Archive for the ‘Story telling’ Category

I remember watching the movie “What Women Want” ages ago (starring Mel Gibson) and i thought it was pretty funny, though stereotypical.  However, it suddenly struck me again recently that the concept really isn’t too far from the truth.

Ever thought about what the world wants? I’ve looked around at the people surrounding me and thought that to myself many times.  What are they looking out for?  What do they want to achieve?  What do they seem to want to achieve, by their actions, even though they don’t openly admit it?  Granted that my world really is quite small (to paraphrase J.S. Mill, my world is simply the society and the people around me), but as small as Singapore is, i suppose this is already an appropriate sample size.

I guess if you were to ask them specifically what they want, they might have an answer to it…at first.  Of course we all do; we want the Cash, Condo, Country Club, Car, Credit Card, etc.  Or maybe other people prefer more simple lives with less ambitions.  Maybe such people like myself have to live with smaller ambitions because we know that we can’t fulfill them.  Or that we just like having life kept simple.  Or for many other reasons, all of which could or could not be valid – we’ll never know.

But when we ask further, i think the wisdom in simplicity is actually quite profound.  For example, using the ambitions above (though not all people have them, and those who have them are not necessarily like that), maybe if you were to ask someone who desires the 5C’s, why he wants them, he might answer “So that i can live a comfortable life without worry.”  Logical? Perhaps.  True?  I’m not too sure.  With that much finances at your disposal, one would normally want more.  With that much to lose, one would be more afraid.  I’d venture a guess and probably infer that they don’t really know what they want – they’re just following the majority.  Something like “if everyone wants it, then it can’t be wrong”, which is ironic, really.  So (possibly) because they can’t decide for themselves, they choose what is the generally accepted-as-desirable-and-respectable ends.

I read in some book in my teens about a story of a farmer and a rich man, and (you guessed it) how the farmer was so much happier than the rich man for no other reason than he had what he wanted.  There was also a comic strip on Calvin and Hobbes (All hail Bill Watterson!) where Calvin asks Hobbes “If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?”, and Hobbes replies “A sandwich”.

Obviously Calvin is outraged. He is an ambitious little boy, though he’s only six years old.  “A sandwich?! Why would you wish for a sandwich? You could have anything in the world – power! Fame! Money! RIches! Woman! Why would you wish for a #*$&#%#$ SANDWICH!?”  And the last panel shows Hobbes munching on two slices of bread with peanut butter smeared inbetween them, calmly commenting “I got my wish”.

But life isn’t that simple right?  We’re not stuffed tigers living with 6-year-olds who haven’t aged at all over 10 years and suddenly disappear from the (comic book) world – Mr. Watterson, just so you know, we still miss C&H very very much.  We grow old, and we end up with responsibilities of families, jobs, parents, and so on.  Having wishes and ambitions could them be seen as important as we need to have a goal to work to, not just a “sandwich”.

However, i have digressed from my original intention here – what it seems that the world wants isn’t really very much.  I think it’s quite evident how much society values thinking independently, when people want decisions to be made for them.  Of course decisions like “where to eat meals” are ok, but the decisions in question are usually those rather important ones – such as career paths, expenditure, housing.  It’s even reflected some NUS students when they complain “why can’t i have all my modules allocated to me so that i don’t have to decide on what to take each semester?”  I for one was very appreciative of the few modules i had the choice to take, because i took what i knew i’d find interesting and enjoyed it immensely.  But what frightens me is that the impression of having the choices made for you is deemed as highly desirable. Scholars get their career paths chosen for them, and things like that.  Nothing wrong with scholars, but i’m not too sure of the implications of this – doesn’t this mean that the people who will be effectively running the country in future (since we are a meritocratic society) have hardly made important decisions regarding life choices on their own?  Isn’t that a dangerous thing to do – to place someone who cannot manage his own future in authority to manage a country’s?

It seems that the majority of people want things decided for them.  Simply because they really don’t know what they want.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking what really matters to us and what we want, and more importantly, why we’re doing it.

I took a swim today, and as i enjoyed the slow pace as i sailed through the water, though mildly annoyed at how much water skills and stamina i had lost as it really was a very slow pace.

At one point of time i stopped and realized that there was no one in the pool but me. I enjoyed the serenity for a while…and then i suddenly felt like all my dreams seemed so small.

I want to become a teacher. I want to share what i believe in, what i know to the next generation, touching each life one by one, and watching them eventually grow up.  But suddenly that seems so small.

I want to be physically fit, that i will never have to depend on another to carry me, but be able to carry others along.  Not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well, so that i can be a lighthouse to people around me, and make it matter to one more life at a time.  But that too seemed so small.

I want to be financially secure, and make my wife and family happy, that they will never have to worry about where the next meal is coming from, or whether we will still have the house a year from now, or whether we have to forgo things that we would greatly enjoy.  I want to give back to the family that raised me and make my parents and my little bro happy (and he will always be little to me, despite his protests) with what i can.  But that seemed even smaller.

And as i kicked off from the wall again, i realized i was like my many dreams – just one of many floating in the middle of the big blue swimming pool of life, pushed around by the waves from the wind or splashes from the entrance of other swimmers.  Sometimes totally disrupted by unruly people, sometimes allowed to carry on their way and finally reach the end as i eventually did.  But before they do, they still float about and they are small things in the swimming pool, just a drop of water or a lone swimmer.

But as a lone swimmer in the swimming pool is, they are unable to reach both the beginning and the end, and must travel over time and space to reach the end, where they will be realized.  You can possibly form a human chain (or a dream chain, as we are in the figurative here) and touch end to end of the swimming pool, but it takes considerable effort for each one and a significant number of people.  I only have a handful who are close and share my dreams; and i dare say we can only reach a third or less of the “pool”.

So my dreams continue to float….and they seem so small.

But one day they will reach.  I believe they will.  And even if they don’t i would have covered a little bit more distance in reaching it.  Maybe someone would continue from there, maybe not.  But i refuse to let something like that dash my dreams.  My dreams are for me to “swim” toward, for me to reach the end, and no one can blame me for trying.

One day perhaps i’ll touch the “end” and feel the “sun” upon my face, then end my “swim” and get out of the “pool”…but that someday is not today.

Today i “swim”.

And so i swam.

Simplicity

“Life is so complicated,” he lamented as he plonked himself down on a dusty old wooden chair, that creaked dangerously under his light frame.  His feet shuffled on the moldy carpet as he tried to remove his muddy boots, weary of the hard labour of the day.

“Debts to pay, people to comprehend…and the latter feels so much harder than the former!  Makes me want to stay working with machines for the rest of my life – at least everything’s straightforward.”  He fingered the edge of his rusty spanner, reminiscing of the days where it was still shiny, yet he knew that after all these years, it still accompanied him like an age-old friend, never letting him down.

“Is it, really?” came the reply, mingled with the smell of pipe smoke and seasoned polished leather, probably from the vintage chair being sat on. “What really makes things so complicated, the way you describe them, my friend?”

The smell of grease on his hands diffused around him as he waved his hands in the midst of conversation, trying to express his point. “It’s the way people can be so unpredictable! One moment left, another right; one instant yes, the next no!  How does one remain constant in a world of changing definitions?  If only it were such as machines, where everything has a direct cause and effect, without having to worry about the implicit.”

“Could it be, my friend, that things are only complicated because somewhere inside each of us, we wish it to be?”  A look of perplexity covered his face, to which the philosopher spoke up again while sipping a cup of fine tea. “Would the beauty of an art piece remain should there have been a logical connection between each stroke, or the gracefulness of a dance if there was a predictable sequence?”

The words seemed to have struck a chord as the room remained silent. “You see, it’s sometimes the complexity of the situation that elicits praise, how making what seems like order out of chaos which causes cheers and how people choose to attempt the technologically impossible that leads to Nobel Prizes. If everything were so ordered, so logical, then would we in turn pine for something a little challenging, a little beauty?”

“You see, my friend, there are always two sides to a coin – without one you would not have the other.  But we can always make things as simple as they really are.”

The crack of glass silenced the room, but did not startle him. Perhaps he expected it, and he remained silent.

“It’s simple isn’t it, my friend?”

And with that, the mirror broke.  The conversation did not end, but merely continued in his own mind.

I had this thought about how much Jesus had to put up with when i was thinking about patience and tolerance on my part toward other people…and i imagine someone asking Jesus that same question:

How much longer will you put up with these people who reject your message and spit your name out in disgust?

Until the Scriptures are fulfilled and Man will hunger for righteousness no more.

How much longer will you put up with these people who use your name in vain and slander you?

Until my destiny is fulfilled and my Father’s plan has unfolded.

How much longer will you put up with these people who praise you with their lips but do no justice to you with their actions?

Until the miracles have been done and the signs all shown.

How much longer will you put up with these people who do not recognize who you are?

Until I am paraded through the streets with a cross on my back, convicted though innocent by the people I came to save.

Until I hang on the cross, nails though my hands and feet and a spear in my side, with dried and crusted blood and spit on my body and a crown of thorns on my head, bearing the signs of disgrace and mockery, on display for all to see.

Until my clothes have been divided and i sip from the sponge and my Father’s face turns away from my tattered body, carrying the multitude of sins more numerous than the lashes that expose my flesh from lines of lacerated skin at which the ravens peck.

Until my physical body cries out in agony at the pain and my parched lips pronounce the words “It is finished” and I hang limp from the steel that binds my hands to wood, holding my frame by not much more than strands of muscle and disjointed bone.

How much longer will you put up with these people?

Until it kills me.

And at the realization of it all, i cry.

Look over there.

Yes there, at the cross.

Not a pretty sight is it?

There're still chunks of meat hanging on the splinters, too small for even the ravens to get at without poking out their eyes. The wood has been tainted a deep maroon, with all the blood being soaked into the material.

Think about the lashed inflicted to the extent that there are still marks cutting deep into the wood. Think about the spit and the remnant of whatever the mob could afford to throw on it in utter mockery that had been left to dry on it and the smell emenating from that peice of wood. Think about the edge at the bottom that looks like had been sanded off because it had been dragged through the unpaved streets. Think about the sweat and blood that had soaked in so deep that the wood could never be used again. Think about the nails that went through the horizontal arms of the planks, nails that left a hole in the ends.

Then think about the one who carried that cross, and what was being done to him.

Mocked, humiliated, flogged, bleeding, nailed, in agony and extreme pain, and toward the end, unconscious as the spear pierced His side. The suffering unjustly endured while legions of angels gazed down and awaited His command to strike those who struck Him, a thousandfold more severely. The tears shed as those He took the blame for blamed Him all the more. The feeling when all those close to Him left His side and ran away, scared to reveal themselves. And then being raised on that cross that He carried, to be subject to an authority far beneath His own, to be inflicted by a punishment invented by the Romans that was so cruel that the citizens of Rome were not able to be given such a sentence, and die in the process.

Not just to die, but to have the Father's Face, which was sustaining Him all along and leading Him, turn away from Him in disgust.

No, not a pretty sight at all.

Then think about this:

That man on the cross?

It should have been me.

It should have been you.

I heard this story some time ago. A touching one; and perhaps there is a reason as to why I remember it at this point of time, though I really can’t think of why I do.

A young boy attended this particular school in his neighbourhood. There was nothing spectacular about the school nor about the boy, though his group of friends were a very close bunch; even more so as they all happened to be in the same class. They played together, they studied together, they worked together and quite literally grew up together as their neighbourhood was a small one. Though none of them were well-to-do they all shared what they had and because of that they all led very happy lives, as people of their age should have.

It was thus understandably a piece of very unfortunate news to all of them that this boy that we first mentioned was one day diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully it was not terminal, though the youth would have to spend many days and weeks in a hospital for the necessary treatment and recovery from the toll of it. This was no mean feat for the boy, for he was as hyperactive even by comparison to others his age – trapping him within the confines of a hospital room was nothing short of torturous to him, and the friends knew it.

So each day, at least one of them would spend the time after school with him. They would teach him what had been taught in the day, pass him the necessary homework and go through any necessary things with him. This made his life easier somewhat, though it didn't completely ease the discomfort he was experiencing.

Thankfully, he passed through the months of chemotherapy and was cured – the only side effect being that he had no hair due to the treatment.  And he was worried about it, about what his friends would think.  That bothered him quite a bit and even till the night before his return to school, he was dreading the names and comments and jeers that his now shiny head would elicit from everyone.

Dragging his feet across the corridor to his classroom, he had come intentionally late so that no one else but those absolutely necessary would see him, i.e. those from his class.  But as he opened the door, he got a pleasant shock, and then started to cry.

His whole class had shaved their heads so that he wouldn't be the only one. 

That leads me to think if i have friends like that, if i can be a friend like that.

Courtesy of Sands

One day I decided to quit…

I quit my job, my relationship, my spirituality…

I wanted to quit my life.

I went to the woods to have one last talk with God.

"God", I said. "Can you give me one good reason not to quit?"

His answer surprised me…

"Look around", He said. "Do you see the fern and the bamboo?"

"Yes", I replied.
"When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds,

I took very good care of them.

I gave them light. I gave them water.

The fern quickly grew from the earth.

Its brilliant green covered the floor.

Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed.

But I did not quit on the bamboo.

In the second year the Fern grew more vibrant and plentiful.

And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed.

But I did not quit on the bamboo. He said.

"In the third year, there was still nothing from the bamboo seed.

But I would not quit.

In the fourth year, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed.
"I would not quit." He said.

"Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth.

Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant…

But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall.

It had spent the five years growing roots.

Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive.

I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle."

He said to me. "Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been
struggling, you have actually been growing roots"

"I would not quit on the bamboo. I will never quit on you."

"Don't compare yourself to others." He said.

"The bamboo had a different purpose than the fern.

Yet, they both make the forest beautiful."

"Your time will come", God said to me. "You will rise high!"

"How high should I rise?" I asked.

"How high will the bamboo rise?" He asked in return.

"As high as it can?" I questioned.

"Yes." He said, "Give me glory by rising as high as you can."

I left the forest and bring back this story.

I hope these words can help you see that God will never give up on you.

He will never give up on you.

Never regret a day in you life. Good days give you happiness; Bad days give you experiences; Both are essential to life.
Keep going.

Letter to Alex and Chris, Twelve Years in the Future.

Hi guys.

I was wondering, have you learned about the My Lai Massacre at school yet? If you have, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs and start reading further down. But just in case you haven’t, let me give you a quick summary of it.

The My Lai Massacre was the wholesale slaughter, by U.S. soldiers, of hundreds of Vietmanese civilians, mostly women and children, in 1968 during the Vietnam War. Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, was informed by U.S. Intelligence that the village of My Lai was filled with insurgents – civilians who were aiding North Vietnam – and advised that the village be destroyed. On the morning of March 16th, the soldiers, one platoon led by Lt. William Calley, killed hundreds of civilians, some as young as a year old. Some were tortured or raped. Dozens were herded into a ditch and executed with automatic weapons. Even when it became clear that the dozens of small children, screaming women, and suffering elderly men were not the Vietcong, the soldiers kept on slaughtering. Only four American men at My Lai refused to take part that day. In all the chaos, and the burning, gunfire, and screaming, and the entirety of the U.S. Army supporting the action, four stepped back and refused. One of these men was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson. That’s a photo of him on the left. He’s only a few years older than you are right now, Alex. He defied his superiors, he argued with his peers, he loudly proclaimed the vile actions of torturing children to death, and then he took action, pulling children out of the ditches where they were to be shot and flying them to safety. Over and over again, he rescued as many civilians as he could. When the order for a ceasefire was given, it is estimated that 504 people were massacred. Thompson managed to save eleven. For his remarkable courage, he was punished by the military and branded a traitor for decades, before public opinion turned and he was rewarded with the Soldier’s Medal, the U.S. Army’s highest medal for bravery not involving direct contact with the enemy. But of course he did have direct contact with the enemy. It’s just that on that day, the enemy was his own army.

I bring up the example of Hugh Thompson, of course, to Teach You A Lesson, which I’ll do as soon as you finish rolling your eyes. I bring up Hugh Thompson because he exemplifies the kind of man your father and I want you to be. Thompson was a man who, even at his young age, knew what your Dad and I want you to know above all things: It is your responsibility, as a man, to protect those who can not protect themselves. If you fail at this, you have failed as a human being. It is your duty, even when refusing to protect, or even causing the harm yourself, has no visible consequences for you. It is a lesson we are teaching you even now, twelve years back in 2006, when you, Alex, are six and you, Chris, are three. It is why we become so angry with you when you are careless or thoughtless with the kittens that Santa (ahem!) brought you for Christmas. True, the police won’t arrest you if you hurt the kittens. But the job of human beings is to safeguard those who are smaller and do not have the rights and privileges that you yourself have. If you do harm to the kittens, you are a failure. Full stop.

Despite the obviousness of the lesson, it is seemingly not taught or encouraged out in the real world where we all live. As young white men, you sit at the pinnacle of opportunity and privilege. All the power in the world can be yours, but as the old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. You may be faced with situations where causing harm is an option. You may be faced with situations where refusing to cause harm may cause you to lose face. You may be faced with a situation where you know you can easily get away with causing harm to another living being. And when the road ends here, my sweet boys, I beg you to remember my words, and the example of Hugh Thompson: It is your duty to protect those who can not protect themselves.

Recently, and by recently I mean twelve years ago last week, there was a highly publicized gang rape trial where four boys videotaped themselves raping an unconscious sixteen-year-old girl. After the rape, they spit on her, drew obscenities on her naked body, then fled the country. When they came back, they were arrested and taken to trial. The public weighed in, as the public always does, saying that sure, maybe the boys made a mistake, but that doesn’t make them bad people. That girl consented to be spit on and degraded, because, hey, she was probably kinky. That girl needed to be taught a lesson for drinking underage. That girl was a whore.

The jury must have thought so, too, because the trial ended in acquittal. Not guilty.

But I need to tell you this, and I need you to hear me.

Maybe someday you’ll be in a situation like this. Maybe there will be a girl who agrees to give you and five of your friends blowjobs at a party. Maybe she gives blowjobs to all your friends and changes her mind when she gets to you. Maybe there will be a girl who brags about having sex with anyone who wants to do it, then passes out. Maybe there will be a girl who is a stuck up bitch, arrogant, manipulative, mean, cruel, who gets so high she can’t keep her eyes open.

You do not have the right to punish these girls, no matter what you think they may or may not deserve. Climbing on top of any one of these girls is causing harm. I know this, because twenty years ago that passed out girl was me. I don’t talk about it, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. To this date, I’ve thought about it at least once, every day, for twenty years. If you see me in the kitchen making dinner right now, nagging at you for leaving your shoes on the floor for me to trip over or yelling at you for bombing a test, know that today I’ve thought about what happened to me back in October of 1987. Know that I don’t want to talk about it, still.

Nobody was there to protect me, and I was too stupid to think about protecting myself. Think of me, if this situation is ever presented to you. Think about your duty as a man, as a human being. Think about Hugh Thompson. I know it will be hard. I know you could probably get away with doing nothing, or doing the wrong thing. I know you’ll be called pussy, or faggot. I know you may lose friends. But know that if you are in a place where you have the chance to help those who can not help themselves, even if your help angers those who are presumably your allies, there will be a word you will also be called: Hero.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

Now please pick up your shoes and come to dinner.

taken from http://buggydoo.blogspot.com/, courtesy of JoBeth

I heard this story sometime back….and it came back to me a few weeks ago, but in the midst of exams i thought i’d hold back some posts that i wanted to write so that i can concentrate on studies…

There was once a travelling pastor, who went on his “rounds” in the country.  Those were the days of horse-carriages and so evidently he was riding one (duh). As we went along a seaside cliff, he saw a hut with a few fishermen praying outside.  How he knew they were fishermen, i don’t know.  Perhaps their net was strung up to sun beside them, or maybe they had their buckets of fish nearby.  At any rate, he overheard them praying…

“You are three, we are three; have mercy on us.”

Now being an ordained minister, you can imagine the horror on his face when he heard that.  “No no no that’s not the way you should be praying!”, he quite literally yelled, waving his hands about his head as he jumped of the horse-carriage and ran toward them, although it was dangerous and very unbecoming of someone dressed in a preacher’s gown to do so in those days.  This obviously caught the fishermen’s attention, for more than one reason, and he then proceeded to teach them the Lord’s Prayer, “Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,…”

It took a while, but the preacher was patient with them and they finally learned the prayer by heart, despite being uneducated men. And so the pastor left the scene of the humble hut and the three fishermen who were repeating the prayer so they could remember it, feeling that he had done something to guide them, and feeling mighty high about it.

A few days later, the pastor made his return journey past the seaside cliff, this time by ship.  He looked at the hut again, and saw the three fishermen waving to him.  So what else would he do but wave back, being a friendly chap himself.  And the fishermen waved bigger waves.  And so he waved back bigger waves.  (not the waves that were rocking the ship, mind you, those were big enough already)

To his surprise, suddenly the fishermen came running to him – on the water.  You would have heard his jaw hit the ground should you have been there.  They reached the boat, climbed in and asked the flabbergasted preacher, “Pastor, wees forgetten beautiful prayer.  Teach again?”

The pastor, after coming out of his shock, said, “Go back to the way you were praying”

My personal opinion on this story is the moral of it goes something like God sees your heart rather than your words.  Yet i know in part the controversy that i will spark in making that a statement.  I also know that what you say, what you do, will ultimately reflect what you really mean, no matter how good you are at hiding it.

Yes there may be a “right” way of doing things, and ideally we should follow that way.  But can you fault an uneducated person for not being able to physically read the Bible?  Here’s where i can hear myself saying “but there are other ways to learn the Bible, he can’t possible be devoid of ALL of them? Audio cassette? CD? Get someone to read for him?”  Well, surprise surprise, wouldn’t you know that i just happened to meet someone in EXACTLY those circumstances, right here on sunny singapore.  No longer will i say that it’s not possible.

But that guy, his dear old heart is burning, burning for more.  He can’t read, he can’t write, and there’s quite literally no way for him to learn anything.  I used to think “if you really want to, you can find a way”, but i think God has clamped my mouth shut on this case.  Yet i do know that he believes, and all he knows is that his God loves him.

So, right way or not, i’ll never look at it the same way again.  Yes, if it’s within means, i’d prefer to do it the “right” way.  But if it’s not done that way, i think i’ll let God handle it, i’m sure not one to say anything about it unless i’m supposed to.