Dec 3, 2016

words?

I love words. Words strung beautifully carry a sort of weight, a flavour-enhancer, that helps you say the ordinary thing in a way that makes the heart stir. I wish I could write the way you do, midnight blue glass beads, compact words sealed tight that lead me to pause and cup my face in my hands and cry. I wish my words could do that. To you. To anyone. Lead people into that secret world, golden hues, still veiled but not too cautiously. To have words so beautiful they make a heart bleed.


I wonder what you get out of writing. I wonder what writers get out of writing. For me, it's what I need to express myself. It untangles the grey rainy mess of emotions into coherent threads, turns it into something pretty, and when I see it as such my burden is lifted. All the weight in my heart has become that pretty thing, a colourful little bird with a melody, and I can click "Publish" and see it fly off into cyberspace, and it brings closure to the pain of the moment. That's why I need to write.

Why do you write?

Nov 27, 2016

when you're gone

whenever i walk past the place, i always look up and imagine you falling, falling, stopped. once i counted the floors. today i remembered your mum saying that the wind carried you, that God was merciful, because you'd have landed on the concrete otherwise. sarah told me that a few days ago mannie left a flower where you died. i miss you. and i hope you are well, that a heaven exists so that it can exist for you.

Nov 12, 2016

天冷就回来



i push open the window.
the wind plays at my ankles, it tickles my feet
as i behold the world below.

a breath. a leap. i go
i fall, i fall, i fall
and then i soar, i soar,
flying towards the arms of my Father
my fate sealed forevermore.

my gaze transfixed on the glorious heaven, it requires strength to look away
but i steal a gaze backward, back on the once-me lying in a bush.
people are gathered over the body. they are crying, one's hand is over his mouth and my mother is wailing but i don't understand,
don't they know, can't they see, how happy i am now?
look, ma, look! look i'm soaring, my body is made new. no grazes, no cuts.
the dishevelled me you are sobbing over, the hand unnaturally twisted and the eyes rolled back,
that is not me. that you once knew, but now i am here, i am flying to the Father, ma.
I am safe now. I am loved. In this place there is freedom and joy.



Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow'd in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.

- A Hymn to God the Father, John Donne

Nov 3, 2016

washed ashore

"if I take the wings of the morning / and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, / even there Your hand shall lead me, / and Your right hand shall hold me"


they say life is either the greatest curse, or the greatest gift


the love of my life invites me to walk on the beach. the sun is a gentle kiss and the sky is bluer than the bluest eyes and there is only delight in my heart, a sparkly summer fizz the colour of strawberries. i laugh as i hold his hand and he tightens his grip, warm. he urges us to walk towards the waves. i am hesitant - you never know what the waves might bring - the blue-green water contains all sorts of strange and prickly things. but he wants to go. he happily urges me on. my heart gives way, fizzy bubbly, our path goes a little diagonal and our feet criss cross and the waves are lapping nearer, nearer, the white foamy bubbles tickle my toes i dip my left foot in

a flash of a sting, lightning it bites burns

shock

i stand still for a second, the pain cutting off all thought and processing abilities

he doesn't move he only stands there with his hand over his mouth but his eyes spell sadness and not surprise

"did you know this was going to happen?"

"i-"

"YOU KNEW"

"it was not my intention"

"YOU KNEW." i whimper, fear creeping over like a black slimy monster. i let go. i cannot touch his hand anymore, it is poison, i cannot trust him. i back away - further into the water - his hand remains where it was but i cannot reach out any longer -

a mighty wave rushes in and sweeps me off my feet. i stumble, my butt is on the floor, i am being dragged away by the blue-green tide i cannot feel my legs and everything is a foamy rush but i think his hand is holding on to my arm i can't be sure? i don't want his hand i don't want it

but the alternative is floating out at sea, alive but worse than death-

hold on to me


i am choking, sputtering, a flat sprawling mess on the ground. the waves still wash ashore, they slow down and they halt at the level of my nostrils, and they recede again. everything is numb but there is a different numb somewhere on my right arm. He will not leave me abandoned, He will not let me go.

Oct 8, 2016

rage

she says a thing. a casual flippant comment. she probably didn’t even realise it. but something in your heart flares up. an explosive burst in the left side of your chest. it physically hurts. more than an ache. a punch from the inside. alarm bells, overheating. this red-hot energy extends into your throat, your fingers, it compels you like a vengeful puppeteer, it will only grow unless you make that scathing remark in reply

drops of bright-green acid

in an instant the rage disappears. vanishes as instantly as mist, as an eliminated fighter in the virtual ring, as a person who is alive and then isn’t.

temperature starts drastically falling

she heats up "why are you being such a bitch" it comes back an iron burn

"gee idk maybe a friend just died"

successive punches against the wall the plaster falls until a kind word breaks the fever

thermometer goes back to normal. 36.4

oh

oh i am so so sorry

back away

what did i do

now you only want to cry

Aug 14, 2016

liking vs loving?

this came out of a ten-minute whatsapp conversation with a friend, so i'm just putting it out here

Jacey Chin (Today 10:32PM):
Karen
Wads ur definition of liking n loving someone
Karen (Today 10:34PM):
Context? What do you mean?
Love is a very big word
Jacey Chin (Today 10:35PM):
Like hw do u know if u like a guy 
Or if u love a guy
Karen (Today 10:35PM):
Firstly, love is selfless even though you have your own self-love
Liking someone is selfish. You want him for yourself
You want to make out with him
Loving someone is...
Wholesome, pure
Liking someone might involve obsessing over someone
And turning reality into a warped fantasy
Because that's not really him
It's what you want him to be
Love can come only through knowing someone really well
In my opinion, love can only sprout from a good strong friendship
You can't love someone you don't know (although you can love the idea of someone)
Love is patient and kind
It doesn't seek its own way
It doesn't look for faults
Jacey Chin (Today 10:37PM): 
That's my most fave words from the bible
Love is patient, love is kind
Karen (Today 10:37PM):
Liking someone comes with a lot of judging. How good does he look? Does he look this good all the time? Is it his voice? His eyes?
Liking has reasons
Love doesn't

Jacey Chin (Today 10:37PM): 
And more... which i can't rmb

Karen (Today 10:38PM):
When you ask yourself why you like someone
If there are reasons
If it starts with reasons*
It's probably not love
If you just... love who he is as a person... love him... want to journey in life with him... maybe it's more than liking
I love you as a friend although I have no reason to - we're so different and we fight
There are friends I don't care that much for even though we're a lot more similar - but of course, love is also a decision
I can decide to love someone even when it's tough
To forgive, to bless when they hurt you, to desire their well-being above all even if at a cost

Jacey Chin (Today 10:40PM):
Agree

Karen (Today 10:41PM)
Yeah. In conclusion, liking is easy, love sticks through
Oh I have this BEAUTIFUL THING
let me find it

captain corelli's mandolin
"Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being 'in love', which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two."



* about the reasons thing - i actually don't know. i mean i'm thinking more of like 'his eyes' / 'he's cute and we click really well' / 'the way he looks at me' sort.. and even 'because he makes me a better me' / 'because i see myself in him' - because that's still sorta self-centered, and this / your perception of this could possibly change over time, too? but what about 'because when i look at him i see Christ' / 'because i know i can count on him to...something something..'... 'because we fit each other like perfect complementary parts and we are each other's better halves...' idk i'm having a hard time coming up with test examples. but i think this has to come with a lot deeper exploration and it really goes even right down to what you consider the purpose of marriage / whether God has a part to play in this. but i mean, this conversation wasn't so much in the context of a godly relationship - that's a whole different ball game, and also considers love much more in the sense of a duty than an emotion / a state of heart??... aiya it's hard, the word 'love' is so huge. anyway, if you have thoughts about this, lmk 

Jul 22, 2016

like lady liberty

Train doors open and loud brash slippers clamber towards the seat across me. I look up at once, on guard. The first thing I notice is the giant white paper cone; long, thick, dark green stems with fresh slender leaves peek out from the slit. The middle-aged, incredibly tanned woman struggles with the metre-long cone and plops down, her two bulky red plastic bags carelessly dropped on the adjacent seat. Bottles of fresh milk, packets of salt or sugar. "谢谢光临," the plastic bags say in serif font. Two seconds of silence. The woman tries to set the clumsy cone in a more comfortable position - between her legs, beside her thighs.  Paper crinkling. Her left hand takes it from her right, and she decides to hold it upright, almost austere if you ignored her slouch and her legs spread comfortably apart. You almost can't see her denim shorts. She doesn't give a shit what you think. Silence, save the humming of the train. A weird bulge hidden underneath her loose sleeveless top, it can't be her tummy, it can't be the way she's sitting - I'm perplexed, until she gets out a wad of five-dollar notes from her pocket. Ah. A fanny pack. Of course. She counts them with one hand and then puts them back. Silence. Her feet slide outwards and then in again, a little slipper-stomp, restless, as the train hums on. Watching her makes me feel restless, too - I've been on the train for half an hour without a book; my phone is dead; I'm half-considering getting out three stops early to walk home just so I don't need to be sitting still for another five minutes.

The train comes to a sleepy halt at Clementi, pauses, takes off again as it announces its next stop. She gets up abruptly, plastic bags and paper cone. Gets to the train doors on my left in three large climbing strides, as if she's tackling a mountain. Her legs actually look like they could belong to a high school netballer. They're slim and toned, even more tanned than the rest of her, not a golden glow but a somewhat dull dark tint, sun-charred. Her feet, though, are scarred with an undefined number of little discoloured irregular spots, bearing testament to hard things dropped or hot liquid accidentally spilt through the years. Metallic silver polish on neatly cut toenails. Suddenly she turns and hastes towards the train door on my right instead. The train zooms into Jurong East then slows, slows, comes to a complete stop; half the people in my carriage get out of their seats and wait at the doors. As soon as they open the crowd runs in hurried streams to the train on the opposite platform - it's probably the last one for the night. I still catch sight of that stark white cone. It floats past the barrier and the woman finds a seat right at the centre of my line of vision, her back facing me, her cone still being held upright like the torch of Lady Liberty.

Jul 20, 2016

unsafe



Cecilia runs over in a grey crop top, tight knee-length skirt and shiny black flats. I should have told her that I was planning to take her to the seaside. When she gets into the car I'm surprised: glittery eyeshadow, beautifully done eyeliner, lipstick that looks really good on her. All dolled up at 11.30pm. "Looking good!" I marvel. "My roommate was like, why are you so dressed up at this time of night, I was like, it's my birthday, indulge me, okay?"

In the car she plays Like A G6 and Justin Bieber's Sorry and we both sing along, unashamed. She's never been to Labrador Park, but she told me she wanted to go somewhere with water. (I was confused: "a water cooler? A vending machine?") We get out of the car and the salty wind greets us, caresses our faces, tousles our hair. Bright lights from the oil refinery island beyond. Songs are still blasting from her phone; we sit facing the sea. "Oh my gosh, I'm spending midnight of my eighteenth with you!!! I don't think I've ever celebrated at midnight outside before. I'm usually just sleeping." I open a bag of potato wheels but when I attempt to reach for my laptop the entire packet falls on the floor and it's all gone. "Should we let the fish eat them?" she asks, and throws a cupped handful of wheels into the water, white dots being carried by the wind. "oh no, it's still too close to the shore, I think we should stop." "It's at night, they can't see them!!" Bending over guffawing at the ridiculousness of it all.

We bin the rest of it and take a walk eastward, pop music announcing our arrival to the lizards and trees. "No fishing" signs, but the old men clearly don't care. "Which part of 'No Fishing' don't they understand," she grumbles. We stop at a lookout point. "Please don't let there be people," but there is, a middle-aged man with a rod. "Ugh." We occupy the space anyway. She's having a hard time finding a comfortable position with her skirt, so she lies down. "Oh my God can you help me take a Tumblr picture!!! HA. Forgive me, I'm being such a teenager." I open the camera app on her phone; no more music now, just the sound of iPhone camera snaps. She peruses the pictures - "I look like I'm dead!! Okay take me sitting up instead." "Your label is showing." She adjusts her skirt, but allows the small of her back to show. More photos in landscape, up close, in monochrome. I play with the camera angle so that the fishing uncle at the back doesn't get in the picture. "Oh the clouds behind you look really good," I notice, and snap a few candid shots of her with the sky. "Oi! Stop it! Stop taking! Unglam!" She laughs, snatches the phone from me.

Three boys come over with fishing rods. I notice that she isn't talking anymore. She keeps her gaze low, sits up straight, adjusts and readjusts her skirt from the back. She doesn't want anything to show anymore. I don't pay any attention to our intruders at first, but when I notice her discomfort I take a better look at them. Spectacles, caps, a kopitiam cup. Their fishing rods are still in their cases; they look out to the sea and assess the waves in soft, casual conversation. They look younger than me, and harmless. I realise how trusting I am of Singapore, how I project my own innocence and my narrow perception of Singaporean society on the strangers around me. But Cecilia hasn't been saying a word. She's still adjusting her skirt, keeping her gaze down. "Wanna go?" I ask. "Yeah." Her strides are long and quick, even in her tight skirt, even with her blistered foot.

Jun 21, 2016

adoption

These few weeks in Rome, my mind has been on three things in particular, none of which are related to the Rome trip at all: the guitar, resuming work at Koi when I'm back, and the prospect of adopting a child in the future. (Walao Karen, no boyfriend alr thinking about kids?? Lol) Well, regarding #1, I really miss playing the guitar even though I'm not great at it but the church I've been with is actually letting me play the guitar for service on Sunday! This is a huge deal for me because I've never played or sung at worship at my own church or cell group in Singapore, so... hooray! Hopefully I can play all the chords?

(plug for Rome Baptist Church, if ever any Rome tourists-to-be chance upon my site: yes, there are Protestant churches in Rome! And RBC made me feel so welcome right away. I felt more welcome at this church, more immediately assimilated into a bunch of friends, than I ever have at any other church in my life (and I've visited a good number of them, in a number of countries). My first day there I started talking to the person sitting beside me, Joseph from India, and some other guy who introduced me to the group of young adults and we all (Joseph included) went for lunch at a park, and had gelato after, and two of them accompanied me to the Pantheon. And every week there are new faces and the bunch of us go for lunch together and people are immediately friends and it's lovely :) such immediate, warm fellowship. New people just come up to the group all the time. And then there's a Bible Study thing on Fridays that some of the young adults in that group go for, and I just asked one of the guys if the church would let me play on Sunday, and he was like yes we'd be glad to have you!!! And I was like wow really, I should have asked earlier LOL I've been ITCHING to play the guitar - although I'm not good at all, only know the few essential chords - hopefully that's enough)

But this post isn't about #1, it's about #3. Adoption has always been at the back of my mind, and for some reason I've been thinking about it a fair bit here. Why do we still give birth and have our own kids when there are so many kids out there who don't have parents? I think every married couple that is willing and able to raise / nurture a child well (the prerequisites for any couple to have kids imo) should think about why they aren't adopting instead, just like how every hopeful pet-owner should consider the option of adopting an animal instead of buying one from the pet store. Why make more babies when there already exist so many children who need the care of parents? Yet it's a part of our humanity, perhaps, to want a baby that's our own flesh and blood. There's something special about having this life created by you, knowing that it's completely yours, a product of you and your spouse, the testament to and manifestation of your love that is unique and wholly special to the both of you. There's something very incredible about creating life. Yet aren't these selfish reasons, and the option of adoption far more reasonable and selfless?

Perhaps, if I have the money and tolerance (...and a husband...lol), I might have three or four children, two of whom are adopted. The fears lie in how one might reveal the fact of adoption to their children, how they might receive it, and whether their lives would indeed turn out for the better because of it. I envision that someday, when the little one asks where children come from, I might along with the technicalities of sex explain the fact of their adoption, along with the concept of how we are adopted children of God. God, in His love for us, reconciled our imperfect selves to Himself through the sacrifice of Jesus who paid the price for all our shortcomings, so that there was no sin left that could separate us from God. Being humans, we are still sinful, but through faith we call ourselves the adopted children of a perfect Father.

You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. - Rom 8:15-17

Does this fact of adoption make our relationship with God any less? Of course not; in fact, it shows even more greatly how much God loves us, that He would go the lengths to be our Father.

Jun 16, 2016

Saint Peter's Basilica / Irreverent Tourists

I stand in line waiting for the bag check, Memoirs of Hadrian in my hand. A short distance ahead of me, three girls are dressed in bustiers and skirts, midriffs entirely exposed. One has a jacket draped around her that I'm assuming she'll put on once she's inside; another has a glossy translucent wrapper around her shoulders that looks more like a classy wrapping paper or a huge roll of tracing paper than a shawl. It covers nothing. I can still see her bra strap beneath her bandeau.

On the way in, a small crowd is gathered around a little opening in the wall, taking pictures...it's a Vatican guard! The tourists are raising their arms, tiptoeing, clamoring to click the shutter; the sole lanky young man dressed in pompous red yellow and blue stands upright and unperturbed, his left arm outstretched to grasp a long metal pole.

In the basilica I see so many tourists with cheap translucent shawls carelessly wrapped around their waists as a makeshift skirt in an attempt to cover up. Cheap shawls, shawls that you can still see through, shawls that aren't tied properly so their shorts and bare legs still show - please can they not? If they don't have the respect to bring a skirt or just dress appropriately when they know they're going to St. Peter's Basilica of all churches - how would they feel if they knew they were in the presence of the King of Kings? Is this the way we respect royalty, let alone divinity? Sure, you might not believe in the religion; but at least respect the place by dressing right. Would you tie a "ROME" shawl around your waist as a makeshift skirt if you were going to a nice place for dinner? Why does a church warrant even less respect?

People walking around in berms and sandals, in a jumper and hobo pants, tour guides walking around with a raised umbrella or a small scarf tied on a stick. I mean, would you just look at the grandeur of this place for a second, spoiled by humans. The church adopted the architectural layout of the basilica, which in ancient times was a marketplace full of shops, because it was spacious and covered and it fit the needs of the church. Perhaps the St. Peter's Basilica of today feels more like an ancient basilica than the planners might have expected, with all that noise.

"EXCLUSIVELY FOR PRAYER AND ADORATION" - the chapel behind thick pale green curtains brings relief. Silence. People are kneeling, praying. Sitting there in prayer, when I run out words to say I still feel the presence and peace of God inviting me to stay, to simply be with him and let His presence fill my heart, in a quiet place undisturbed by visitors wandering and cameras snapping and people calling out to one another. I just sit in the little sanctuary enjoying the presence of God. Perhaps this is what adoration is about.

I also spend a long time in front of Michelangelo's Pieta. Tour groups float by me; I simply stand with my elbows on the barrier, taking in the emotion of the piece... I have never had a sculpture speak to my heart like that before, never spent so long staring at a statue before. Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?
A few days ago in the Vatican museum, a painting by Caravaggio made me think about how the apostles and Jesus' loved ones must have felt the night he died... betrayed, foolish, resigned, despondent. We gave our lives to follow Him... and He turned out only to be man. Dead. Scourged. Humiliated in every way. We thought there might be more and we banked our lives on it. Now He has left us, abandoned orphans, stupid to have believed something so impossible.
 

Beside me, a mother snaps a photo of her daughter with the Pieta. A pause; she doesn't move away. "Did you get it?" "Yes," the mother replies. "I just want to look at it." That's right. That's the way to be a tourist. Many people just snap a photo and go.

Near the entrance, a monk? - dark grey robe and a rope belt, no priest's collar - takes a rest on the floor, massages his leg. He's got a bright green earpiece in one ear, characteristic of those tour groups. A man comes over, tells him he can't sit there... he looks up with a friendly chuckle, massaging his leg.

At the painting of the transfiguration of Jesus by Raphael, the body of Pope Innocent XI lies below the altar, his face and hands encased in silver. A frail and withered picture, yet quite intriguing. Many simply snap a photo and go; tour groups crowd around for a minute, and then leave; I stay for quite a while. Another woman beside me, too, lingers. Eventually she comments "That's gross" and walks away. A Chinese tour group - ah maybe I'll understand something - unfortunately not. But they're nice, quiet and respectful. They come and leave silently. The tour guide speaks softly into her mouthpiece. Another tour group comes by, brushing past me, carrying musical instruments, orange bandannas tied around their collars.

At the tomb of the popes: the first thing I see is the tomb of Pope Boniface VIII - HURHUR alarm bells go off in my head. Dante hated Boniface. In Inferno, in the circle of hell for bad popes, a condemned soul mistakes Dante the sojourner for Boniface: "Dost thou stand there already, Dost thou stand there already, Boniface?" - he can't put Boniface in hell yet because Boniface is still alive. Talk about sick burns. The description at his tomb says that he "convened the first Jubilee Year in the history of the Church (in 1300) which saw the participation of famous personalities as the poet Dante Alighieri." LOL. Well. Dante would be rolling over in his grave right now. I guess we tell the stories we want to tell, eh?


At the tomb of Saint Peter:
"Who is Saint Peter though?"
"Saint... Peter...Apostle"
"You can take photos, as long as you don't get caught," said a mother to her child. (really? In the church of St. Peter's? In Vatican City???)
(note: this picture is taken from Wikipedia - we weren't allowed to take photos)
Lots of gasps. I too gasped inwardly when I saw it. Didn't realise we could still see the original spot. Saint Peter was believed to have been buried here because Nero's circus was here, where Peter was believed to have been martyred in the 1st century. His tomb was found in a complex of tombs - people wanted to be buried close to the Apostle. Then Constantine built a church over this spot in the 3rd century, the original St. Peter's Basilica, before it was rebuilt in 1506.

(What we see today isn't the original church, but bits of the old church still remains. The obelisk, actually, makes for a great story. The obelisk, was originally quarried around 1314-1197 BC (!!!) and stood in Heliopolis, then was moved to Alexandria by Augustus, and then to Rome by Caligula in 37AD. The obelisk then stood in Nero's circus, where Peter was crucified, and where Constantine's church was eventually built. Today it stands in a slightly different spot from where it originally was - Pope Sixtus V had it moved a little in the late 16th century together with the rebuilding of the basilica. Source)

We can't take photos - some people are snapping pictures but I decide to be a good and honest tourist instead - so I sketch. A tap on my shoulder: "It's beautiful!" Haha, no, not at all; I just got over the fear of being terrible at drawing. I can't sketch, but the sketch is only for me, so that I can remember it, and one doesn't actually need much to be able to sketch.

People walk by the tomb, not realising what's on their right... a guy in a blue polo tee calls his friends back. "That's Saint Peter's tomb." Their eyes open, mildly impressed. "Ooh."


--abrupt ending...wtv--

Jun 13, 2016

Men of Rome



The Church of St. Augustine reopens in fifteen minutes, so I take a short walk towards the Pantheon, to the café where Russell works. Last week I had a macchiato there while waiting for Carmen and Amanda, and we struck up a conversation - turns out he's been to Singapore before, because his brother works there. "Do you know Eunos Avenue 7?" In his delight at meeting a Singaporean he gave me a free gelato and said I should come by again, so I guess now's a good time.

He's serving a couple of people at the counter but the moment I walk up to the counter he gives a happy "Hey! I saw you walk by in the morning!" Over cappuccino I tell him the places I've visited, and he says he could take me around someday after his work shift ends. Russell charges me one euro less for the coffee, so it goes to the man with polio in the piazza.

At the Church of Saint Augustine I linger at the souvenir counter, deciding on a postcard. "Hello," the man at the counter smiles. "Are you from the Philippines?" I shake my head, ask him to try again. "Hmm... Korea? China? Malaysia?" "Close!" "Indonesia?" "Close! It's in the middle." He still struggles for a while, so I give him the answer. He tells me he's from India. "Where in India?" "The north, Punjab. You know it?" "Ah, yes." "You do?" he asks, pleasantly surprised. "Yes, there are a lot of Indians in Singapore." "Ah, Singapore. It's a beautiful city." He tells me that he came from a Hindu family, but converted to Catholicism, and has been working for churches in Rome for five years. We both marvel at the beauty of this city, and the effort the country puts into preserving its history. After a while I go off to look around the church a little more, but I return to the counter to ask him for his name. "Sandeep," he says. "And this is a brochure for you, so you can know more about the church." "Oh, thank you, that's so useful! How much is it?" "No, it's for you. Actually I wanted to give it to you earlier, but you walked off so fast!" He refuses to let me pay for my postcard of the Caravaggio painting, either. I tell him that this is actually my second time in this church, because I want to write about it for this week's assignment - upon hearing that he reaches into a drawer and presents me with a bigger book that contains detailed descriptions of every painting and chapel. Again he lets me refuse to pay the €5: "I don't take money from students!"

Armed with the book that has all the information I need, I'm wandering around the church when he taps on my shoulder: "come, let me show you this." He unlocks the gate to the chapel of Saints Augustine and William; fifteen minutes later I'm still there, taking in the massive paintings of Saint William being healed by Mary, majestically dressed in blue and orange, and of Saint Augustine contemplating the Trinity. "Oh, you're still here. Let me show you something even better, before Mass starts." He walks towards the high altar, up the platform - I stand at the threshold, but he motions for me to come in - leads me behind the main altar through the curtain. "We don't usually allow visitors in here..." - this is where the choir stands? The apse and the paintings behind the high altar tower over me; I cannot take it all in. I let myself marvel at the sheer size of the space, and at the privilege I had of meeting someone so eager to share the beauty of this church with me.

The rosary is being said as I leave; I stop by the souvenir stand again on my way out, to get one more postcard of the same Caravaggio painting - for Sam, perhaps. The stand is swarmed with tourists now, and Sandeep is attending to multiple people at once; I try to make him take the mere 50 cents that it's being sold for. He keeps refusing, and motions for me to come to the front of the counter. I reach out to give him the money; instead he gets out a bracelet from his drawer and slips it around my wrist - "this is for your friendship." A man beside me at the counter who witnesses this looks at Sandeep and says, "You are a Gentleman." I'm so touched - "you keep giving me stuff!!" - we shake hands again, my heart full of the grace of people I have met in Rome. On Day 1, half an hour after I left the airport, my valuables were stolen by a pair of men. Even now my guard is usually still up, and I've been wary to the point of being a little rude to a few people - not without reason, though. But since then I have had the privilege of meeting so many kind people who have given without asking in return, and they have really helped to to redeem my perception of Rome and its people. Thank you, Roma :)

Jun 8, 2016

Women of Rome

I am always struck by the bold openness and love with which Amanda and Carmen approach the beggars on the street. One of the beggars we see today is a woman sitting on the sidewalk by a wall. Carmen reaches into Amanda’s bag, gets out a sandwich, and the both of them kneel on the ground to offer it to the woman. She is grateful, shakes their hands, but then holds up her plastic cup and then motions to her throat while saying something in Italian; Carmen gets out her pouch and puts in five euro. The girls introduce themselves and ask her for her name: “Lianna”. “From Italy?” “Romania,” she says, just like everyone else we’ve met: the man with dysfunctional limbs who begs on a skateboard, the woman in Trastevere with nine children. All this while I am standing beside Carmen and Amanda, too awkward and timid and afraid to say anything at all, too afraid I won’t understand anything Lianna says or won’t know how to communicate with her. But I have been very inspired by Carmen and Amanda these few days anyhow, and watching the way they interact with the people on the street has changed my perspective on how I can help people back in Singapore. The beggars do need money, but showing love is about so much more.

A group of Italians walk by: “No no no no no!” a woman shouts, wagging her finger at Amanda. From the few Italians I’ve talked to, they generally strongly dislike the Romanians in their land. “They’re either beggars or thieves,” said the woman who helped me speak to the police the day my valuables were stolen. She said the guys who stole my stuff were Romanians, too. My passport, laptop, money, all gone because of a clever trick.

We wait for the group to pass by, keeping our gaze down. “Do you want to pray with her?” Carmen asks Amanda when they leave, and Amanda holds both Lianna’s hands, bows her head in silent prayer. Lianna slowly begins to pray, quietly, with petition and sorrowful sincerity. It feels like a song, a beautiful trance almost, with its trembling crescendos and whispers. At last she says “amen”, and takes our hands, kissing them in turn. Amanda makes the sign of the cross on Lianna’s forehead with her thumb.

Another woman we meet on our way back is sitting by a lamppost. She looks up at each passer-by, raising her cupped right hand half-heartedly, a not-too-pleasant look on her face. “I have one more,” Carmen says, and puts down her bag to retrieve a sandwich wrapped in aluminium foil. She thanks Carmen as the girls kneel before her, raises her cup, asks for money. “I’m sorry, I have none,” Carmen says; the woman graciously smiles and puts her cup down. They ask her for her name. “Eleanor,” she says. We note among ourselves later that it sounds like Helena, mother of Constantine.

While we’re waiting for the tram to go back home, an older lady walks towards an empty seat. She is well-dressed and has obviously taken the effort to look beautiful, as Italian women are accustomed to dressing (note for anyone planning to come to Rome: don’t dress shabbily!), but her slow hobbling gives her age away. Another woman takes her seat, so I get up and offer her mine. A waterfall of words immediately burst forth; in the most energetic-yet-tender grandmotherly way, she basically says something to the effect of “no, don’t get up for me; there’s enough space, here, we can share”. I don’t understand a word but I guess from the way she makes space on the bench and the tinkling tone of her voice, so I squeeze on the bench between her and Amanda and smile. She continues speaking, though, a continuous gushing of friendly words. Her speech is a gentle cascading of jewels, glinting as they fall lightly into a stream, but I don’t have the slightest clue what she’s talking about. I’ve heard that the best thing to do in a situation like that is to smile, so I do, really widely. I don’t know what to say so I laugh. Eventually she comes to something that sounds like a question, and as she looks at me expectantly I am given away: “I’m… sorry… I don’t understand…” “No?” she says. She responds one last time in Italian. Later Carmen tells me that her last sentence was “Even though I cannot speak to you, I understand the language of your laughter.”

May 20, 2016

frustrating gender things (it's 2016 you'd think humanity would be in a better place now but no)

(disclaimer: it's late, my brain is so tired, i might not be v coherent, pardon any long strings of sentences / grammatical errors)

In one previous job, he heard his boss call female colleagues “old cows” and refer to a middle-aged job applicant as “Dame Edna” after she’d left an interview. “Evidently men say things like that to each other all the time,” he says. Other trans men say they’ve heard male co-workers sexualize female colleagues when no women are present. “There’s some crude humor, some crass humor,” says Cameron Combs, an IT consultant in Olympia, Washington. He says he’s heard male colleagues do “appraisals” of women in the office or observe how female co-workers used their “womanly wiles” to rise up the ladder, conversations he says he never would have heard when he was a woman. “When they saw me as female, it was kind of an automatic stop,” he says. “It’s a little less censored, the jokes I hear, the comments.”

“Being privy to the conversations that men have amongst themselves really does give me an indication of how they think about women,” he says. “And sometimes it can be really scary.”


So I read this article.

And I guess, y'know, I should evaluate it. Look at exactly how the survey was conducted, point out possible loopholes. Cultural factors, too - just because it's this way in one culture doesn't mean it's this way in mine.

Because I'm terrified. I'm terrified to imagine how guys think about girls or what guys say about girls when they're in groups, even just a regular female friend. I'm afraid that my gender matters. I'm afraid that my femaleness matters in my friendships with my friends that happen to be male. That there's a factor of sexuality or attractiveness because of it. That I am standing on a rung on a ladder of females and female expectations in a guy's eyes, simply by virtue of being a female. Regardless of where I am on that ladder. That I am put there on that ladder at all irks me. Why can't I just be...a person?

I believe that my guy friends are good people, nice people who don't objectify a girl (or me, anyway). And I trust that good, God-loving Christian guys understand that all people are God's own children and immensely cherished by Him, and that they strive to see women in that manner, to be respectful in their perception / consideration of them. I believe that with my close guy friends (regardless of whether they're Christian or not), those I trust and those I truly chill with, and especially in those friendships where both of us know we'll never get together, there's none of the sexual factor going on. We're past that. I believe that they consider me as a person, and define me by my soul, more than any sexual implications by virtue of the fact that I'm female. Like, my guy friends are my friends not because they're guys, but because we happen to click. Same for my female friends. Duh. If I felt suspicious about the way a guy's perceiving me as a person I probably wouldn't hang around him much. I am uncomfortable when I know that The Fact That I'm A Girl contributes to a friendship.

It makes me thankful that I'm very average-looking / flat-chested / that I blend into the background easily. When random male friends make any remark about my appearance, even if it's a positive one, it makes me want to fight against it. Once a friend said he preferred me with my glasses on. I was pretty pissed off, even though I find wearing glasses more convenient and I only wear contact lenses to look and feel better. I wanted to make it clear that I wouldn't deliberately look a certain way for him, for anyone, and my glasses were my business only. I felt uncomfortable knowing that the way I looked was being noticed at all. Someone else once said they liked that I was skinny, and just that bit skinnier would be perfect. I was irked by the statement then, and if they had said it now, I would have thrown a shoe. I eat what I want to, my body shape isn't anyone else's business, I don't care what you think about it. A guy I was once somewhat romantically close to showed me a chat with his friend; all it said was "goodness man, she looks good!" but I flipped. I was like, the heck, stop objectifying, that's just a picture, what does he know about me. I was legit pissed. Maybe I was overreacting. But I get uncomfortable with the fact that someone is considering my appearance at all (especially if it's because of my gender), and not just seeing past these to the heart, where souls and personalities interact. I realise that I actually am very happy when my guy friends don't notice when I've cut my hair or when I've got makeup on.

Once You Zhuan dropped by my school and I had just gotten back from something and I went to change into a random T-shirt and FBTs and he said "ah, you look a lot more comfortable" and I was thankful. Thankful that he had made no comment about whether I looked better or worse, but simply that I seemed more comfortable in what I was wearing. He wanted me simply to be comfortable. I realise that now I don't care at all how I look when I'm around him, because he doesn't seem to care or notice. (I guess it also helps that he doesn't care what the world thinks of him, what with his extreme social awkwardness and five knives and tattoos and ten-odd piercings.)

I'm thankful for Crescent, four years of no guys. (I actually had no male friends in those four years.) Never being concerned with how I looked in front of a guy or which girl had more male attention, never needing to navigate gender expectations and perceptions as an acne-ridden fourteen-year-old. I am thankful for the experience of the relative homogeneity of a girls' school, and I think it has shaped how I think significantly. They say you can tell a Crescentian from a mile away by the way she sits. Yeah, I'll sit like an uncle if I want to. Why should there be a gendered way of sitting? They say Crescentians are loud and can sometimes be quite coarse. Not very ladylike, y'know, talking a little too loudly, laughing a little crassly, sitting with their feet on the bench. I say that's how one grows up in a world free from gender expectations that don't actually matter. I am loving. I am gentle in spirit. I am generous.* As Jesus is. Why does it matter to you how I sit or eat or laugh?**

The prospect of my male friends thinking about girls, about potentially me, in a gendered way really bothers me. That a guy might look at a female friend with lust or with any sexual factor without her realising. And it's not just about sex. It's about how he sees her, perceives her as a person, subconsciously. How her person matters to him. There's a degree of objectification that I'm uncomfortable with. An attractive woman becomes an object of feasting, of satisfaction, and there's a whole power dynamic going on, okay. It's so much more. (Of course all these is not limited to the male person on the female person. Women do this to guys too. And I disagree with it for the same reasons.)

James Gardner is a newscaster in Victoria, Canada, who had been reading the news as Sheila Gardner for almost three decades before he transitioned at 54. As soon as he began hosting as a man, he stopped getting as many calls from men pointing out tiny errors. “It was always male callers to Sheila saying I had screwed up my grammar, correcting me,” he says. “I don’t get as many calls to James correcting me. I’m the same person, but the men are less critical of James.” 

 Dana Delgardo is a family nurse practitioner and Air Force captain who transitioned three years ago. Since his transition, he’s noticed that his female patients are less open with him about their sexual behavior, but his bosses give him more responsibility. “All of a sudden, I’m the golden child,” he says. “I have been with this company for 6 years, no ever recommended me for management. Now I’m put into a managerial position where I could possibly be a regional director.”

“As a man, you’re assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise,” she says. “Whereas as a woman you’re presumed to be incompetent unless proven otherwise.”

Okay I was going to type more about this but I've been on this page for 2 hours now and I was supposed to be doing an assignment and now I just want to sleep. But okay. I've never known or experienced this sort of gender discrimination. Perhaps because I was in a girls' school (seriously, the girls' school experience is so beneficial, to a woman's confidence and identity-formation and just, it's good, ok). Perhaps because in ACJC the Students' Council president was a girl (and an incredible one too!) and I was the head of a subcommittee of ten. The four subcomm heads were equally split gender-wise, and both in the Executive Committee and in the entire Council itself, there were considerably more girls than guys. My class had more girls than guys. (It was also an arts class, but I never really interacted with the science classes.) And maybe it's convenient for me that the humanities and my future probable career path in teaching is extremely female-friendly. So no, I've never felt unfairly discriminated against because of my gender; I've never felt like my gender mattered for anything, even for (most of) my friendships, so, yeah, this article frightens me. As I was reading the article I felt like hiding in a hole with a few cats and ducks. I felt scared, suspicious of men (even though I do trust those I'm close to), wary of the future and Other Men and the corporate society that seems to hiss with unfriendliness towards females and the great big Working World where I'll have to dress nice and put on makeup and navigate a completely different social sphere.

ok i'm v tired i need to sleep goodnight

-

*Not always, of course. There are many times I am unloving and ungentle and ungenerous. Not the point. And I'm, y'know, being rhetorical / literary / ya just go with it k

**There are other instances in which being a woman differs from being a man in the biblical sense, when they come together in imitation of the relationship between Christ and the Church. I'm not going into those right now, and that's also far too deep and dense to go into on a space like this, and I also don't know enough as of yet to talk about it here. And that's very different from arbitrary cultural gender expectations, which I am discussing.

May 19, 2016

homeless

(disclaimer: the following may sound insensitive to some. Please do give me your opinions if you find it insensitive or offensive, but know that I don't mean it that way; these are just my thoughts and questions being put out there in the open, of a Singaporean girl who comes from quite a comfortable background coming into contact with a country that has a lot of homeless people, something I don't see to this degree back home. There are many people in Singapore who are in need, in terms of finances and much more; but this, here, is in some ways a societal difference that I have yet to wrap my head around.)

cambridge day 2

I'm walking down Bridge Street, waiting to have dinner with Yixuan after she's done with her paper, when a woman stops me: "do you have any change, I'm homeless, I'm just looking to buy a cup of coffee, it was raining, I'm so cold" - at the reminder of the rain I get out my wallet and hand her two pounds. It was indeed raining the whole day. Not a Singapore thunderstorm, just light, rhythmic; but I had spent the afternoon rolling around in bed because of it, and she had to be out here. I would have rather just bought her coffee or soup, but there was no cafe or supermarket nearby.

There are so many homeless people around, and I've been feeling guilty at walking past them without giving them money, so I determined to give today. But it's just sort of odd to me, because many are also seemingly perfectly able-bodied, not old, capable of working. I wonder if a few of them prefer not to work, because they get unemployment benefits; I've heard this more cynical line of reasoning, with anecdotal evidence, from some people. And I personally don't see very many people in Singapore who ask for something for nothing; even a blind man busks; even a wheelchair-bound woman sells tissue packets. (This is also indicative of something terribly twisted and wrong in our own society, though, especially when you think about people who are forced to resort to prostitution or multiple jobs to support their family; I do think that unemployment benefits have a place, and better medical fee coverage / childcare support for those who need it.) They're doing what they can, as long as they're able to, for what you can give. Here...there are so many people just...sitting there, unashamed to ask others for change. I'm a student who earns $6-8 an hour from taking bubble tea orders and transcribing interviews late into the night. During the school term I sleep about 4 hours a night. My flight ticket here was the result of 3 months of part-timing at Koi. And even so I hate asking my parents for allowance when I need it - I'd rather skip meals, even though I know my parents will definitely give me if I ask - so I guess it is strange for me to enter a world where so many people who seem capable of working are sitting around and asking for money.

But then I live in a country with an unemployment rate of under 2% and the third-highest average working hours in the world. A country whose housing prices are sky-high so a large portion of us live with our parents until we're married and eligible for our own flat* (or even after we're married, too; or also forever if we remain single, like my aunt or a couple of my mum's friends). A country of sleepless, overworked, stressed-out individuals who are always chasing, always chasing. A country of people too obsessed with "saving face" to be comfortable with asking others for money. A country where the poor work far too hard, for far too little, just to earn enough to get by, because unlike the UK, we don't have unemployment benefits; if you're fired you don't have a system that will support you. Work is a matter of struggle or death. What do I know about this country and its culture that is different from mine?

Two minutes later I reach the end of the street and stop to look at the advertisement of an Italian restaurant. "Ey," I hear from behind me. I turn back. Two men are sitting on a bench. "You got change?"

I do, I have two more pounds; but I finally ask him the question that I've been too afraid to ask every person who has asked me for money: "why don't you work?"

He doesn't seem to understand me. "Something, you got change?"

"Do you have a job?"

"I'm homeless. See my sleeping bag."

"Why don't you have a job?" He finally understands, I think; he tells me he had an operation. He raises his pant leg to show me the skin graft on his shin, tells me it was from his elbow. The two pounds are his immediately; ah, it must suck, being out of a job and needing an operation like this. He wasn't conscious for four days, broke his ankle for the second time during a pizza delivery job he had previously. He tells me he was from Poland; came here sixteen years ago. "Why did you come here?" "You know Poland." My heart sinks. I come from a country that's all about economic growth, and I often forget how badly most of the EU is doing economically. When I was in Greece in freshman year, it was undergoing its sixth year of recession; youth unemployment rate was over 60%; you could have an MA and be working as a server at Subway; people were tired. For me, a well-educated Chinese from an upper-middle class background in Singapore, I can have a decent income as long as I put in the effort. The policies in my government and the workings of my society support me, don't marginalise me. The economy is doing well, and my parents have stable jobs. I am not discriminated against. There are so many others who try so much harder, but were born in circumstances that don't allow them to thrive.

Twice he invites me to sit on the bench, but I say it's alright; Yixuan's arriving at any minute, and while I'd love to hear more from him, my heart is also a little sad. The guy beside him shouts something presumably in Polish, and they converse loudly for a while; they're probably saying something bad about me, the weirdo Asian girl who's so hung up over a mere £2. Whatever. I'm a college kid; I'm broke, too. The other guy motions towards the Italian restaurant, suggests something in English about treating them to a meal there. "Aye, don't listen to my friend, he's a bit crazy." I smell hard liquor in his breath, and I hope he doesn't spend my money on alcohol. I wish there was a supermarket nearby so that I could get him one of those £3 meal deals. I had one of those yesterday, and the day before, and probably tomorrow... they're cheap, wholesome, and good. A full meal for £3, complete with a smoothie and yoghurt / fruit! I hope the £4 I've given away in the past five minutes will be put to good use. That's more than an hour's work at Koi. £4 is $8, and that's four lunches I can buy back home. (Ananas chicken rice, man. It's quite bad, but it's $2. Or tako balls, or economic bee hoon, or 菜贩 with two veggies and no meat, or lor mai kai. If you're like me, a brokeass college student, you'll know.)

"Buy some bread with the money," I suggest.

"Yes, I will buy something, chips maybe," he replies.

"But chips are not healthy. You can buy bread, or rice, something that will fill you up." I wish there was a Sainsbury's nearby. I'd just get him that meal deal. And, I mean, a baguette at Waitrose is £0.60. A bun at any supermarket's bakery section is less than £1. Come on. You can get a decent box of sushi for £3. Chips don't add any nutrition at all and they don't fill you up. They're a luxury, not something you get when you have nothing. The £3 meal deal is great and delicious, too, and you can find it all around. But he doesn't seem to understand me. "Yes, something. Thank you very much." Ah, forget it. I think when I'm in Rome later in the summer and I'll be buying groceries to cook and stuff, I'll bring around an extra sandwich, or maybe just carry around one of those supermarket meal deals if they have them, for times like these.

"Have a good day," he says in his casual loud tone.

"Thank you," I say softly, so that he doesn't hear. "It's my birthday." I let it quiver in the air, a little wisp of a word, before it vanishes with more of his casual words that roll past me. A ping on my phone: Yixuan has arrived. I fight back tears of frustration and settle my heart. Over dinner Yixuan tells me that she volunteers at a homeless shelter or something on Saturdays; I guess I'll go, too, if they'll let me, just to... just to know.


-

*I recognise that there's also a big problem in the HDB policy, regarding couples that are not considered to be married under Singapore law, single-parent families, etc., basically families that are not what Singapore considers to be the traditional nuclear family. I do feel that something needs to be done about this, but this is not my focus in this particular post sooo yupppp

May 6, 2016

to hold one's depth

One night, over beer, we spoke of 'good days' and 'bad days'. You spoke with soft edges, with gentleness like cupped hands, like a quiet fireplace, surrounding, holding my being. On non-bad days, I realise, I don't even think about death. The notion of wanting to die is foreign to me, absurd, peculiarly pitiable. On bad days it is just too hard, life is a burden that is too much to bear, I just want the ache to end.

That's alright, you say. On bad days you cannot summon the particles of strength in the atoms in the fibers of your limbs to get out of bed. Bad days pass like blanks, like gaps in the continuous etching of life, and you have come to accept them.

He is a saucer, a little white porcelain saucer of light soya sauce, and as tenderly precious as he is both as a person and to me, he will not be able to hold my depth the way you do, the way she does, the way /he/ would have been able to, if he had a way to wrap around his own darkness in acceptance and redemption.

(She will hold his depth, though. She will embrace his being, cup around it like a healing balm, and they will make each other better.)

A few days ago, though, I was privileged to catch a glimpse into the saucer's special depth. The soya sauce does have a darker gradient as it approaches its slightly concave middle. He reminded me of someone else, someone who peeled off the exterior, just for me, to uncover his solid-rock foundation, maturity. He taught me a great deal about what it means to be honoured and respected, by others, by myself; and I am forever grateful.

Apr 30, 2016

the ~real world~



In twelve months, all I've ever known will come to an end. You've translated the entire Funeral Oration of Pericles from Greek to English. You can write a ten-page paper about the religious practices and beliefs of the Qin dynasty. You could tell someone the distance in kilometres that their apple travelled to get to this supermarket, and how we could lessen our carbon footprint. No one cares. Suddenly it's all about employability. I come from a liberal arts college; I know nothing about marketing or business strategies or finance management... I can make a nice poster on PowerPoint? Point out the grammatical mistakes on a document? Make tea?

Suddenly you have to crawl out of this lovely hole of books and dead languages and ancient religions and... do something that matters to other people. I've been crawling around like a little toddler going to whatever caught my attention - a learning trip to Jerusalem! a course on Tamil poetry! a job at a bubble tea store! a video documentary project! - and now it's time to grow up and Be A Useful Citizen. Suddenly all I've known counts for naught. I've been getting by pretty easily, taking the subjects and courses I loved, studying when the time came and Getting Decent Grades, but it's time to be thrown to ground zero again. Luhong has been spending the past few days in my suite sending out résumé after résumé. Recent NUS Philosophy grad! Hire me! But why would a company care for a fresh grad when they can hire interns, who probably know as much and cost much less?

As I'm on the bus contemplating the lonely disorientation of a liberal arts History major in a capitalist world, a guy diagonally in front of me calls out to an older man in a heavy Chinese accent: "Hi prof! I took your class last semester." "Oh, are you staying in UTown?" "No, I'm in Eusoff." They then proceed to converse in Chinese - gosh, bilingualism fascinates me every time. And I realise - aha. There is yet another way. I could stay in this lovely bubble of books forever. I've always felt more inclined to teaching secondary school kids but, ah, I'm sure to feel suffocated by the system - but there's no way I'm getting a PhD, loljokes - maybe if I were to start my own creative writing school - but NO ONE CARES FOR CREATIVE WRITING BECAUSE IT'S IMPRACTICAL AND LOFTY LIKE THE LIBERAL ARTS ARE -

anw back to studying for my Greek exam i mean what is the point even -

Apr 24, 2016

memento mori

when i die, if you have a memory of me, would you take some time, reach into your heart to retrieve it, hold it in your hands and sit with it awhile? my wake could be in a garden, picnic mats and open mics; you could sing me a song, or recount a memory. i will permit sarah sharing about our childhood sleepovers, sumay sharing about the time i drove her around on her birthday and got us lost for two hours (and dropped her cupcakes), wei liang recalling my half-awake council camp mumbling, james telling everyone about the first time i tried to make indomie. but also, if there was a time i helped you through a thing, or provided comfort and support, or prayed with you, or sowed a good seed in you, would you remember that, too, and allow my death to renew your strength. if i sinned against you, as i have done to many, would you forgive me and cover the hurt with peace.

tuesday afternoon, i rush to scribble Psalm 23 on my notepad as we make our way to the ward. dad tells me to keep my paper, but i'm not done; they'll understand when they receive it.

"you aren't scared, seeing her like that?" her mum asks. why would i be? she smiles, slightly surprised, and nods. as i leave she is opening my letter.

that night i am scheduled to lead a worship meeting in school. once i reach back, though, i head first to the hammock. give my heart space to check itself, give it room to breathe, feed it a few hymns, re-center. it is well, it is well with my soul. at that moment something in my heart clicks. but i know that whatever awaits her is far greater than what this earth could ever hold for her.

wednesday: i wake up to the news that she was struggling to breathe, and then breathed no longer.

friday at the wake, her mum says "thank you for the psalm. it was her favourite."

joel is at the table and my family is engaging him in a conversation about - of all things - army rifles and career prospects in pharmacy. my skin crawls with impatience. as soon as there is a break in the conversation i whisper can i pray for you? an awkward silence at the table. the two of us shuffle towards the front, near the coffin. i curl up in my seat. i breathe, and i pray, at peace, holding the hand of God.

"how are you?" i ask. he pauses. "actually, i'm quite okay." he chuckles. "God has been preparing me for this. It's just that now it's a different season. First it was without the cancer, then with the cancer, and now without Joanna." we talk about our families and campus ministry (turns out he leads NUS Nav?? how did i not know this before) and about God and what it means to shine for Him. he motions to Joanna from time to time.

It's good that I'm more level-headed now, someone's got to be the rational one in the family. It used to be Joanna. Joanna was the one who brought our family close together.
I think it makes a difference when you're able to be that beacon of light for your family. See Joanna, she always made an effort to interact with the older ones. She was always talking to the aunties. And if she didn't make that effort she wouldn't be able to speak into their lives. I think you can do more as a beacon of light where you are, too.

saturday, again, a table of peanuts and smartphones and mindless chatter. jonathan takes a seat, alone, a table away. i am the first one over.

"how are you?"

he says that before the service, his mum was just busy, busy, busy rushing around and doing things. he forcibly took her away from the hall, led her down a path into the woods, and made her have her dinner there. she needed that space, he says. both joel and jonathan echo concern for their mum.

today, just before they put the coffin in the hearse, the family stands by it one more time. joanna's mum is bent over, her fingers tracing the glass, her husband struggling to hold her together.

at the viewing hall her mum is crying. someone says "it's okay, it's okay." but it isn't. it will be okay, but it is not now, and that's okay.

as we leave with hugs i give her mum psalm 91:1. he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High shall rest in the shadow of the Almighty. "Yes," she nods. "You're right. You're very good at memorizing verses eh. When I was a teenager I used to do that. It helps, you know. Comes back to you from time to time, when you don't realise. But it's okay to grieve also, because Jesus wept."

Apr 21, 2016

the pit

This is what it looks like.

You find that within you there is a vast, endlessly deep dark pit. It's damp and the starkness of the black makes your skin crawl. You are afraid of yourself. You are too much for yourself to handle, and you believe that no one else would be able to take you, either. You notice others who similarly carry that deep hole within them. You see it, and it makes you turn the other way in fear because you know what depth it is and you cannot deal with one more. Similar poles repel and two negatives attempt to navigate their magnetic fields around one another but the repulsion is overbearing, and you flee. And it makes you want to hide from others, too. You see positivity and you are drawn to it in an instant, but no, oh no, they will never understand, and you hate how your heart has zoomed ahead of you to cling to that light. You cannot do it. Now you have to reach out into that open space to grab your heart and bring it back. It leaves a rip; the heart wasn't ready to let go. But the light is too bright, it will always be uncomfortable on your eyes. Yet the darkness will consume you. You don't like who you are, you don't like that pit, but it is growing and soon the little rational man in your head will be unable to sidestep the hole. You are terrified by who you are becoming and you avoid those who are like you and you also believe no one will like what they see if you show yourself. It is easier to avoid human interaction altogether. It gets cold but you can wrap your arms around your shins and convince yourself it is sufficient.

what a curse

we are drawn to love, and hence to pain. what a curse it is to be born into blood relations and inevitably placed into social settings, to be tied to so many people. if each relation were a string, we are all a messy web of connections, all tied to one another, and we are tugged at from all sides because each loved one's pain is yours, too. what a curse it is to be unable to hurt yourself without hurting others. what a curse to live, and die, and hurt those around you simply because you have come into the world and will have to leave it. humans cannot help but love, and are doomed to have that love ripped from us.

what a desire we possess to hurt ourselves when we draw near in heart to other people. we give them the permission to hurt us, even by doing nothing at all. we look for hands to shove our hearts into, and they will not hold you.

Apr 20, 2016

joanna

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.


may legions of angels bear you up
and carry you away to a place that is so much richer in glory, peace, joy, love, and beauty
than this world could ever offer