“We owe it to each other to tell stories.”
“We owe it to each other to tell stories.”
On sadder days, I tend to gravitate towards rewatching the final season of Bojack Horseman. Something about the rise and fall of Bojack gets to me, serving as a stark reminder of the permanence of one’s actions – regardless of their motivations. In reality, there’s little one can do to earn redemption or forgiveness from the people they’ve hurt. Scars fade over time, sure – and with external intervention, this process can even be accelerated. But scars are scars, they’re here to stay.
There’s a lot of talk about embracing happiness in the moment, encouraging the act of soaking it all in whilst still fully recognising its transient nature. It’s a noble pursuit, undoubtedly, but the lesson undercutting all of this is in relation to people. In Diane’s words, there are many individuals that help one become the person they end up being, and that one can be grateful for them – even if they were never meant to stick around forever. Perhaps it’s reductive to think of people as having predefined roles in our lives, or maybe it’s not. But it got me thinking, more often than not, once people outlive this “role”, they exist frozen in time – a mere snapshot, like an insect trapped in amber, or a statue cut to our liking.
This can be a positive phenomenon, sure, especially for people who have done us good. Most of the people we cross paths with fall under this category – stagnant between our interactions with them, existing during – but never straying too far from the image we have them preserved as. I’m sure some of us have polaroids adorning our walls – it’s a similar concept if you think about it.
But the opposite is true for people who have hurt us. In keeping them around, letting them remain a part of our lives for the sake of convenience or due to our own weakness – they became our ghosts. So why do we let them haunt us? I struggled with this for a long time, bouncing between the extremes of forgiveness and revenge – but it occurred to me recently that peace can be found in neither. In keeping emotions suspended in time, in keeping them alive even though they’re long dead, we become stronger. In the idle beaches along the shorelines of history, these undying totems stand – their continued existence justified through the precedence they offer alone. Perhaps that’s why we should never be too hasty to forget. And that is how I justify living with these phantoms of the past.
In 2022, my wish is for all of us to find peace, both with the people we choose to love, and with our ghosts. Let us never blame ourselves for how we feel, and allow ourselves the privilege of recovering gently. Let us be kind to one another – giving generously, erring on the side of hopefulness rather than caution. Of all the lessons my father has taught me, one stands apart from the others. Whether you believe in the existence of a higher power is irrelevant, he once told me, but trusting that the good things you do come back eventually – now that will get you far.
There it was, a single firefly dancing in the dark. A single cherry blossom falling blissfully into a pile of pastel. The last tea leaf curling up – having served its purpose. According to Aristotle, everything has a telos, which is an end goal it’s meant to attain. Perhaps it’s naive to believe that complex living beings like humans can be whittled down to a single telos – but there is certainly a line to be drawn between what we humans are meant to be and what we want to be. I want to be a successful writer, most definitely, but is becoming one really my destiny? Who defines an individuals’ telos? Attempting to answer that question was like trying to climb a greased pole – except there really wasn’t any pole to begin with.
Maybe we could start by referring to one’s greatest ambition as their telos. My friend Ryan’s telos would then be becoming a doctor. What comes next after he accomplishes that goal? Does he shrivel up like a tea leaf and cease to be? Of course not, as one achieves their goals, they move on to new ones. One could chase ideals as grand as happiness or the meaning of life, or crave more earthly riches like big houses and fast cars. However, if an individual can only have a single telos, it’s reasonable to assume that it can only be fulfilled at or near death. Trying to think of an example led me down a road of various telos-es that seemed to get increasingly generic. The conclusion I eventually drew was rather anti-climatic, to say the least, but there is, in fact, a singular telos that all living beings share – to be until they aren’t.
That was just a fancy way to describe one’s lifespan. If I’m to die at age eighty, my telos would simply be to live out these eighty years, regardless of what I manage to do with them. Hmph. How shallow, you’re probably thinking, and you’re right. Given how transient life is in the first place, the very notion of a telos is laughable. Yet, I often find myself lying awake at night hoping to find mine. I begin my university studies in less than a month, and surrounded by many who seem to be so sure of their futures, I’m well and truly intimidated.
Now, I’m sure that the humble tea leaf has greater ambitions than becoming leaf soup – but as it sits at the bottom of a cup, I can only imagine it looking up at the heavens and coming to terms with the telos that had been forced upon it. As I stare at the academic timetable taped to my bedroom wall, I begin to understand the struggles of a tea leaf. Very much like how a telos was bestowed upon it at the moment of harvest, the upcoming four years, for better or for worse, bring with them a telos.
Ocean Waves (1993) remains an oddity in Studio Ghibli’s vast catalogue of fantastical tales. Heavy-handed use of melodrama is absent, as is any sprinkling of childlike magic often found in a Ghibli production. It gently serenades you over the course of its brief seventy-two minute runtime, moving along at a leisurely pace. Not that the film needs any additional time to convey its story – there’s precious little to be told. The main attraction here isn’t the one-dimensional plot, but rather the gorgeous hand-drawn snapshots of 90s Japan. Warm summer tones are expertly weaved with haunting instrumentals, the former paired expertly with the latter, always without fail. It’s easy, then, to dismiss this film as an arts showcase, a convenient excuse to display the talents of Ghibli’s greenhorns. However, if you’re able to look past the jaded and predictable storyline, Ocean Waves opens up a captivating slice of reality that’s moving in spite of its simplicity.
The coastal town of Kōchi serves as the primary backdrop for much of the film, and it’s here where we meet Taku, our budding romantic. The film opens with Taku briefly catching sight of a familiar face across a train platform, before we’re quickly whisked away to the past. We are introduced to Taku’s best friend, Yutaka, early on. The stern, self-assured Yutaka serves as the perfect foil for Taku, whose youthful naivety is apparent throughout the story. A stereotypical love triangle emerges when they meet Rikaku, a transfer student from Tokyo. Rikaku is shrouded in mystery for much of the film, but her inclinations are gradually made clear.
There’s a brooding intensity to her that almost leaps off the screen, and it’s this complexity in individual characters that makes up for the generic storyline. All three of our protagonists are dusted with lifelike quirks, and the supporting cast is also surprisingly effective in framing the story. It’s truly fascinating to see such astute nuances being portrayed in animation, even more so given that the film’s commitment to hyper-realism doesn’t extend to character design.
Ocean Waves is very much a tale of missed opportunity, the all-too-familiar consequence of not following one’s true desires. Loyalty between friends is put to the test, as are the morals of our protagonists as they struggle with the turmoils of coming-of-age. The overarching schoolhouse drama is punctuated by various memorable scenes, with Taku and Rikaku’s spontaneous trip to Tokyo being the undoubted highlight. One cannot help but feel for Taku as he was being manipulated by Rikaku, but plot points like this are what drive the slow-burning story forward, providing our characters with opportunities for growth.
As the film tiptoes towards its end, we are treated to everyone’s favourite high school reunion, an electric mix of alcohol and fond memories. Such events are a poignant reminder of the passing of time, and the bittersweet way in which Ocean Waves unfolded conveys this complicated blend of emotions excellently. Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say the film leaves viewers with a sense of hope rather than pessimism, a wise choice to ensure audiences aren’t left feeling disillusioned. As often the case, time apart from one another did our love triangle well. Clichéd as it might sound, one always gains a better understanding when looking back.
I didn’t have my own high school romance story, yet Ocean Waves sent me reeling with its familiarity and filled me with innocent nostalgia. Each and every scene in the film served a purpose, from meandering monologues to hillside vistas. There’s poetry to be found in every aspect of the story, and it’s this surgical precision in presentation that underlies the facade of a straightforward, feel-good flick. Many claim they only fell in love with the film upon re-watching it – and while I didn’t have decades between viewings to judge this notion for myself, its immediate, crushing impact on my psyche demonstrates its timelessness. Love and loss transcends time periods, and this film stands testament to this.
Ocean Waves awoke a longing within me – both for the past and for the future, both of which presently beyond reach.
“If there is victory in overcoming the enemy, there is a greater victory when a man overcomes himself.”
I begin this post on New Year’s Day 2020, the beginning of a new decade. Here I am, whiskey in hand, trying to summarise a year’s worth of reflections into a single, concise blog post. I used to write fortnightly, excited to share all of life’s wonders and mysteries with my tiny audience. Perhaps I was a better man then, full of youthful avidity that has since deserted me at the young age of twenty. As I scrolled through my past posts, it struck me that I may have run out of new ideas or slivers of wisdom to gift to my readers, and thus I made the decision to take a fresh approach to my writing. Rather than focusing so much on having a focal point in each piece that I try to build around, perhaps a more casual recounting of events would be the better way forward.
Much of life’s beauty can be found in chasing new things, in plunging ourselves headfirst into novel experiences, and 2019 was sorely lacking in this aspect. The year passed relatively smoothly, like a steam train on a set of well-oiled, metaphorical rails. The thing about rails is this – one cannot deviate very much from their set path, if at all. That’s national service for you, whilst important and fruitful in its own right, it leaves little room for free play within its ranks. Yes, it’s in the nature of a military organisation to act as a pseudo-factory, producing operationally-ready soldiers from the same mould. However, not everyone is suited to this form of one-fits-all treatment. I can’t, and won’t, claim to be part of either party, but what I can say is this – I’ve grown more as a person in these last two years than I have in the eighteen that came before, regardless of how I felt about the process. Thus 2019, for the most part, was smooth yet unmemorable, which brings me to…
Ironically, emptiness weighs heavier on the soul than anything I can think of. I struggled greatly with periods of sustained emptiness, that niggling lack of purpose and fulfillment that gnaws away at your soul. Towards the tail end of 2019, I found myself settling into a monotonous routine. The days melted into weeks, each passing like a grey blur. Sure, I was surrounded by my buddies, and there was no arduous training to undergo, but I was plagued with a deep disquiet. It pulsed rhythmically within me, each beat careening me closer towards the edge. Filling my days with exercise and literature did little to quell the dark fire burning within me. The situation only worsened when I served my full-time national service to its completion, suddenly finding myself free of any commitments – with barely any plans for the near future.
I promised myself a short period of rest before I embarked on the next phase of my life, a month at least, or so I thought. Eager for a fresh start, I wasted no time in dyeing my hair a deep shade of brown (or gold as my friends oft-teased). These same colourblind friends often pointed out my lack of romantic interest, dropping not-so-subtle hints that “it was time”. Funny, I mused, the roses always smell better on the other side. The Taiwanese escapade we’ve planned for months finally arrived, and despite fears of a certain virus, we managed to get our fill of minced pork rice and chilly weather.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
A close friend once confided in me about his plans to end his life. There wasn’t any sad orchestral music playing in the background, nor was he drowning in his own tears while bursting into dramatic monologue. In fact, he was so nonchalant in his delivery, I struggled to believe he was being serious at all. As the conversation wore on, I quickly realised, with great alarm, that my buddy of eight years wasn’t kidding. That brings me to what I think is the biggest misconception people have when it comes to depression – that there are always obvious red flags to look out for. He didn’t isolate himself or joke about suicide, neither did he display any of the stereotypical signs associated with severe mental imbalance – absolutely none.
While he’s fine now, thanks to professional help – help that he was advised to seek by someone who definitely isn’t a professional in this field, me – his words have stuck with me. Midway through our exchange, he posed me a series of questions. What fills the dreamless nights between the time when you fall asleep and open your eyes? Where were you before you were born? Before I could finish my reply, he cut me off, and with eyes that burned with the desperate glow of a fading star, he said, “Nothing and nowhere, Cedric, as I should be. Existence isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse. There’s no meaning in life, none at all.”
I too have spent much of my life searching for meaning, hoping to have some great epiphany after which everything would make sense. I’ve wrote at length about what I think is the key to happiness or a meaningful life, only to realise the irony in being unable to practice what I preach. Few realise that there’s no great ideal to be assembled, or a perfect mindset that can be achieved – hence many spend their entire lives trying to solve a puzzle that doesn’t exist. Suffering isn’t a byproduct of the way we live – it’s an inherent part of living. Of course my friend found it easier not to exist, any of us would. He was overwhelmed by the difficulties he was facing at the time, and that can be resolved simply by acknowledging that problems are inevitable and all one can do is try their best to solve them. Finding meaning in life, however, is an entirely different issue.
“But of course it had hurt. It had hurt before, in the worst, rupturing way, knowing that with or without you, the universe would roll on just the same, unharmed and unhampered.”
This quote exemplifies my point – in the grand scheme of things, we’re nothing. Our existence has effectively no effect on the universe. A “meaningful life” as defined by us is in no way meaningful when one looks at the big picture. Meaning is something we define ourselves, a mere construct of our own flawed beliefs. That’s why I take great offense at the notion that some lives were better lived or were more meaningful than others. More meaningful? To who? Friends and family? Society? Humanity? Looking again at the vastness of space and time, how irrelevant these bases for comparison seem. Life is the single greatest gift one can be bestowed with, for it’s the only one. To live is to live, nothing more and nothing less.
If this life is all we’ve got, if a coincidental collision of atoms really was the only reason for our creation, then it really doesn’t make sense for us to fret too much. We shouldn’t let others define what a meaningful life is. We alone should define our self-worth, our goals, and our way forward. If happiness is all you seek, then let it be your meaning. If material wealth is all you desire, then let the lust for it consume you like a fire. If contributing to the progress of the human race is what floats your boat, then float on! There’s no universal scale upon which to weigh the meaningfulness of one’s life. As shallow as it sounds, perhaps it’s wise to narrow one’s perspective to the extent that we only see ourselves – because the only thing that we can have a meaningful impact on in our short lives is, funnily enough, ourselves.
After all, once we realise that we’re in fact, nothing, suddenly we’re everything.
“The soul which has no fixed purpose in life is lost; to be everywhere, is to be nowhere.”
It’s been exactly five months since enlistment day, and in this short period of time I’ve experienced both joy and anguish in equal measure. Singapore practices conscription, ensuring all able-bodied young men contribute in one way or another towards serving the nation. Most of us, myself included, are drafted into the Army, where we don our pixelised uniforms and begin our two-year journey as an NSF (National Servicemen Full-time). While national service isn’t – and neither is it meant to be – wholly enjoyable, it’s given me many insights; some of which I hope to be able to relate to you over the course of this blog post.
Military life, at its core, is founded upon regimentation and discipline, both of which very much vital in the training of a competent – or should I say accomplished – soldier. Some individuals thrive in such structured environments, for they’re able to turn rules and regulations into solid footholds upon which they can begin their ascent up the ranks – one that is fueled by strict adherence to military norms and commitment to their cause. I term these individuals “green men”, men that are determined to make the most of their military life and will do so in an honest and passionate fashion.
At the other end of the spectrum are “red men”, men who resent the fact that national service is compulsory – believing it to be a waste of their precious time. A common misconception is that these men are unwilling to serve their country – in fact, some of them are the most patriotic people I’ve ever met. One must know the difference between love for one’s country and love for one’s self. These men pledge allegiance to the latter, and are thus generally unmotivated throughout their stint as an NSF. They might be willing to give back to the country in which they were conceived, but they also believe that there are other, less painful ways to do so. I will not go into the methods that they employ to avoid or lessen their duties (I could write an entire book on that), but believe me when I say they’re as committed to their ways as “green men” are.
So where do I lie on this spectrum? Well, to answer this question I would have to first take you though my military life thus far. When I first set foot into Pulau Tekong, the island where I underwent my first phase of military training, I was absolutely brimming with positivity, having been encouraged by many of my seniors who held leadership positions within the armed forces. If they could find purpose in the army, why couldn’t I? Heck, this very blog is centered around finding self-purpose in the first place! But as I waded deeper into the waters, I quickly realised my feet weren’t going to be touching the bottom for long. Surrounded by throngs of “green” and “red” men alike, my values were immediately threatened, my long-held beliefs swayed by the sheer force of collective thought.
You see, popular opinion is against “red men”. They’re often said to be lazy and irresponsible individuals who can’t even find it within themselves to serve the country that has given them so much. Yet, these men, despite their questionable attitude towards national service, are just doing what makes them happy. Looking after one’s own well-being can’t really be said to be selfish, can it? When all else is stripped away, isn’t that the paramount pursuit that all humans should undertake? If they can find joy and fulfillment in minimising their military agony, who are we to question them?
This is further complicated by the numerous vocations that an NSF can be posted to, each of them offering wildly levels of hardship to those who are lucky – or unlucky – enough to be roped in as one of their own. I’m not discriminating against those who are given administrative roles – while they are vital cogs in the machine that is the Singapore Armed Forces, it’s impossible to deny that they have a far cushier job relative to other vocations such as elite combat units. Yes, there are people who are perfectly fine with being in a physically demanding vocation, many in fact find pride in their duties, believing themselves to be men of mettle and valour. However, it’s nearly impossible for the vast majority of us not to cast an envious glance at those who suffer less.
Following my BMT (Basic Military Training), I was sent to SCS (Specialist Cadet School), where I would begin my training to become a Third Sergeant. Though training was rigorous, I pressed on, hopeful that I would land the vocation of my dreams – to be part of the Medical Corps. As I opened my posting orders after eight arduous weeks, my dreams were ripped violently apart, leaving nothing but a sea of despondency in its place. For days I drifted between the lanes of anger and denial; the odds were so infinitesimally small! Out of thousands of fellow conscripts, I was one of around fifty to be selected for the Reconnaissance Commander Course, notorious for its difficulty. I was to become an infantry scout, a thought that hadn’t even crossed my mind in the months prior.
I’ll admit, the weeks separating that moment to the present haven’t been easy, but in this period I may have found the secret to finding purpose in national service. It’s not about finding where you are on the spectrum, but rather, one has to choose where they want to be on the spectrum and be unwavering in their commitment to that decision. I had to pick, knowing full well that whatever I chose would change the course of my NSF journey. I’ve had enough of fluttering aimlessly, toggling between the “green” and “red” faction without end. So, on that fateful day when I was presented with my jungle hat after a twenty kilometer route march, I chose.
And now, as I paint my face green for another day’s worth of outfield activities, the face staring back at me in the mirror reminds me of the path that I have chosen and must therefore take. If I’m committed to be a “green man”, the blood in my veins had better run green as well.
“In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.”
Greetings dear readers, it’s been a while since we’ve met, hasn’t it? Six months have passed since I last published, and I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t always down to a lack of inspiration. Nevertheless, here I am. I originally meant for this piece to be called “Twenty Seventeen”, a couple of intensely reflective paragraphs that would, or so I hoped, provide an insightful look into my past year. The thing is, having explored countless themes over the years – friendship, love, and heartbreak among many others – I just couldn’t find a refreshing angle for my nascent article.
I was desperate to crack an unclaimed combination of letters, to imbue my readers with a sense of childlike wonderment. And so I discarded every draft I deemed inadequate, tossing away countless hours of hard work – all labelled unworthy by their own creator. Driven wild by the desire to craft an artificial epiphany for my readers, how ironic it is that I eventually had my own. It struck me – perhaps after jettisoning my hundredth draft – that perfection isn’t a prerequisite for meaning. I was merely unable to accept the fact that meaning can be found anywhere, even in the gaps and crevices that dot the surface of an unpolished thought. My ambition outsized my audience, and while the pursuit of perfection is a noble cause, it’s an impossible one.
Perhaps that’s the reason why I decided to name this piece “Truth”. It’s a rather nondescript title, one that relieved the pressure associated with one as grand as “Twenty Seventeen”. While some might label such a move as a cowardly one – a practice in avoidance rather than confrontation – I believe all of us are entitled to give ourselves some leeway from time to time. Let’s get back to the point. Personal growth was ever-present throughout 2017, and I could only watch on helplessly as the last wisps of my adolescence were blown away by the wall of smoke that’s adulthood.
Admittedly, I was often lost in the thick haze, unsure of how to proceed. Many offered me their guidance, though not always with the best of intentions. Nevertheless, I emerged – wounded, scarred, but alive. Perhaps the trials I faced changed me. The cynical side of me has become more apparent – though not brutally so – and I now view the world with a pair of cautious eyes. Yet, I view this change as necessary, rather than distasteful. After all, for every bit of goodness the world has to offer, there is darkness and evil present in equal measure.
I’ve been disappointed at some points, that’s for sure. My final year in college definitely had its highs and lows. The same, unfortunately, can be said of my academics – though I worked hard to make up for any deficiencies. I was hurt by those whom I believed would always be a part of my life, and surprised by many whom I thought never would. The biggest lesson of 2017, for me at least, would have to be this – to not let expectations get in the way of affection. Over the years, I’ve lost many friends because I demanded equal remuneration for my efforts. I was never content, and it cost me dearly. Though it’s easier said than done, we all have to accept that we can’t always be someone’s priority just because they’re ours. I’ve learnt to love generously, even if what I give isn’t proportional to what I get in return.
Towards the end of 2017, a single notion possessed my waking mind – the need to find purpose in my life. The end of my college journey might have brought with it much-needed respite, but the absence of a goal to work towards weighed heavily on me. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, ready to face the world, only to crumble at the thought of a meaningless day ahead. To make a long story short, I started to assign daily goals for myself, manageable tasks that, upon completion, offered a semblance of achievement. Yet, I’d always bear in mind that such arrangements should only be temporary – after all, we’re made for greater things. But what if, inevitably, there comes a day when we’re forced to face the big questions? Who are we really? What are we here for? Where are we heading? The truth is, we don’t, and might never, know.
Until we do.
“At that moment, everything was perfect. And for the first time in a long time, I could imagine a future where I was happy.”
Given how often I write about happiness, it wouldn’t be surprising for one to assume that I’ve mastered the process of acquiring it. Be patient, I would write, and await its arrival with quiet optimism. My mantra may roll smoothly on my tongue, but it’s so very unpalatable in practice. While I stay firm to my belief that happiness is an autonomous entity, I’ll also have to admit that it’s a cruelly unpredictable one. Its visits are few and far between, and each is coated, rather pitifully, with a thin glaze of brevity. And while the magnitude of happiness isn’t strictly quantifiable – its presence can definitely be discerned. Happiness soothes us, like a spoonful of warm honey on a rainy day or a dram of whisky on a breezy summer’s night.
The thing is, happiness hasn’t been visiting me all that often. Its presence, or rather the lack thereof, is sorely felt. I like to think that happiness takes up actual space in our chests, in the form of a little red balloon. You see, all is well when this sac of joy is inflated, but when it isn’t, it leaves in its place a cavity. Have you ever screamed whilst in an empty cave? If you have, you’d know exactly how lonely it must be for our hearts’ only companion to be the echoes of their own sombre throbbing. Emptiness is terrifying – and sadly, its been a constant in my everyday life. I’ve been trying my utmost best to fill the void within me, but its been a largely unfruitful pursuit.
I’ve tried filling my balloon with fulfillment from friendships, and contentment from hobbies. Wild with desperation for its inflation, I poured all I could into it, but I didn’t seem to be making any progress. Then it struck me – it wasn’t a lack of input that prevented me from filling up my balloon – it was the inability to keep it in. So distracted with trying to find different sources of “enlargement”, I forgot the only thing that was more important – making sure that my balloon wasn’t leaking. Sure enough, it was riddled with holes. Insecurity, jealousy, vanity – critters like these, they were the culprits. I wasted no time in carrying out a de-infestation, and it was exceedingly successful.
In all honesty, I was nonplussed at how easy it was to rid myself of distasteful emotions, and I was glad that I was swift to purge them. Our minds, despite their emotional irrationality, tend to offer little resistance when it comes to the release of waste material. After all, the positive aspects of life can only count for so much when they’re tied down by copious amounts of negativity. If there’s something I’ve learnt, it’s that despite my earlier claims, there’s more to happiness than waiting around. Happiness is about attaining a balance, and it’s only achieved by a constant adjustment of one’s internal conflicts. There’s no perfect equilibrium, but there exists a margin of error known as contentment. So the real message, my dear reader, is to be content, for as long as you are pursuing happiness, you don’t have it.
“They watched the long grass moving around them. The wind pushed it, attacked it, struck it in one place and then another. It rose and fell and rose again. It flowed, like water.”
It was a peaceful evening. The pool I was in was illuminated, rather beautifully, by streaks of orange. My head was tilted backwards, allowing me to catch a glimpse of a falling leaf. It was brown and riddled with holes, a mere shadow of its pompous, greener past. It brushed my swaying arm as it fell, before landing gently onto my wet forehead. It was quite a sight, one that I was glad I had the privilege to catch. What I didn’t manage to catch, however, was my breath. I was drowning.
Water rushed violently into my open mouth each time I went under, muffling my attempts to attract attention. Kicking off the ceramic flooring, my head broke the surface yet again – but I knew my time was running out. As I frantically heaved, it wasn’t air that greeted my nostrils, but cold, unforgiving water. You don’t know desperation until every breath of yours is torture, a frigid trail down your nasal passages. And cruelly enough, each breath had just enough air to keep me going for that much longer. It was everywhere, that damned fluid beast, and it knew it had me.
I was eight then, hardly considered mature by conventional standards. Yet, I was able to grasp the gravity of the situation – and perhaps scarily, how laughable my end was to be. There they were, my beloved family, laughing merrily in the living room, separated from me by a mere layer of glass. All I needed was for one of them to turn their head. Then again, I was the one who made that choice, that single step towards the deep end of the pool. Time seemed to slow as my muscles began to seize, and as my head broke the surface for what might’ve been the very last time, I froze.
A sudden breeze struck my face – one that seemed to have come from another world, an ethereal current that tugged at my soul. The sun wasn’t orange anymore, for it had dissolved into an ocean of colours, all before melding into a solid white. Eight-year-old me had a rather simplistic notion of heaven. I pictured a cloudy paradise where good people would go after they’ve uttered their final goodbyes. Till this day, I still remember my final thought in that god-forsaken pool – I wondered if I needed special shoes to walk atop clouds.
Someone grabbed my hand, and no, it wasn’t an angel. My Father yanked me out of the pool so swiftly and abruptly, it was a miracle I didn’t lose an arm. Contrary to my expectations, he offered neither tears of joy nor a furious slap across my still-damp face. With a simple pat on my back, he sent me on my way. Take care of yourself, you toot, he said. I still do. Perhaps my love for life stems from my discovery of how fragile it can be. I’ve a long life ahead of me, one that flows like a river, one that twists and turns till it finally finds the sea. I still haven’t found my purpose, much less when I was eight. Looking upwards, I let out a sigh of relief. The bloody sun was orange again.
“Only the wind knows where it will carry our dandelion souls.”
The crickets were singing, their indecipherable chorus ringing in my ears. They seemed to carry a message, some ancient insect dogma far beyond my human understanding. It was a quiet afternoon, one that brought with it much-needed respite. Choa Chu Kang Park was where I decided to spend my idle hours. After all, its quaint beauty had always struck a chord with me. Notebook in hand, I hoped that the peacefulness surrounding me would alleviate my writer’s block. In my notebook lay dozens of unfinished pieces, each one a fragment of a lost time. Some of them oozed anger, others nascent hope, albeit hope that was never nurtured to fruition. I know of people who pin their writer’s block on a lack of inspiration, but I pin mine on perfectionism. Irritated at my lack of progress, quality progress, to be precise, I tore up my latest piece. To my horror, my violent movements sent shreds of paper sailing into the wind.
Closing my eyes, I exhaled. Streams of seeds erupted from what was once a flowery globe, strips of white bleeding into the wind. They melted into the orange horizon, free at last. Pastures new awaited them. A fresh start. A new home. A place to start their new lives, and give birth to yet more. Brave seeds they were, forging onward, embracing their unknown destinies.
I’ve always wanted my words to go on air, but the situation I found myself in was a tad too literal. Shaken by the prospect of a hefty fine – Singapore takes a tough stand against littering – I chased after my tattered work. The looming sun illuminated each shred of paper, and for a moment, I was taken aback by the beauty before me. Swirling with the evening wind, spirals of written word danced before my eyes.
It was beautiful.
It was beautiful.
Before long, every last piece fluttered beyond my farthest reach. I stood agape, overwhelmed by a sudden heaviness. I muttered a solemn goodbye, and walked back the way I came. As the sky gradually darkened, I came to a sudden realisation. Pieces of me were out there, scattered by my own hand. They would grow, they would preach, and they would live to tell their own stories. Before I could organise my newfound thoughts, I was struck by yet another realisation. I had a story to tell.