Tribolum.com Making Light of Things

Blessed is the one

Blessed is the one who does not … sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the way of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.”

The full verse in Psalm 1 actually addresses three groups of people. Blessed is the one who does not:

When studying this portion of scripture in my youth, we often paid more attention not to fall into the first two groups. It seemed easier then, to be part of a group of people doing wicked or sinful things, than to be in a group of mockers. We’d imagine how a group of mockers would congregate in the market square, loudly putting down others as they walked past. Others who were different: foreigners, poor people…people who didn’t fit into what the mainstream crowd deemed acceptable.

Mass mockery just didn’t seem that prevalent back then.

How things have changed.

The democratization of media (a smartypants way of saying everyone can now communicate with everybody else) in the last two decades has made mocking others a global pastime. Social media is rife with “social commentary”, all egging us on to agree with them on how stupid or incompetent someone else must be, how unfashionably clothed, or how morally suspect.

These posts - and I’m guilty of having written quite a number of them myself - often start off in earnest as a response to do something to address an ongoing social issue. At best, they are attempts to raise awareness, at worst, they are an exercise in ego-boosting. Look, how smart I am! How eloquent! They fall between these two ends of the spectrum, carrying their respective amounts of mockery.

In the many years I’ve been involved in blogging, I’ve always held to the belief that the democratization of media is good. People should be able to express their ideas, and an open exchange of ideas inherently has some self-moderating properties. But now I find myself exhausted from the amount of talk out there. The volume and intensity of discourse in current affairs far outweighs the expertise of the participants. And sadly, real commitment to issues hasn’t risen much.

Real commitment. The sort that brings one to spend years trying to cobble a solution. We’ve all read blogs, tweets and status updates on how the poor are treated, how the disadvantaged in society need help, but we don’t see a corresponding rise in people dedicating their lives towards eradicating the problem, or tending to those they profess to be outraged on behalf of.

Blessed is the man who does not sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the way of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.

Don’t be the loud cawing online crowd. Don’t be the silent majority. Be the silent minority. The ones who meditate day and night on what is right before God. The ones who work ceaselessly behind the scenes, that the work of their hands might prosper those whom they mean to help.

Smoke

Marina Bay iLightI took a walk with Faith down the Marina Bay area a few days ago, and the place was packed with activity as part of the i light Marina Bay festival. All the installations were set up and eager student inventors waited for sunset to show the crowd the fruits of their labour, that the audience may be awed at their creativity and ingenuity. A short distance away, a group of fitness enthusiasts followed the lead of a yoga instructor, contorting their bodies as far as their tendons would allow. Our senses were tantalised by wafts of roast meats that emanated from the young chefs searing expensive wagyu at the temporary Pasarbella setup.

It was hard not to marvel at the smorgasbord laid out in the middle of the business district on a weekday night, but an odd sense of melancholy came over me.

Everything just felt so…cosmopolitan, so dynamic, so vibrant, manufactured, foreign, so…blah. We’re often reminded that Singapore needs to adapt to the winds of change, and I appreciate that we’ve been able to do that better than most, but I miss who we were before all this.

I miss the masak-masak and the visits to Emporium; I miss football at the void deck, or how neighbours used to be. Even now my childhood habitat of Rochor Centre is about to be demolished. I feel like I’ve had my roots erased, and all I have left are vague memories and a bunch of photographs.

Maybe every generation goes through this sense of loss; but can we survive seeing all our memories dissolve into nothingness at such unprecendented speed?

Sand

My dearest Faith,

It has been some time since I’ve written to you here.

It continues to amaze me - how beautiful you are - when I look at you. Where we once beamed with the vitality of youth, there are now faint wrinkles and lines that chart the passing of time; and where I once marveled at how God could craft your face in such a manner that it attracted my heart so much, I now look upon his handiwork through the additional lens of experiences shared. I remember, you and I, such naive youths who had chosen to spend our lives together.

And by the grace of God here we are. We’ve braved so many sleepless nights together, cleaning soiled bed covers, sponging down fevers, or just being there because of our children’s need to snuggle. We often talk about how we await the day when we would have time together, like we once did when we were dating, and how we’d spend that time wishing we had our babies with us.

Time is flitting by so quickly, and the shadow of the inevitable makes us treasure the moments even more. I am so thankful to have known you, loved you and be loved by you. There’s this sense of helplessness as time slips out of our hands. I write on this blog to slow its passing, but there is little any of us can do, except to be thankful for the moment.

I thank God so much for you and how your presence in my life speaks of His goodness to me. I’m blessed to have shared this small finite slice of time in the sunshine with you.

Life in a Flash

It’s been a melancholy Christmas. A friend’s mother passed away.

The chapters change in our lives, and as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. The chapters of my life that have passed: friends getting married; having children. Now we wait. We wait as time extinguishes the lives of those we love. Our parents who held our hands as we learned to walk, our uncles and aunts who doted on us every Christmas, or whose red packets we looked forward to opening every Chinese New Year’s.

As we observe the time of grieving for my dear friend’s family, I ask myself, for the umpteenth time, why haven’t we gotten better at this? How do we prepare ourselves for the tough decisions: when do we fight an illness in pursuit of more time, and when do we pursue quality of time instead? How do we adjust the cocktail of emotions during our time of loss - less grief for times that could have been, and more celebration of having the privilege to have shared life together?

How did the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest, peace and goodwill to men” when they knew that this newborn baby Jesus would soon suffer the most humiliating and painful death on the cross?

In the magnitude of the moment it is not easy to step back and see God’s plan. It is not easy because to be alive is to drink deeply of the present, whether it is the depths of sorrow or the heights of joy; and somehow these moments gathered over time become a tapestry that speaks of the faithfulness of God, His undying love, and offer a taste of the abundant eternal life that takes us beyond - far, far beyond physical death.

Onward Ho

I turn 38 today.

Moments ago, I rode helmetless through the streets of Cambodia on the back of a motorcycle driven by a stranger who stopped me on the street as I was looking for a tuk-tuk. I just said “airport”, and he nodded and gestured me to get on.

Compared to many of my peers, I consider myself among the least travelled. I never felt the need to fly much apart from the necessary: college and work trips to the States, volunteer work in India and Myanmar, baby-sitting while Faith attended a friend’s wedding in New Zealand. We had our very brief honeymoon in Bali and a short family trip in Phuket, but I never got the travelling bug for leisure.

It is funny where life takes you sometimes. In the last two weeks, I’ve travelled to four different countries, all of which I’ve never ever set foot on. My first helmetless motorcycle ride as year 37 comes to a close, is an apt retrospective summary of the year past.

It was a little over a year ago when I left the public service where I spent my late twenties and early thirties. That period of my life cohered around a single mission of helping my fellow Singaporeans become more kick-ass citizens. Leaving that meant looking for a new mission work-wise.

I’m the catcher in the rye.

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

I’m Salinger’s Caufield in all his naive idealism, all his personal flaws and snarkiness; I am older brother to Phoebe. I’ve come to realise that being the elder brother has shaped me indelibly in who I am and what I do.

At Google I work on keeping people safe online, which when articulated sounds very vague and almost a little vain. Millions upon millions use the internet every minute, and someone’s got to got to make sure that they know the basics of online safety. Might as well be me.

Just this afternoon I spoke to a large classroom full of Cambodian youths, and drilled into them the importance of not using the same password for every online login. Maybe it’s not as heroic as performing brain surgery, but the connection with the kids (all of whom can’t remember their first time using the internet because they were born into it!) was something I could relate to universally.

It’s been a year of personal metamorphosis. From thinking as a public Singaporean servant, and shifting to a cyber-uncle extending the wisdom of the older, more benevolent age of the internet to the younger generation; a proud citizen of hot and humid Southeast Asia, learning to appreciate the dusty roads and letting go of the very Singaporean need to have everyone adhere to rules.

Learning to appreciate life, because it comes in so many forms I have never seen; and that in all its diversity, lies the handiwork of God in whom I place my trust as I make my way down this uncharted road.