Quarrel at a time like this? What happened?’

‘She was pissed that while they – mom and her – were busy hiding from things that could fall, he was snoring on the couch.’ Mina-san laughed.

It felt good then to smile again. Still, this disaster feels too real and it’s getting under my skin. I know these people. I’ve lived with them. Japan is my second home… and to see what’s happening to the country is akin to watching a gang of brutal rapists attack someone you love.

You feel helpless, angry and weepy, all at the same time.

*

Tired of the news footage I’ve seen so far, I decided to browse some pictures that talked about the human plight, strength, resilience and courage. Here are some (of the best) I found from Life. You can click on the pictures to lead you straight to the gallery itself.

Holding On (March 12)
A soldier carries an elderly woman on his back as people are evacuated to a shelter in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture.

Lining Up (March 14)
A mass of people wait to buy food at a grocery store in hard-hit Sendai.

Please Call (March 14)
Thousands are missing in Japan since the quake. Here, a woman posts a message for loved ones at an evacuation center in Natori.
Aftermath
A young survivor surveys the destruction in the northern Japanese city of Ishinomaki, two days after a tsunami ravaged the coast. In the days following the quake, as the waters receded, the nightmarish scale of the destruction became evident: entire towns were, in effect, wiped from the map; cars, buses, homes, people were washed away…

Doing Her Part
Neena Sasaki, 5, carries family belongings from her destroyed home in Rikuzentakata.

Smiles Amid Ruin
A soldier smiles as he holds a four-month-old baby who, along with with her family, survived the tsunami’s devastation in Ishinomaki.
Sharing The Pain
A woman holds her granddaughter at a shelter at Natori.
A Moment To Remember
A man lights a candle in memory of the victims of Japan’s massive March 11, 2011 earthquake in a park in Sendai. It is believed the death count in Japan could reach 10,000.

*

I’ve never been in a nuclear reactor. For those of you like me, here’s a gallery of pictures you can browse (not of those in Japan but a historical walk through) to help make sense of everything happening in the news.

*

Throughout the past few days, Mother hasn’t once lost her cheerful outlook on life. In light of all that’s happened, she’s utterly convinced that heading back to Japan is the right thing to do. And I can’t agree more. If there ever was a time when my grandmother and relatives need her, it’s now.

I can be unselfish about that. She being there would also allow us back here to direct our help in a more focused way. But I’ll miss her ability to laugh at the most dire of circumstances and honestly, Mother is such a beacon of encouragement and light. Am I fearful that I’ll sink into a deep pit of darkness once she goes? A little. My heart has been aching in a million places these past few days – for the people in Japan, for the history that many have lost, and yes… for me. But I’ll manage.

I’m going to miss that spunky, cheeky lady like hell though.

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letter to the broken-hearted

Dear friend

How do you stop your heart from breaking? Every moment, the silence rips each piece of my being into a million pieces, with no promise or hope of mending. I try to hold it together, put on the bravest of faces, smile to all who are familiar and yet within lies a hurt so unbearable that my strength is but a mere shadow.

I tell myself that it will get better with each day and I hope to fight a winning battle at the break of new dawn. Then I awaken from slumber and the hours ahead feel like hell.

How do I fill the void that’s within, when all focus and distractions have abandoned me? I know what needs to be done but my capabilities struggle and fail. There is no comfort except for the assurance from the one I love… but when silence is the only sound, all sanity, resolve, confidence and everything I know leaves me…

And I’m left with nothing but the unbearable heaviness of being.

She broke up with me. No, more than that. She broke me.

How do you live when your person has been shattered into a million pieces?

*

I logged in to my email account, only to read a dear friend’s heart-wrenching note about how she got dumped. The relationship seemed so magically beautiful when they first met and then, a few weeks later, with no warning whatsoever, the other person ended it.

‘I never told anyone this, but I think I found The One,’ she confided in me. ‘It’s hell. I don’t know how to live from here onwards.’

This was just yesterday. A few days before, I received a text message from Mrs Couple. She had just got her separation papers and the divorce will be made official in a matter of months.

‘What do I tell the kids? The truth? A lie? What?’ Mrs Couple asked me. ‘How do I explain to them that Daddy won’t be coming home? And me… how will ever believe in love again?’

Then there are the two chaps I caught up recently, both getting over the girls they had been dating for months.

‘Every day is a fight to resist making contact with the other person,’ they said. I looked into their tired eyes and wondered when they last had a good night’s sleep.

Deep in pain, they just wanted to know one thing.

‘How do I get through this?’

*

What do you say to a broken heart? How do you tell a person that everything will be okay? When you’re deep in pain and can’t see past the bleeding wound, it’s almost impossible to imagine the day it heals. It’s too surreal a hope.

‘How did you get through your pain?’ the friend who wrote the note asked me.

‘God,’ I said.

I knew it seemed too simplistic an answer but like the very breath on my lips, it was through intense pain that I found my way to recovery through Him. The drugs didn’t work, neither did the alcohol, or physical pain of any sort. When I came down from my high, reality – with all its claws – was waiting. God changed my reality. And that was a fact.

‘The Dream Maker huh. Why do you call Him that?’ she asked.

‘Because the day I found myself broken, when all creativity had died, when my dreams were snuffed and tomorrow was too painful to imagine living through, He came and gave me new dreams. He took all the pieces of me and over the months, knitted them together with a love that I couldn’t imagine existed.’

‘I’m too proud to ask for help,’ she replied. ‘I think it’s hypocritical if I go to Him when I’m all bleak, only to forget Him when all is well.’

‘You won’t forget Him,’ I said, ‘How do you forget the One who was there when no one else was?’

I didn’t. He’s all I have.

*

Humanity lies bleeding at my doorstep. I want to help, I want to reach out and give them hope, love, riches… anything to ease the pain but I look at each and every one of these people I love and I realize, I can’t.

I don’t have the power to make them dream again.

*

My dear friend

I wish I could wrap you up in my arms and love you till the pain eased.

If I could…

I’d take the tears you cry and bottle them because they are precious.
I’d take the colours of the rainbow and knit them into your soul.
I’d take the wind and tie them to your spirit so you could fly.
I’d take the rain to wash away the darkness in your being.
I’d take your hand and just be there whenever, wherever.

If I could… but I can’t. So instead, I’ll write you new dreams, re-write the stories of the life you know and trade it in for the life you want to have. I’ll carefully seal these in an envelope and place it in the hands of the Dream Maker. Then as you lay your head on your pillow and finally fall asleep, tired from the fight in your mind, may you meet the Dream Maker.

And one day, you’ll smile again.

I love you dear friend.

a wedgie of a problem

No! No! No! No! No!

I just came back from a run and although my knees didn’t feel awful while I was out on the track, they ached when I climbed the stairs up to my apartment. To be honest, they ache all the time, especially when I wear heels. And I wear wedges and platforms a lot (they are my magic ‘fat-day’ solution). Thinking that I’d better do a little research on the types of exercises I need to strengthen them, I found out something I wish I hadn’t.

Now we all know heels are bad. Whatever. The results (I tell myself everyday I come home with sore feet) are worth tottering around on my 4-inch wedges. But in a study performed in 2001, both American and UK scientists found that compared to thin heels (killer stilettos), thicker heels actually put more stress on the knees as it adds way more pressure on your quadriceps – 30% more than walking barefoot – which in turn, deteriorates the health of your knees.

Their advice?

Wear trainers, walk to work and lose weight.

What the… ?!

No. I cannot accept that. I am going to work on strengthening my knees with exercises that sound very futuristic instead.

Every morning now, I shall devote at least 15 minutes to 3-D Matrix Hops, 3-D Matrix Lunges, Single-leg Balance Squats, Mirror Matrix and Two-legged Jumping. I will put my row of wedges in a line and stare at them (in case I lose the will to do the work) and do this for my shoes.

Oh yes, and for my knees too.

*sob*

This cannot be happening…

Just in case though, I have planned a week’s worth of outfits that match flats instead. I guess a part of me does recognize that when I wear the heels, my knees do ache that little bit more. I was just hoping it was my imagination.

(See the original BBC report here)

*

When I began overhauling the state of my health life, I never expected that it’d extend into my wardrobe. You see, like any other girl, I love my clothes and shoes. I have carefully collected a very wide selection of garments that span almost 15 years of devotion to personal style.

My wardrobe now takes up an entire room and to be honest, there’s not enough space there. My clothes have somehow creeped into other parts of the house and there are pieces of random jackets, tops, dresses and bags hanging everywhere. This has been made worse by the recent renovation works I had to accommodate in the bedroom/closet.

When I began running, I realized with a little sadness that I stopped styling myself every morning. There were days when I was contented to leave the house in a simple top, cardigan and jeans, sans my arm-filled bangles and various accessories. These things became less important as I focused more on preparing a healthy breakfast before I left the house.

I used to rush out in a hurry after spending almost an hour dolling myself up. Now, I spend about 20 minutes extra in bed, 20 minutes on myself and 20 minutes on breakfast. I have become (horrors!) a little slack in my personal style.

Now to lose my shoes too?

I guess I just have to ask myself… what’s important to me now?

*

My first thought as we confirmed our trip to Nepal (we’re doing the Annapurna circuit) was ‘how am I going to style my hair every morning? Can I bring my flat iron? Do they even have electricity in the cabins?’

Don’t mock me now.

before all things lifeless

‘He’s brain dead,’ Soft Speaker choked back her sobs. ‘The doctor told me to gather the family around and decide if we want to pull the plug on the support systems… I don’t know what to do.’

There were no words I knew then to say how I felt. It was all too sudden. Just 7 days ago, her father was getting ready to watch the soccer match when he suffered a severe stroke. Soft Speaker was in her bedroom trying to sleep but heard unusual muffled sounds coming from the living room.

‘He was gagging and flailing his arms when I came out, and wasn’t responding to my voice. I called the ambulance and by the time they arrived, he was still.’

They rushed him into intensive care and his condition stabilized but on Sunday, his brain began bleeding again.

‘From that moment on, I felt as though he wasn’t around anymore. His body is still warm but… where is he?’ Soft Speaker said, ‘and I miss him so much… I can’t imagine not having him around the house.’ Her face crumbled as she hugged herself tightly.

‘I want to believe that he’ll be okay but everyone around me seems to have accepted that he’s gone.’ Looking up at me, she asked, ‘Will you believe with me that he’ll be okay?’

And there in front of the glass case that sealed her father shut from the world, we hugged, clinging to each other for strength. Together, we willed ourselves to see past the wires, tubes and machines that surrounded her father. We chose instead to see the man who easily laughed with his family, grumbled when things didn’t go his way and cooked for his family.

‘I didn’t even talk much to him that day he came over,’ she said as we pulled away.

‘Don’t… don’t start regretting the moments that have passed. Be glad instead that he was close to you, that he had the chance to be with you and play with your son. You guys had, and will still have, great moments.’ I tried to encourage her. I wasn’t sure if I even believed what I was saying.

We donned our surgical masks and sanitized our hands before entering the glass room called the intensive care unit. It was cold but I wasn’t sure if it was the sad people that filled the corridors, their desperation for a religion to make a way of hope, the clinical and cold look of all the nurses or the silent, unmoving air all around.

Looking down at her father’s face, the tears began to well up in my eyes as I heard a song echo in my mind.

‘Breaking the curse of our condition, perfection took our place
When only love could make a way, you gave your life in a beautiful exchange’

– Joel Houston

‘We have hope,’ I whispered, ‘because we have a God that traded places with us at the cross. Let us not be awed by the death or hopelessness in this storm. Let us be mesmerized by the One who stilled that storm with one word, who raised a dead man with His voice, who says that He’s the God of our moments – our here and now. Let’s see Jesus.’

Soft Speaker nodded, her gaze sweeping over the machines the beeped rhythmically before coming to rest on her father’s face. She finally looked at me and smiled.

‘Thanks for coming down. It means so much to me.’

‘How could I not come?’ I answered, ‘you’re my friend.’

*

‘The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.’

– J.R.R. Tolkien

In history’s darkest hours, a man kneeled silent in a garden. Under tremendous pressure, torment and pain, He cried out for a way, any way but that which His father had asked Him to take. It wasn’t easy and twice, He returned to His friends to ask for support… except that each time he went to them, they were asleep. They couldn’t stay awake long enough to be there for him. There was no one to turn to. This was a choice He had to make on His own.

‘Beneath the rubble of a fallen world, He pierced His hands. In the wreckage of a collapsed humanity, He ripped open his side… He gave His blood.

It was all He had.’

– Max Lucado

His very act on the cross re-wrote history.

Today, as I traveled home, I thought back to that scene. That singular moment in the dark made me realize that we need not have our dark, lonely moments. When Soft Speaker needed people, they came forward. When she needed hope, there was reason to believe. All these things… that man in the garden didn’t have. He gave them up so that years later, we could hope.

I will keep my promise to Soft Speaker. I will believe with her that life can blossom in the dead earth. I will stretch forth my hand and hold hers, as the Dream Maker embraces our world.

I will believe.