A darkness more familiar in thy sleep

Today, I believe I felt the hand of depression grip hold of me. I woke up this morning, feeling tired and unmotivated. There was a sense of heaviness in my heart, and my mind was constantly sifting through reasons after reasons to understand why as I stared blankly at the ceiling. The harsh morning light was punishing while the ubiquitous sounds around were mocking me.

I am still looking for a job and graduating from University without my foot already in the door worries me. No. It terrifies me. From that thought, I quickly slipped into the realisation that I could not picture the end of my life. I couldn’t picture a happy family. I couldn’t picture a life filled with friends. I couldn’t picture a fullfilling job. I couldn’t picture a legacy left behind. My life is meaningless. My life is hopeless. There’s no end, no answer.

I felt lethargic. While I forced myself to do the tasks I’ve set myself, tasks I thought were bringing sense and fulfillment, there were questions behind my mind that were lingering, nudging. Sometimes they scream. These questions were hammering me like a merciless interrogator. With every answer I give, a new question arises. It was mentally and emotionally draining. Every now and then I had to hold and lean onto a table or something, my head bowed as I fight with every breath and willpower the urge to break the face that was looking back at me in the mirror.

I’m still not sure if this can be called ‘depression’ as the spell was surprisingly easily broken. My sister woke me up from the slumber I threw myself into to escape from the realities of being tired awake. She woke me up because a friend of mine from our local parish youth ministry wanted to invite me to watch a movie together tonight. My heart lept. She told me he will contact me. I didn’t continue with the tasks I’ve set myself, but instead went outside to lift some weights. They say exercise helps fight depression. So I did. And waited.

He didn’t contact me. But that’s okay. Because while I was waiting for his call or text message, while in a temporary state of hope which gave me enough strength to do things, I found a gentle reminder of the meaning of life as I was browsing through my photo albums on Facebook. I saw happy people. And amongst them, I saw me. Also quite happy. It was very easy for me to believe that no one needed me. The thought of rejection and worthlessness invades my mind on a daily basis. But I needed them. I needed them for me to be happy. That if I give myself into depression, into the darkness that blinds and robs me the ability to see the faintest light, I have lost them. And as a result, forever lost myself.

So, here I lay, on the same bed that I felt crushed into by the heaviness I felt this morning. I am thankful that it has lifted. But I know there are people out there who wakes up and would rather return to a darkness that is more familiar in their sleep. I pray that they will wake up and see a splinter of light from others. I also pray that it will not tighten its hold on me in the future.

Taking My Cape Off

Long have I been putting this off. And after so many months and rewriting, I now know what to write about.

Let me share with you how this post would have been, what it was supposed to be if it wasn’t for tonight.

This post would have been a ranting on the similarities between Superman and I. It would have been how we both have great responsibilities to carry and expectations to fulfill. It would have been how we both want to take risks and make mistakes without others looking down on us. That our power (or authority) has given us the image of someone who can never fail, someone set apart from others. And yet what we both want to be is like others, to belong, to not be seen as another.

The heck this guy is talking about?

Long story short, I’m talking about my leadership.

I’ve been struggling in it for a very long time. But I’ve done nothing significant to tackle the problem but pray, pray and pray. (For the record, I’m a religious youth group member. And a life of hypocrisy and dishonesty has mainly contributed to my struggle.) I’ve come to a point where I couldn’t lead anymore, that the group needed someone more competent than me.

But behind it all, I merely wanted to be a member again, to sit and listen to someone I think I can trust. I couldn’t see myself in that ‘someone’ anymore. Because I couldn’t trust myself.

But here’s the amazing thing that happened to me. And this is what this post is now all about.

God answered my prayer.

Three weeks ago, my sister and I decided to man up and attend one of the parish youth meetings. It was recently re-initiated by some of the parish youths and the newly ordained priest. It has a pretty decent number of members but I wasn’t expecting much from it.

I expected it to be all fun and games with little substance, people gathered in their own mini-groups, reluctant to contribute in any discussions or sharing. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t work out in the end, like the previous youth group.

But the desire to be like others stuck. Tonight, it was my second meeting with the parish youths and I can happily say that… you know… I might be wrong about all that. Sure, they might be a bit too restless and noisy for a youth group, but they do have an enthusiasm and willingness to share that is admirable. They might contribute to discussions with simple answers and naivety, but I was completely humbled when they fearlessly open their hearts and shared their stories.

But what I’m more happy about is that I felt that I was part of all that, that I wasn’t facilitating the discussions or supervising the members. The things I’ve said weren’t treated differently from others. Yeah sure, I still feel out of place and left out but isn’t that the beauty of being a member?

Uncertainty is expected, not avoided, which very well takes the burden of needing to know and plan everything off my shoulder. Everyone has yet to make a solid impression of you. I am given the chance to trust someone else. I don’t have to rely on my resources and talents. Because I now have my leader.

At the same time, I would have someone to be on equal grounds with. I would be sharing experiences in leadership with the parish youth leaders. Though I would rather prefer to stay as a member in the group, I would like to be accountable for each other. I would like them to feel that leadership is not a one-man’s job. Superman has his Justice League.

However, I reckon this is only just a part of God’s majestic plan. Maybe. Maybe not. Like how Superman was on a hiatus from his usual hero job by sleeping in the sun, I too feel like I’m taking my cape off for a while to better prepare myself for a bigger calling.

And what could that calling might be, I wonder.

God bless.

Death Makes a Better Man (Mini-series on capital punishment)

I’m sniffing and holding back my tears, and turned to the side and see my sister’s swollen eyes transfixed on the screen. I may be tearless but I’m crying my hearts out inside, watching the tragic moments unfold before my eyes.

The Australia drama mini-series is called Better Man. Surprisingly, it’s only two parts long, but delivered one heck of a story! It is based on a true story about a 20-year old Australian-Vietnamese boy named ‘Van’, who went to extreme means to lift his family from a financial pit. Unfortunately, he was caught, convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore and sentenced to death. Ultimately, it is a story of faith, love and hope.

The success of this film is due to its capacity to provoke a dialogue with the public. If it wasn’t for this film, I would still have been one of those who will readily condemn any person painted as a drug trafficker in the media without being properly informed about the convicted (“He deserves it!”). A lot of issues are touched in the film but the main one is capital punishment. I am ashamed to say that this is what prompted me to challenge the concept of capital punishment, and not from my belief in the sanctity of every human life.

I have made some strong personal connections with Van, sharing values and characteristics in him that portrays the essence of youth… and youth cut short. Some of my views on Singapore has been disturbed, where before I longed viewed Singapore as a morally righteous and just country. Scenes in my head keep playing on rewind, changing crucial moments for the better. I’ve gained renewed hope for people who work for the greater good and not for personal gain, like the lawyers who took the daunting task of defending Van. I feel that after watching Better Man, I learned that I have a responsibility to better inform myself than rushing into an opinion.

Source: The Daily Telegraph, Australia

I beg you to watch the episodes here while you still can. And I hope that at the end of it, not only are you crying or feeling upset but also thinking for yourself, asking yourself where you stand when it comes to integrity in the media and justice system.

http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/38541379812/Better-Man-Part-1

These are some of what went through my mind after watching Better Man:

Is capital punishment, sentencing death upon a person, fair? Are there certain criminal offences that are more deserving of death? Is drug trafficking equivalent to murder? Why? If wrongly convicted, does capital punishment fail to serve as a deterrent and why? Or does that effectively highlight the fallibility of or possibility of corruption in the justice system in expense of a life? Do you immediately believe that one deserves a particular punishment, even death, only after knowing what one is convicted for without background knowledge of the convicted? Do people who have opposing opinions on a matter, case or issue make you uncomfortable, as if they are forcing their opinions on you? Do majority of the people around you share the same opinions? Are you ready to oppose them when your values are challenged?

What are yours?

Song for a Wake: Hauntingly Beautiful

I was woken up by something I’ve never heard before. Chanting or singing – I couldn’t quite decide which. Was I dreaming? I focused my gaze up and could just make out the timber ceiling beams in the grey morning light. Nope, I could still hear it. Spellbound and intrigued, I jumped out of bed and rushed downstairs to capture the moment. What you are listening to now is the audio-minus-video of the morning prayer of (mostly) elderly women chanting-singing before the body of my late grandfather.

DSC05418 Continue reading

Status

Girlfriend? Not just friend?

‘… What would you say are the main differences?’
‘You’re funny, Marcus.’
‘I know. People keep telling me. I don’t care. I just want you to answer the question.’
‘OK. Do you want to touch her? That’s got to be the first thing.’

Marcus carried on blasting away at the monster on the screen, apparently oblivious to Will’s profundities.

‘Well?’
‘I don’t know. I’m thinking about it. Go on.’
‘That’s it.’
‘That’s it? There’s only one difference?’
‘Yeah. Marcus. You have heard of sex, haven’t you? It’s kind of a big deal.’
‘I know, I’m not stupid. But I can’t believe there’s nothing more to it. Oh, piss.’

Marcus has lost another life.

”Cos I’m not sure if I want to touch Ellie or not. But I still know I want her to be my girlfriend.’
‘OK, so what things do you want to be different?’
‘I want to be with her more. I want to be with her all the time, instead of when I bump into her. And I want to get rid of (her friend) Zoe, even though I like Zoe, because I want Ellie to myself. And I want to tell her things first, before I tell anyone, even you or Mum. And I don’t want her to have another boyfriend. If I could have all those things, I wouldn’t mind if I touched her or not.’

— from the novel About A Boy by Nick Hornby

Circumstances forced me here…

Leaving me nowhere to go except home. Nope, I lost my tight apartment unit, my home for the past several years, to soaring rental prices. But after losing my job, there’s no reason to stay there. And so, spending what’s left in my account for a plane ticket, I now find myself standing before where home used to be. I pressed the doorbell and waited anxiously for the door to open, rehearsing things to say to them in my head.

It was my mother who joyfully greeted me but quickly calmed down when she realized what my unannounced presence meant.

“Come, let’s talk about it inside.”

She moved aside and beckoned me in. Reassured by her warm and calm demeanor, I stepped through the door.

I Like Watching People

One little quirk I noticed and can admit about myself is that ‘people watching’ amidst the buzz of daily life interests me. But much more interesting is that I am more interested in watching people in my country, the Philippines, more so than watching people here in Australia. In fact, I don’t watch people in Australia.
Even if they are Filipinos.

What is it about watching my people I find captivating? I have asked myself that question before and tried to be honest towards myself. I tend to give more of my attention to people near my age: students scattered about the streets during lunch, brief glances from inside the jeepney at other boys and girls in the other jeepney, them loitering at plazas, malls and public spaces, them playing at basketball courts, arcades and parks, a group of them huddled around a table by a restaurant, and I got an eye for them when they are working in the shops.

I’m still looking for a clear answer. Because I lived most of my life outside my country, only spending my first 6 years in the Philippines, I thought maybe I was just piecing up together a life of could-or-would-have-been. You know, sometimes I picture myself walking among those group of students in their uniforms, laughing and talking fluently in a language I’m still trying to pick up again. Or maybe it is just a mere fascination of a different lifestyle and culture, one I was born from but since forgotten. Or was it the feeling of fitting in with a group of people who share the same blood, skin colour and facial features? Or was it a desire to feel that I can fit back in, after what feels like being pulled out or deprived of that place? Was it an appreciation for the privilege of being pulled out from their poverty because of my parents’ efforts? But they look happy and content, despite being poor. I’m yearning for something that they have that I don’t have. Acceptance? Connection? Identity?

Images are from facebook.com/IliganStolenShots

Once someone asked me what kind of girlfriend I’ll want to have as a dare question. So I said that she has to be humble, passionate, et cetera… That sort of thing.
She said, “No, no! I mean, would you like to have a Filipina or an Australian girlfriend.”
“Any, really. Depends. I don’t mind.”
“But between the two, which one do you think…”
She trails off.

“The Filipina.”

Scared of Being Wrong – My education in Singapore

“Hey,” she said softly, “you’re not used to answering questions. Why?”
“Scared!” someone offered, but she was not quick enough to see who it was.
“Scared of what?”
“Of being wrong!”

While reading the book Rice Bowl by Suchen Christine Lim, I came to realize that I haven’t written anything about my upbringing in Singapore which took the most significant part of my life. In fact, I lived in Singapore longer than in the Philippines or in Australia where I currently reside. I bought this book in an op shop whilst trying my luck in finding popular books such as The Alchemist at a ridiculously low price (no luck!). The book’s cover and the statement that includes both the words ‘Singapore’ and ‘Philippine’ caught my attention. But a quick read of the blurb sold it!

Although I only finished Secondary One (or First Year high school) in Singapore and continued my studies here in Australia, I could relate to the Pre-University (I’m assuming that’s Fourth Year high school?) students in the novel. I remember the feelings of fear and respect for the teachers. I felt like an empty vessel, only there to be filled up by the teachers. I expected the teachers to provide both the questions and the answers, and unless the question have never been asked before, we’re expected to answer it correctly. I was one of the three senior prefect leaders in our school and vice-class leader in some of my classes, so there were big expectations of being a role model to my peers. You may see that as significant accomplishments but I feel like those came about due to my passive obedience to authority and their system. Like, you know, just drifting along.

Our curriculum was structured in a way where there were no real discussions, answers were either black or white and how well you did were solely determined by the letters you receive in your end-of-term report card. The questions the teachers ask had predetermined answers – I don’t remember a teacher ever asking for our opinions on a matter. Mistakes and wrong answers were to be avoided. Students were sorted into classes according to how many correct answers they’ve made and those who did really well were over-glorified. I remember the feeling of disappointment and discouragement when I found out the following year that I’ve dropped from class A to class B. I wasn’t terrified of making wrong answers. But I was scared, scared that if I make too much, the consequences could become severe. I didn’t want my mistakes to be the reason of being held back, especially in Singapore where education and order is top priority.

I don’t know – I was very young and naive back then, and maybe the only way to survive in Singapore and get an education is obedience to the system. It may also be because since it was just a primary school, everyone is taught to focus on a standard set of lessons to gain knowledge that will help us develop into better inquirers. It probably was too early to start rebelling or thinking bigger. Maybe the questioning and the exploring starts in high school where I only spent a year in. Also, the story is set in the 1960s, the time when Singapore gained its independence from British rule and much would have changed in the system. But one thing for sure, we weren’t given opportunities to think about bigger, more universal questions like ‘What is the meaning of life?’ and answer it elegantly and confidently, without any hint of fear of being wrong, and with a profound analogy, like the kid below.

PS: I’m not posting as much as I would have liked to! Also, I haven’t posted that many about my holidays in the Philippines. It’s taking longer than I expected! I hope, eventually, I get better in managing and organizing my time so that I can blog more often.

JV

It was fiesta night, with dance music playing from the disco at the basketball court. I was walking in the dark to JV’s house with him and a mutual friend after getting his unanticipated invitation to see his house. JV has visited me in my grandfather’s house, where I stayed for the time being, quite a number of times already and I felt that it was my turn to see his house. I did wait in front of his house once while he ran in to get some stuff, but I never got the chance to go in. So, I was very excited to see how it was like inside.

We stop by a house along the way and JV called out for someone inside. Two girls came out to meet and talk with him for a while and I took a few steps back to give them their own space.

Before we continued our way to his house, JV asked me teasingly,

“Do you think she’s pretty?”

“Who?”

“Her”, while nudging his head back to the house.

As usual, trying to avoid hurting anyone and questions like this, I raised my shoulder slowly while frowning my face as if to say “Maaaayyybbbeeee?”

This wasn’t the first time he asked me this. Neither was he the only person who bothered me with these questions! I swear everyone is trying to hook me up with someone while I was there, but that is understandable since a 20-something who never had a girlfriend is quite perplexing.

Just One Last Time?

At the moment I’m writing this sentence, I have exactly 3.5 hours before I’ll find myself up in the sky, buckled up and bound for Kuala Lumpur.

I’m going back to our rural home in the Philippines because my grandfather, who I mentioned in my previous post, just passed away. Despite having attended a funeral in my early childhood years, I cannot remember a single fragment of it. This will be my first ever memory of attending a funeral in full awareness of a mind obsessed with remembering.

In the past few weeks, I’ve learned the importance and fragility of family bonds and relationships. I’ve witnessed how people can change and draw themselves closer when someone in their family is gravely ill or, in my case, is welcoming death. I’ve witnessed also how people can be stubborn and resist the opportunity for change, forgiveness and reconciliation.

I’ve been going back and forth between my home in the city and my grandfather’s home in the rural town. This will be my fourth time going back. Other than seeing my grandfather one last time, I don’t know what else is in store for me. My extended vacation has been full of unexpected circumstances and surprises, not always pleasant.

May God bless him and grant his soul eternal peace.