Sunday, 28 September 2014

The fault in our stars


I watched the movie "the fault in our stars" late last night. It was a tearjerker no doubt. But I did not cry as expected. I did something far worse. I wrote. It was literal tears translated into literary ink. I wrote about love, life and death. I wrote about the enduring love demonstrated in two young storied lives who were both dying from cancer. I wrote about how love cannot cheat death but yet it can transcend it to live forever in our hearts. I wrote about how love cannot cure cancer but it can make one forget about its daily afflictions - if only for a moment. And I wrote about how love cannot stop the pain; in fact, it only worsens it when death beckons. But nevertheless love can deepen a life and in deepening it, love breathes life into life.

The movie taught me about the limitation of love but it also taught me about its power. The power of love is not about adding hours or days to a life ravaged by the intemperate fits of cancer. Time is in fact blind to one's tragedy. It cannot and will not empathize. It is uninterested in how humans
 conduct their affairs amidst the pain; however valiantly and courageously they brave through it. Time is in this respect emotionally challenged. You cannot bribe time with everything you have and expect it to hold the inevitable for you for longer than you wish. Neither will time wait for a man or a woman, or in this context, two star-crossed lovers destined to die young. When it is time to go, you go. It is clearly non-negotiable.

But for what time would not do for us, love would willingly step up to the plate. Love changes things. Love is a faithful companion in tragedy and a comforting refuge in the tent of hope. Love would hide passing time from us. Love
 would merge a moment with eternity and give us the impression that time has stopped just for us. And love would fill each second and minute with compelling meaning that demands time to take stock. Love gives. Love serves. Love sacrifices.

Of course, death comes to all and no amount of wishful thinking can detour or delay it. Life and death have already entered into a pact and it is an unbreakable bond, timeless and blind. It is a covenant of mutuality of responses. It is a sacred duty to be honored without exception. Where life starts, death will stand back in respect. Death will allow it to run its course. It will abide by its gentleman’s agreement. But where life ends, death will take over in studious succession. Where life yields, death seals. Seen in this way, the heir to life is death and the legacy of death is life.

The movie challenges me to think about love, life and death not as separate conflicting parts but as a continuous – though sometimes disharmonious - whole, flowing like a searching river and navigating by the sails of our collective choices. The young protagonists in the movie (only 16 and 18) knew very well that their love cannot flourish without the shadow-and-light dance of life and death. It is an existential collaboration that boldly tempts fate and yet in tempting fate, it brings out what is most treasured and admired in love, that is, timeless passion. It is this miraculous suspension of fate that only those sharing such intimacy can ever experience. And it is in this experience that love, life and death are united in one congruous flow.

So, if life makes love obvious, then death makes it urgent. Impending death somehow sharpens the focus of what is important and what is not. It throws caution to the wind (to really live) and diverts what needs to be diverted and joins what needs to be joined. For I will never know what it means to love in my life if I have, in my invulnerable youthfulness, thinks that I have all the time in the world to love. The irony in that statement is deepened by the enemy of love and that is to take our loved ones for granted.

Imminent death will make sure that this will not happen because the greater irony for the living is to be numbed to this urgency to love deeply and be lulled into a state of believing that somehow this love is missing something - somehow it is not enough, somehow it doesn't satisfy. To the person who has all the time in the world - so he/she thinks - love takes secondary role to ambitious striving, aimless possessing. This then turns us into wandering, insatiable spirits looking for that defining and meaningful connection in our life when it has in reality never left us. She or he has always been there - within reach. Alas, it often takes death (or dying) to remind us to love, not so much life (or living). And it often takes death to teach us what life is too forgetful to teach and that is to treasure it.

So, as I rest my thoughts and salve my tears, I am admittedly a restless beneficiary to the enduring message of this heartwarming movie “the fault in our stars”. And the message is best summed up in this poem by William Blake, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. To Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour.” And love keeps a remembrance. It is a remembrance that lasts for an eternity. Cheerz.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Hi guys, let's talk about sex.


Hi guys. Need a minute or two of your attention. Want to talk about sex or lust. I am sure you guys are familiar with it. This is an all-boys thingy. No girls are allowed. So let’s take off the mask. Let’s be frank. This apples to married and unmarried folks out there. This is about those manly urges beyond our holy purges. It is also about the spill-over hormones desperately searching outlets and, well, inlets. 

Lust is a scary thing. It makes strong men weak and weak men weaker. It calls out to us like the Odyssey’s naked siren and the apparition of the seductress makes automatons out of us. If there is one thing that can turn valiant men into vicious animals, yes, that’s lust. Lust is transformative: one time you are a gentleman and at another time you are anything but gentle. 

But the regrets come close at its heels. That’s the Achilles’ heels of lust. It makes for orgasmic pleasure but the hangover turns us into pious sobers. For some, that one-night-stand of under-standing can cost dearly. It can overturn marriages, undercut passion and drown out hope. We hate ourselves for it and morally flagellate ourselves for the many momentary pleasurable lapses. But once the deed is done, the heat is all that is left. 

So, we should give short shrift to this hormonal tiff.  We should be as vigilant as a nervous thief looking out for the “blue” cops on the beat. This is how I think we should go about circumcising that lusty offshoot. My take here is obscenely practical. Don’t expect any preaching or scriptural reading. I ain’t no mufti, holy men or Catholic priest. I just want to be as unflinchingly honest as I can be. Here goes. 

First, it's the look. Every man has his trigger. We eject at the slightest effect. So for heaven’s sake, keep those glances away from those alluring cleavage plunges. If Venus-fly-trap comes with a name, it is those chest-level and mid-level curves that bounce with abandonment. No disrespect intended. But hey, if you have a weak spot for those soft spots, then avoid them at all costs. This applies to going into cyberspace to salivate over those sexy fishnet bait. 

Remember that the first look is a choice. And that choice is yours. You own it. It’s not difficult if you make a conscious effort. Collaborate with time and consistency and you will achieve mind over matter. Because if you don’t mind, it really doesn’t matter. This brings me to the second point: the mind. 

That’s your largest sex organ. Forget about that useless dangling phallus. The true puppet-controller or the Jedi-master of the erecting force is right up there. Every conceivable image, motivation and agenda are all locked up in those neuro-rewiring. It’s a massive mess inside and somewhere between your eyes and the half-way mark is your yes/no button. Should you press “yes”, then a dizzy frame-rate of moving pictures will be screened. 

You are often its director, producer and casting associate all rolled into one. It is a film deserving of a Razzie award no doubt but for you, it’s your private home-movie with sleazy reenactments to serve up a host of personal, self-directed pleasures and indulgences. 

But this is where you should really be its board of censorship. You have to cut it all out. You should take full control. Throw away the junk. Slap it with an RA18 or RA21 or better still RA(lifetime) label. Say “no” to private viewing of the balderdash of lewd content and images. Remember, you have the firm upper-hand if you reject the lures of the itchy lower-hand. Your mind over matter is what truly matters. You dick, I mean, you dig? 

My last point is about her, yes, the object of your lust. That office colleague. That glamor starlet. That married but neglected wife. That poster girl hanging by your locker. That pretty young thing in short skirt and squeaky voice. That roadside or bar fling. That female boss of yours.  They are all the same one gender: the female species

Whether you are married or not, that exclusive one you are now lusting after or will be lusting after when the time comes is in reality somebody’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, girlfriend, fiancĂ©e, wife, mother and grandmother. They have a name, a history, a background and a story to tell. Some have a painful and haunting past. Some struggle under an oppressive environment. Others have their hurts locked within them and are crying for help. 

Yet, all of them are beautiful souls that deserve to live, to love, to nurture life within, to mother their children, to grow old in peace, to savor life in full, and to die fulfilled. They are human beings just like you and me and not your lusting objects. If you reduce them to bouncing cleavages, skinny long legs, hot thighs, curvy buttocks, pouting lips, sensual long hair and inviting poses, then you are obviously not getting the whole picture. 

It is like investing in shares without studying the prospectus or driving while focusing only on your rear-view mirror. These are clearly superficials and you are insulting your own daughter, wife, mother and grandmother by lusting after them. If you take the manicured time to see them as individuals with hopes, dreams, pains, tears, longings, fears and aspirations - rather than just the opposite sex with a receiving receptacle for your unthinking extendable – then you will come to realize that there is a definite beauty in them that is redeeming in you. 

In fact, you will start to see them as no different from your own sister, daughter and mother. If lust destroys life, then love, understanding and respect enrich it. They deserve to see the humanity in you and to trust that this humanity will protect them and not take advantage of them – whether in thoughts, wet dreams or un-chivalrous actions. 

So, I will end here. Lust is still a scary thing. But what is most empowering for you guys is to turn that lust into respect, to show that you care, and to treat the opposite sex less of the “opposite” and more of your very own to love, to treasure and to shield from harm. Cheerz.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Living and dying well.


This morning’s straits times' article carried this title, “Too young to die, too old to worry.” It was written by Jason Kari Awish, a professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at University of Pennsylvania. It was a fun read with a smackaroo of humor and practical advice about living and dying. The article started with the famed song-writer Leonard Cohen who planned to celebrate his 80th birthday with a cigarette. He said, “It’s the right
age to recommence.” How cool is that for an octogenarian. But first, here is a little background.

If the article has a theme, it is this (as posed by the writer): When should we set aside a life lived for the future and instead, embrace the pleasures of the present? This is in fact a clarion call for us to live now (the quality of life, that is, its depth) and stop worrying about our mortality (the quantity of life, that is, its length). I think living a long life has become an obsession for us; especially the well-off. We want to age gracefully and 
live long but in doing so, “more than half of adults aged 65 or older are taking five or more prescription medications, over-the-counter medications or dietary supplements, many of them designed not to treat suffering but to reduce the chances of future suffering” (so writes Prof Awish).

This obsession to control our future by preventing illnesses may have extended our life somehow but it is done so at the expense of our enjoying the present. Now, I do not want to be irresponsible here and I
 know that we have to strive to live healthy and for our beloved dependents. In fact, the article made passing mention of this quote, “One fitness product tagline captures the zeitgeist: “Your health account is your wealth account! Long live living long!” But like all good things, living long ought to come with some moderation and balance. Here is what I mean.

I was having a conversation with my wife this morning about the tagline "Long live living long" and I asked her, “Is there a right time for one to start living more for quality rather than for quantity?” She echoed
 my sentiments when she replied that it is an infuriating trade-off between excessive worrying about the future and truly enjoying the present. She told me that some time ago she read about a senior cancer surgeon who admitted that if he had terminal cancer, he would retire into a beach house – somewhere private and scenic - and enjoy the remaining balance of his life there.

He confessed that he did not want to go through what his own patients had gone through, that is, all that chemotherapy, medication and invasive
treatments. I guess that surgeon didn’t want to live his life being monitored, scrutinized and studied like a lab-rat. Now the pertinent question would be this, “What if such early medical detection and timely intervention could save your life?” Well, if that’s the case, I would think that the trade-off is well worth the effort and time.

But what if living long requires one to turn himself into a human depository of medicine, pills and supplements, and be subjected to regular checkups and 
surgeries with little certainty of its effectiveness? Doesn't that just complicate matters a tad bit? How about the unpreventable cognitive diseases that comes with old age like Alzheimer, Parkinson and Stroke? If one were to receive such a diagnosis, what is the next course of action then? Aren’t we just holding off a certain almost unbearable form of eventual death and not preventing it from coming to pass? Somehow, that word “preventing” death doesn’t go down well with us because nothing is more certain than 
death, taxes and PAP winning a majority seat at the next election. And in holding off eventual death, is there a limit as to how far we should go about doing it? Should we turn our life on its head by extending it while being deprived of the pleasure of enjoying it?

The Catholic theologian Hans Kung (at 85 years old) recently discovered that he has Parkinson and is fast losing his sight. He wrote that he is considering committing suicide.I don’t want to continue to exist as a shadow of myself,” wrote the man. "I also don't want to be sent off to a nursing home…I’m not tired of life, but tired of living.” Here is a man
 who has lived his life to a ripe old age by today’s standard. He has caused more than a theological dent in the Catholic Church and its doctrines and is ready to go at a time of his own design and choosing. "No person is obligated to suffer the unbearable as something sent from God," he further wrote. "People can decide this for themselves and no priest, doctor or judge can stop them." I guess there is no greater empowerment in living than to have the final say over how and when one dies.  

But let's return to Cohen's birthday resolution to start smoking again. The Hallelujah singer said, "Quite seriously, does anyone know where you can buy a Turkish or Greek cigarette? I'm looking forward to that first smoke. I've been thinking about that for 30 years. It's one of the few consistent strings of thoughts I've been able to locate." Maybe, the tongue-in-cheek comment has a ring of truth in it. Maybe, Cohen is trying to tell us that we owe it to ourselves to live fully in the present and leave worrying about the future to, well, the future.

In fact, the article
 made this observation about prevention, "When it comes to prevention, there can be too much of a good thing. Groups such as the US Preventive Services Task Force regularly review the evidence that support prevention guidelines and find that after certain ages, the benefits of prevention are not worth the risks and hassles of testing, surgery and medications."

Mm...I think for Cohen - having lived to a good old age of 80 - some things are just unpreventable like cognitive decay. They will come regardless
 of all our overcautious preventive measures. Equally, I guess some things are not worth being deprived of and for Cohen it is a good smoke. And for most of us, I guess it would be something less frivolous than that.

So let me end with this thought. This morning my wife and I also talked about how long we wish to live for. However, we did not specify the number, that is, we avoided offering a figure. We told ourselves that we are prepared to leave this world after our responsibilities to our children are duly discharged, that is, to ensure that they have all grown up and are reasonably independent.
 Although we do not know what the future has in store for us, we consciously measure our living years with such meaningful engagement as raising our children and enjoying the journey along the way (among other mutually enriching diversions of course).

I guess when it comes to dying, the number of years wished for is not as important as how a life is lived. And a life that lives to the fullest is one that actively engages with the present and not one that anxiously strives to extend it at whatever the costs. Cheerz.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Kong Hee and Superman


I was at KL with close friends in the mid-August weekend and so didn't have the chance to read the Saturday straits times. But I came back on Sunday night and stumbled upon this intriguing exchange between pastor Kong Hee and his former loyal supporter, Chew Eng Han, in the city harvest trial.

It reads, "As the originator of the Crossover Project, senior pastor of City Harvest and a man of God, wouldn't it be responsible and right for you to take responsibility as the key decision-maker for the financing of the project?" Chew asked.

The 49-year-old, who has been on the stand all this week, answered: "I wish I could do everything and be a Superman... But the church is so big. It is very difficult for one man to make all the decisions." Mm...

Lesson? I guess I can see 5 similarities between Pastor Kong and Superman.

First, Superman always kept his identity from the public. He therefore led a double life, a nerd by day and Super-dude by night (so to speak). Pastor Kong also led a "double life", that is, he is a fierce leader by the pulpit and a meek follower by the stand.

Second, we all know Superman wore his underwear outside for whatever reasons. This is actually a metaphor for "airing your dirty linens in public". Unfortunately, Pastor Kong shared this public fetish with the man of steel too. They both aired their linens in public except that one was more firmly held than the other.

Thirdly, when he came of age, Superman visited an icy place where he talked to a hologram of his father, Jor-El. It's not real of course. Now in 1999, Pastor Kong had the same experience with the crossover project. Again, it's not real of course.

Fourthly, we know that Superman is bullet-proof. He could also run faster than a bullet train and leap over a skyscraper. Here, symbolically speaking, Pastor Kong also believed all that (and probably still believed in it). The sorry fact is that both are clearly delusional. One is a make-believe character and the other is a character belief-making.

Finally, Pastor Kong and Superman both wanted to save the world. Superman does it by going into the world without changing himself. He is still the cape-cladding, underwear super-model hero. Pastor Kong does it by going into and transforming into the world, that is, from a Bible thumping preacher to a hip-gyrating supporter. Cheerz