Perspectives from the Himalaya

Saying the Unsaid: An Act of Interpretation

I am what I make of myself.

In an attempt, to interpret life as it is.

The story could read differently tomorrow. I could wake up to see life more beautiful than I did today, or bleaker than the night before. Which is why it has taken dawns to write, re-write and revise this post.

I finally understand that writing is an act of interpretation.

At its inception, I remember expressing this page as a few voyages of illumination, obscurity and transformation. But, layers of dark ashen scepticism followed the next day. And on completion, the delete button was called for. When current news is sour like spoiled milk, the question that springs of late has a tendency to border on the existential. Depending on the fluctuation of the mind and existing circumstances, words pour out in shapes of varied hues, saturation and intensity, refusing to be resolute.

Now, in the midst of an attack by an invisible virus spiralling into a vengeful second wave, questions about the meaning of life permeate through the murky waters. And the answers to these questions seem to fall into two mammoth consensuses, both at contrasting poles. The former is a dissection of human nature in the wake of reasoning, logic, goal, and free will. And the latter, from an intuitiveness that gives connection with something bigger than our sensory experiences, where the greater whole of which we are part of, is cosmic. The enigma magnifies the dialogue in question along the spectrum of these dualistic views, often tumbling into a host of other unsettling grey questions.

I find solace in reflecting on the lives of others. Others, who have shaped their lives, long, etched with laughter lines on their faces. Time slips away too swiftly and I find myself needing to part words. I sit in half moonlight, at ease with the chirping of the crickets scraping their textured wings. The hands of time ticks slowly. Stillness pervades. Clutter clears.

I grasp transparently.

April is the month when their birth took place.

The path I tread on is never an alienated path. My hands are always held in their invincible clasp, a guiding light wherever I am. For in the spirit of love – of fatherhood and aunthood – their lives that they lead, sometimes in quietude and sometimes more prismatic, and for which I can see and feel, radiate more brightly than the spoken word. Like the reel of a movie, I observe the life that these mature souls have lived and thrived and now, watching serenity cast from their tender expressions of their age-defying faces, my questions are somehow, put at ease. With challenges faced, with responsibilities that these souls carry from a youthful age, duty and devotion is their beaming beacon to sail through the stormy seas. As I attempt to carve words to describe the intangible and the complexities of the human experience, I struggle. In the history of humankind, there has never been a better time for self-expression than today with the connection of the cosmic web. I have reason to persevere.

I may have inherited the quietude of my father. But his sensibilities of rationality, tolerance, and of acceptance are attributes that I wish I had more patience for. Yet, perhaps his most admirable characteristic, beyond comparison by any measure, is his natural predisposition to give and to give, ever so willingly and selflessly. To give his life diligently to work with unwavering loyalty, to give time to his family for he is always there, to share generously his earnings for his own needs have always been sparse, and to tread through life basked in his light-heartedness. When I look back, the moments that I loved most were the little joys in life that I had shared with him. I remember so vividly the Saturday afternoons that he would take me and my siblings to the park with our bicycles. These were the afternoons that I looked forward to every week and he never failed us. He saw us through our bruises and our falls and showed us that it was a part of life. We progressed from smaller bicycles to full-fledged ones and learned vital lessons – to face our fears – of the dreaded slope, to go through the experience, and to embrace the outcome whatever it was. As the teenage hormones kicked in, Sunday morning hikes to the hills became my weekly highlight with him and his friends. The irony of these hikes was that they were always challenging for the lungs and legs. The treks were frequently muddy and ridden with pesky mosquitoes. I would be panting for life, drenched in sweat and having the sun beating down on us when we finally reached the clearing at the top. Yet, I crave for these mornings week after week.   

My earliest memory of him was at three years of age when he made me my first mug of Milo. Mom was away with my sister and the kitchen was never a place of familiarity for him, hence it was an unusual night. Whilst he poured the hot water from a height, I watched the bubbles around the rim of the mug forming. I sat on his lap stirring the frothy rainbow in my mug, popping bubble after bubble till the rainbow subsided into a tranquil lake of brownness. It must have stirred a beautiful moment for that brief juncture of wonder remained etched, deep in my consciousness. The rainbow of bubbles was my little world that night. I went to sleep blissfully without Mom for the first time.

As my father turns 78 years of age today, my heart flutters, knowing how fortunate I am to have by my side, one who has been through an ocean of voyages. Always portrayed as a mast of support, he carries his sails tirelessly but lets them flutter freely in the wind. The voyage propels forward even in adversity but the mast remains, poised in sturdiness.

In the sharing of genes from the bosom of my grandmother and stronghold of my grandfather, my Aunt June who turned 80 recently, crafts envy from others while she blows out her candles. She blows the indistinguishable air of grace and breathes in the air of youthfulness. In physique and in spirit, she teases and defies age. I suspect her outlook for constant self-improvement, of independence, and her thirst for involvement and engagement in life keep her going. Although we have always been continents apart, the occasions that we have crossed path gives me a sense of wonderment – of how she had risen from a childhood of being mother-less at a tender age and having to make up for the loss of her 5 younger siblings, to become a lady of admiration. There are her stories yet to be asked and heard, of the hardships that my grandparents had traversed across the South China Sea from a small village in Fujian to seek a new life in Malaysia. These entities must have contributed to her tenacity for a better life and the colourful canvas of life she has painted. Her masterpiece is yet to be completed and I am assured, for more decades to come.

In the unusual draught-like conditions, the leeches awaken from their prolonged slumber, in search of blood to break their fast. At sight, I cursed quietly at the parasitic worm, an irritating source of itchiness. A grouchy memory lurked in the leech crowd during the previous monsoon rains. Then, heart-wrenching news reached my ears. News which made intolerable leeches farcical.

Unsettling news of a young child fighting from the clasp of cancer struck the routine of our day like lighting, flashing its terror into our worlds. A little friend of ours since she was 2 years of age, a mighty warrior she is, ploughs through and bears down the rigours of medical routines, tests, drugs and hours of surgeries. My heart dropped. How can life be so cruel. One can only, only, imagine her fight fought, and more that is to come. How can one assure and comfort the little tormented one bearing the pain that we truly cannot measure or comprehend ourselves? For we have never been there. To the other side. Yet we know she is in a place of agony where words are hard to form. And what she feels must sit blurry between the lines. Between a breath. Between senses. She spends her days in a place where fear lurks in the cold disinfected walls – the walls that haunt her, the walls that are her battlefield, the walls that contain her as a specimen of plight. We plead to life. Break free she must, to live once again like a free child.

The first ray of dawn breaks through the thick cloud. The ray illuminates the fragility of life which hangs like a single thread of web thrusting in the gusty winds, in a transient state. Who knows if the gust would blow again and with what tenacity it would bring. But the thread hangs there, resilient, facing the elements.

I search deeper. Doors opened. Silence sliced from the waking of a new day. What can be made out of this existence I ask. I hear the shrills of the early birds. I persevere into stillness. Asking again.

Have I the courage to translate an honest attempt at interpreting my own experiences and to communicate that honesty to others. It brought to the surface a host of other questions, questions on how this one life that has been presented so profoundly, was spent, and is to be spent. Looking back, there were times when life was about being adequate and good in the eyes of others, to gain approval and acceptance from systems crafted by societies. There were threads of fear to stride the path less travelled and synchronously, fear to fit in. There were dreams that remained dreams for hesitation and lack of courage overshadowed opportunities. There were moments of temptation to live un-abidingly and with disregard, and there were moments where the weight of responsibility drew the reins in. There was the shuffling of priorities in life, and anything and everything else on the continuum of the human experience.

But the human experience is ephemeral like a passing thunderstorm. It leaves a mark on our emotional landscape – to be scarred, etched, lightly marked, built upon or just as a fleeting shadow. Like the little warrior, there is temptation to lumber in fragmentation when lightning strikes, but she knows she will stride with gratification if she gathers up the fragments and resolutely marches on with the journey. 

I have not the need to write about my journey. But the meditation on those that I have crossed paths with, gives answers to refresh my interpretation of life.