Astigmatism? Wear sunglasses, or don’t go out at night

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I’m walking down the dark pavement when I’m suddenly attacked by the headlights of a car turning a bend in the road.

“Darn it,” I let out.

In just five seconds, I have stepped into a ditch, buried my favourite crocs into mud and survived an almost heart attack. Thank God no one saw that clownish act. The intensity of such headlights should be illegal.

I make my way out of the ditch quickly. My handphone vibrates. It’s my best friend, telling me she’s reaching the mall soon. Foolishly, I attempt a reply while walking, nearly charging into a construction pole (I walk at extremely fast speeds, to add injury to injury) and tripping nicely over a brick that is securing the pole. Good grief. This is gravely worrying. I have walked this route nearly a million times when the sun’s up, so what gives?

I stop using the phone and chuck it into my bag. Now, however, the blinding echo of the handphone is all I must see, before it fades away, and I come face to face with throbbing darkness and sporadic bursts of light from the Bangladesh quarters on my left. Looking back at where I missed the pole and tripped on the brick, it occurs to me I was zig-zagging.

Apparently the light from the handphone was my navigation – something worse than a broken straw – and I wasn’t able to see anything else apart from it. Moreover, strong light in strong darkness bamboozles your sense of direction entirely. Imagine spinning yourself around three times and then crossing a tightrope. Yep, you’d have no idea how.

When you have astigmatism, it’s unsafe to go out. The terrible night-vision is no help either.

The street lamps with their moonish glow transform into angry suns, and I’m starting to get a headache. Keep this up and I may not make it to the mall, which is a mere 10 minutes walk from my place.

It’s fifteen minutes past, and the traffic lights’ reds, greens and oranges are invading my personal eye space and peripheral vision much more than they should.

Everything seems zonk-ish and zoomed in. I’m walking at half my speed now. This is no laughing matter. I suddenly remember grandma’s joke about having a pair of good sunglasses to stop the glare at night… It doesn’t seem so funny now.

What do you do when lights blind instead of guide you?

I finally make it to the mall with muddy crocs and a chipped toe nail.

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“I don’t have enough faith”

Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point. – Philip Yancey, Faith and Doubt

When I jumped off a 8-story cliff and tumbled into the choppy waters below, my faith, in that naked suspension of time, was entirely non-existent.

How I managed to survive that rag-doll fall, I have no idea. I had no faith, nor was even thinking about it; just the fear of breaking my neck or drowning, or both.

And then also; I would hear about how a loved one escaped death – and suddenly I have all the faith in the world.

Faith doesn’t seem like something you can grab and take full control of all the time – it’s like a car on an unknown and alien road, subject to external circumstances: the sudden swerves and the sharp bends. We reprimand ourselves into having “more faith”, but after 20 years of this, one realises how much of a tiresome thing this can be.

So, I thought to myself, “If faith is so easy to gain as it is to lose, then it doesn’t seem to me so precious, after all.”

“… Living without fear is certainly not easy. After all, how do we naturally choose to be unafraid of what we in fact fear? Is this power within our conscious control? Only by a miracle are we set free from fear… indeed, true faith working within the heart is one of the greatest miracles of God.” – John J. Parsons, Faith and Fear

If faith is a miracle, then it logically follows it has to be from God. Any reliance on my brand of faith would be a tragic affair, because I don’t have it all the time. I’m bound to emergency brakes and steering off course occasionally.

The hebrew word for faith is “emunah”, which has its roots from the word “aman”. Aman was used in the bible for when Moses had Aaron and Hur lift his hands until the sun set (Exodus 17:12). “…Therefore his hands were steadied.” The word Aman is used here. It’s to trust, to put your hope in, to lean on.

What better comfort to know that when you’re 10,000 ft up in the air and there’s violent turbulence, that you’re steadying on Jesus and his promise of “Surely I am with you always”?

Or when you’re lost in another country with the smell of death closing in on you – that you pull out “You’re my refuge and ever-present help in times of trouble” and “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death… You are with me”?

How many miracles go unheard of, how many tragedies have we allowed into our hearts…? How many times do we not have faith because we don’t have the blueprint, the full picture of the spiritual universe outside our life?

Faith is really all about trusting who Jesus is.

We may not have concrete faith in how circumstances may turn out, but we have concrete faith in the person of Jesus. A historical Jesus who lived, healed, loved, died, then rose again. This truth may not be completely understood or felt while we are still here on earth, subject to pain and death, but it is surety enough.

When I read about Jesus and stories about Him saving people (mostly from themselves), faith, or at least the feeling of it, rises inside me like an ascending roller coaster. It will plunge if I focus on the next tragedy or my soppy feelings, but I know it’s not about me or my faith. It’s about who he is and what he has promised me.

What I have is an invisible faith that desperately clings to Him through the madness that is life with its disappointments and joys. Whatever ascension of faith that I feel now is because of who he is and has always been. We keep on ascending as we think upon his love for us and not our faith towards him.

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them with compassion. It’s as if he knew it would be a problem.

“… But if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed

(which is the smallest of all seeds)…

I will hearken unto you.”

“It was always the other way round”

The Moment ~ Poem by Margaret Atwood
(A poem on the pride of man, and the grace of nature)

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and having a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this

is the same moment when the trees unloose their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language, the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe

No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time,
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you, you never found us.
It was always the other way round.

A Brief Breakup with Samsung Notes

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Dear Samsung S Notes,

I feel like murdering you for a little bit. I feel betrayed by you, and I am upset at myself that I ever thought I understood you.

My brain is filled with the images of what we shared. Notes, thoughts, letters. We used to have so much together.

I lost all my S Note memories today, even after I backed them up via the Samsung Cloud app.

It’s like a part of me has been ripped out like paper and torn out of my life – you can’t just take 120 memos and then walk out of my life. I am going mad. Everything we’ve had since the start of 2013 has vanished, save for a silly document called “Scraps and scribbles”, something I’d written in that nature and had totally left to fester because it was used for “testing”. It had four words. This must be some kind of a cruel joke.


Could you have found a better way to get back at me? I don’t think so.

If one day the virtual planet short circuits because of power overdrive, and you had to leave me for good, I wouldn’t blame you. You were aloof from the start, anyway, and mostly invisible.

We ought to cool off from each other and reflect about how we can do things better next time – and for me, that means buying a real note book that won’t just run off in the night, especially when I need him the most.

In scraps and scribbles,
Grace


Afterword:

It’s not easy when your files and memories get deleted – especially when you did back them up.

To help me cope better with this recent trauma, I installed some of these apps that will hopefully help bridge any future feuds. I hope they’ll help ease tensions between you and your Samsung notes too. All the best.

1. Dropsync: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ttxapps.dropsync&hl=en
2. Google Docs
3. Evernote

QZ8501: When comfort cannot do its job

Yesterday, QZ8501 crashed mercilessly into the ocean, bringing 160 precious lives along with it.

They must’ve received many comforting words and lovely cards… but death, it sits with them. It is all-consuming and inky – it fills up their lungs with black ink. Comfort can only venture to the edges of death – it cannot go in.

I imagine sitting with the families, shrouded in an atmosphere of death; and there are no chubby angels dancing around the prairie with golden lights. No warm letters that can penetrate the cold.

There is no serene music playing, no harpist singing, sadly, in the background.

There are no roses.

It is blackness and endless pain – a need to escape the suffocating loss of a precious life. The ink mounts. There is a dead end on the road, and people softly encourage you to turn and walk back to life, but you cannot move, not now. There is nothing that holds you together, not at this moment. There is no soft wind blowing. There is no beautiful sunset that brings understanding. Or peaceful skies that bring blessing.

There are only tears and endless heartache that will never heal. There are only the thorns of roses, and they cut.


Yet, there is love. It seems disgustingly far away,

but there is love.

Quietly nesting in the crevices of your memories.

Soaking up the veins, in all your heart; a pulsating and dear force.

And

that is enough

for now.


Please know my prayers and thoughts are with you.

Tearing Babel Down: When God Stopped Cultural Homogeneity

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It’s not that hard to see how different everyone is – just attend a meeting in the office. Different accents, diction (choice of words), mindsets and cultural practices. Sometimes the differences are so vast you question if they are even from the same planet. “Closer to the apes maybe,” you think to yourself.

Have you ever wondered why we would all choose to encourage world-wide diversity over homogeneity? Did we even have a choice?

“What will be best,” I think slowly, “… is cultural homogeneity, or international same-ness, isn’t it? That way, we’ll all always understand each other.”

Or so I thought.

I go online and type in “cultural homogenisation” and the Tower of Babel appears a couple of times.

If there is something you must know about the Tower of Babel, it’s that it was a Tower built to unite all men. However, it was never completed. It’s said that God stopped them short in their tracks. The man in charge of this 10,000 B.C building programme was a man named Nimrod, which means “We will Rebel” (such frightening accuracy). He could have been the first dictator of the old world. He was rallying the people to come together in one voice and one mind, but God intervened before they could invent the crane (as I’d like to believe).

Unbeknownst to them (and apparently to most of us too), the [half-built] Tower of Babel changed everything. God, in a strange bid to prevent something (we don’t know what), mixed up all languages so that the people understood each other the way they understood ant language. In fact, they had such bad communication that they had to move away so they wouldn’t get at each other’s throats. Eventually, they scattered all over the earth: No one likes gabblers, but many gabblers are beyond toleration.

When God stopped them midway in their tracks, the tower became an icon of shame and a symbol of failure to unite all men on earth. What seemed like a harmless hope for perfect unity God saw as a threat to humanity. What’s the big deal? The days of babel are long gone, but this question still begs an answer.

I pored over some readings and writings and I came up with these five hopefully sufficient reasons why we should not perpetuate cultural homogeneity i.e. to have only one race, tradition and culture.

1. Who runs the earth? Perils of Dictatorship

  • Think of maniacal Hitler. Multiply that a thousand times over. That could’ve been Nimrod’s reign; a power so vast it can swallow up all four corners of the earth. The Hunger Games is a typical picture of that regime – obey or be obliterated. God doesn’t run the earth anymore, President Snow does. To have a homogeneous society, I’ve learnt, is extremely hard work. It has to be a prescriptive system which finds its balance in shoving orders down everyone’s throats, yet it has to last long enough before everyone commits suicide. If you think Moses’ Ten laws were bad, think about what it might look like if we had another set of laws prepared to govern the entire world. Ten thousand laws should more or less suffice.

2. Not everyone’s gonna like what you say or put into place.

  • There’ll always be an unhappy group that you can’t get rid of, and even if you do, there’ll be a mushrooming of unhappy groups who are unhappy about you killing the first group. It’s almost like a game of “whack-a-mole” in arcades where we used to go as kids. No matter what the government does, people aren’t robots without feelings, and that means the government must put up with the likes of Robbie Conal and his political art messages, or Jules De Balincourt’s more subtle ones.

3. You stop growing at ten. “It hinders growth”

  • Like a newspaper production house churning out the papers and printing the ink, the structure has to remain the same. Have you seen your boss trying to incorporate change to the pantry? How long did that take?
  • Creativity and diversity come with a price, because ideas change the world. Progress and growth stem from innovation and the challenging of ideas. This process of chafing minds and developing ideas will be viewed as defiance to the established and orderly system: “Her entire species has to be eliminated,” says the tired culture-hijacker.

4. A bad game of monopoly

  • Scream, “it’s a monopolization! Capitalism! (which of course won’t be invented)” ‘cause that’s what it’ll be if homogenisation ever takes place. The government will control almost everything. It’s like your rights go out of the window when you were born. The concept of indie-ness will not exist. Nor will films like the Lord of the Rings.

5. For the beauty of it, of course.

  • Beauty is in the unexpected, and the mystery of it is what enthralls us. You grow tired of something only if you see it too often. That’s what will happen in a dictatorship with no democracy (perhaps the only democracy is having rice as staple food) We’ll grow old faster than we can say the word F-R-E-E-D-O-M. The thing about beauty, culture and art is that they demand freedom of expression.
  • Without polarity, the world cease to work. Extremes, differences and variety are what makes our lives colourful. We appreciate and treasure the little we have in common and come to respect and accept the differences.

I’ve thought of one major perk, though. Possible free travel!

It’s better we are alive with our differences than to be united under a restraining order. Of course, we can never have both ways, but a little homogeneity can help too, especially in board meetings.

I guess God was doing us a favour when he interfered with Nimrod’s construction of a grand ladder to a heaven he could never have reached.

Don’t expect to be Treated Fairly in this Life

I remember feeling really terrible one anonymous day.

It was so bad I couldn’t sleep all night. I felt like the whole world was somehow in it. ‘They’ say your loved ones have the greatest access to your heart. I think ‘they’ really knew what they were talking about. One can never get used to hurt – we may get used to the pain – but the sting that follows is so obstinate and irrational, it’s downright irritating (and you know it)

When I experience hurt like this, I know that I become susceptible to funny, alien thinking. These bouts of alien feelings are smart. They trigger my regret-nerve, and they know exactly how to aggravate the hurt. Alien feelings make me feel terrible yet demanding. They make me insist upon all my rights and I want to pen the injustices down. But I stop myself. Why do I want to write about things that make me upset?

I sit quite still. I realise I needed to hear something that doesn’t come from me. I dismiss my thoughts.

I remember sitting cross-legged on my bed, hunched over my favourite book in hand. It’s by Sarah Young. Everything in me wanted to sleep the pain away forever, everything with regards to that one terrible day. But we know that’s not possible. I flip the book open, and there I see it.

If you’re feeling pretty run over yourself, I hope this reading tides you through those alien feelings, too.


Do not expect to be treated fairly in this life.

People will say and do hurtful things to you, things that you don’t deserve. When someone mistreats you, try to view it as an opportunity to grow in grace. See how quickly you can forgive the one who’s wounded you. Don’t be concerned about setting the record straight. Instead of obsessing about people’s opinions of you, keep your focus on Me. Ultimately, it is My view of you that counts.

As you concentrate on relating to Me, remember that I have clothed you in My righteousness and holiness. This is also not fair, it is pure gift. When others treat you unfairly, remember that My ways with you are much better than fair. My ways are peace and love, which I have poured out into your heart by My spirit.

– N.D, October 2014

How to Slow Down Time (Read Slowly)

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The speed of life accelerates with eyes glued to a phone.

It doubles when it comes to swiping the ice-pucks on super portables.

Don’t even get me started on the rocketing effect that laptops have on time.

(Think Sims 3 and Minecraft:
Games that take us hours to build and draft)

~

When I sing a slow tune, or call up my grandmother

Read a book from cover to cover,

Write and reflect on what i’ve gleaned:

never to say “never” and

not to believe the phrase “all these, I’ve seen”

~

The clock slows down, and I hear me breathe

What time was lost,

now is suddenly found (for, there is just no time to grieve).

Oops, I Got an English Degree!

Couldn’t stop laughing or frowning throughout. What a sadly hysterical read for English majors like myself.

Reasonably Ludicrous

This morning, I woke up to a horrible realization. Actually, that happens pretty much every morning, the realization being that I’m awake and no longer in the blissful world of dreams.

But on this fateful day, I came to recognize a much more devastating truth: I had spent four years of my life studying English.

You’d think kids who get into Stanford would be smart enough not to pursue their dreams, but I’ve always been quixotic (and as an English major, I can tell you that word’s based on a character…from a book!), so I studied what I loved, future be damned! My parents, idealistic saps that they are, actually encouraged me towards this! They said, “Russ, you can do anything if you put your mind to it!” Can you believe that?

So I kept at it. I enjoyed my major, and I’ve never been one to deny…

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Book Review: The Plague by Albert Camus

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It wasn’t front page news.

But it was a freaky coincidence when I read an article in The Guardian about a man dying from plague, driving the entire city in of Yumen, China, into quarantine. Sounds like a normal piece of bad news right?

Not when one has just finished “The Plague” by Albert Camus.

“How eerie,” I remember thinking, shaking off the goosebumps.

The parallelism of these two events are strikingly similar. Let me lay it out for you:

1. Animals caused the plague… or “Rat fleas”.

China Case: “The 38-year-old victim died last Wednesday, the report said, and had been in contact with a dead marmot, a small furry animal which lives on grasslands and is related to the squirrel.”

The Book: The concierge dies after being in contact with a pesky rat.

2. Obscure towns.

China Case: 30,000 people living in Yumen in the northwestern province of Gansu

The Book: The Oran in the 1940s was a bustling yet obscure Algerian Port Town.

3. Quarantine.

It’s not a pretty place… It essentially means exile, an emotional and physical separation from the world you know and love.


Review:

What was great: The Plague portrayed the brevity and fierceness of life, succinctly. It is obvious that the author didn’t have the implicit intention to impress or entertain, but was instead brutally honest and ‘un-idealisedly’ reflective about life-as-we-don’t-expect-of-it. Camus doesn’t add fluff or soften the edges. He sandpapers till he gets to the root of things. That’s how he is in his writing.

What was bad: It was a tad too slow moving, and readers can roughly make out the way the novel will be spinning out by the time the plague hits the town. In other words, the storyline was not much of a surprise, really. Its over-zealousness of philosophical prattle and abstract streams of consciousness made me feel a bit bloated (too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing). Of course, some parts were beautifully portrayed and also so true of life, but those nuggets accounted for only a measly percentage of the entire novel.

Curiosity satisfied: It is the horror of the plague in all its lucidity that struck me. Its nonchalant ordinariness. It just comes, takes away and leaves, as though it owned all and had to answer to none. The Plague shows us humans just how much we can truly take ownership of, and how when we are confronted with the stark horror of a deadly pestilence, it reveals our human condition, yet with that same painful light, the Plague illuminates also the beauty and power of human will-power and adaptation to pain.

2.8/5 stars