Life’s Too Short for the In-Betweens

What defines our worth, and what makes us tick? I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that to fight for what you love is one of the most complex things to undertake. To try to understand this better, I’ve thought of four testimonies from four imaginary individuals. By and large, these individuals are a combination of the people I’ve talked to or observed, and the stories I’ve weaved are an amalgamation of the stories they hold dear to them. And so like most fictional work, this is a mere reallocation of fact into more digestible chunks. I hope you will find some meaning in them. 

* * *

“This all started the moment I saw this small puppy on the sidewalk. It was about three years ago, and I was walking home from work when I saw her. Her hind legs had no fur on them and there were large abrasions running down the entire length of her tigh. She was gasping for breath and her dark brown fur was moist from the morning dew. Clearly, she had been abandoned either by her owner or her mother. Either way, she would have died from exposure had I not seen her. Carefully, I scooped her up; her small body fit snugly in my cupped palms. She showed no fear at all as I held her, and I figured that at the brink of death, all fear must have been stripped away. Walking into the veterinary centre, I presented the puppy to the counter woman, and she brought the poor thing into the vet’s office immediately. I immediately took the day off work and sat at the waiting area, hoping for a miracle; hoping for anything that would save the poor puppy.

This whole episode was a turning point in my life. In the few months that followed, I quit my office job and opened an animal rescue centre. It sounds really simple when I state it out, but the first few months were hell, and it was really difficult getting any support. Many of the animals that came in were too injured or sick and it broke our hearts to put them down. My family and friends did not support any of it at first, and the whole idea that I was getting my salary based on charity was unthinkable to them. But after all this time, they’re starting to figure out that this is a job that was meant just for me. To save one animal was a triumph in itself, and it brings me a joy that I’m still coming to terms with. Right now, things are stable, and at the entrance of the rescue centre is a small grave for the puppy that started this whole thing. We call her Inuka, and I hope she’s happy where she is, and in the difference she has made.”

* * *

“I like to run. I don’t know how I could have envisioned my life doing any other sport. Back in Primary school I was never the sporty kind. I joined the chess club (not that there is anything wrong with chess, except that I was horrible at it) while all my other friends went on to play soccer, basketball, hockey. I never felt envious per se, but part of me knew that I wanted to do some sort of sport. I was an active kid who just couldn’t find his outlet.

I joined running in secondary one not because it interested me, but because there was nothing else to join. I just figured out that running wasn’t the hardest thing to do. How could I possibly mess up? During the first training I discovered just how bad I was at this “simple sport”. After one warm up jog I already felt faint and my chest hurt. After the whole training session was over, I felt physically depleted, and worst of all, felt a strong sense of self loathing. How did I get myself into such a state? This was a question I asked myself training session after training session.

Time passed, and I watched while groups of students joined and left the CCA, joining other sports like hockey, rugby, soccer. I stayed. I stayed not in spite of the pain, but because of it. The pain and exhaustion bit at me so hard that I had no choice but to bite back harder at it. There was no other way, and such a struggle within my head made me feel like after all this time, I was finally proving something to myself. 9 years have passed, and when people ask me what sport I play, I answer proudly, “I am a runner.””

* * *

“There is no way to describe how happy I feel right now, but I know with all this happiness comes the possibility of tremendous disappointment. It’s as if I’ve got exactly what I wanted when I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t even have to find it, but somehow this person just appeared in my life. Yes. He just appeared, and the best thing was that he didn’t even try. With everyone before it was as if something was being forced, some game was being played or some objective was being conquered. With him it just feels effortless, it feels…right. Sometimes a glance feels like an hour-long probe into my soul yet with the things he says, we can talk for hours without it even feeling like hours. Time either stands stock still or rushes past when he’s around, and I don’t know if this reality even holds any weight anymore.

He’s leaving for the states tomorrow, and I don’t know how to feel about it. Sadness would be a good option, but I know that’s not what he’d want me to feel, so I have to force myself not to show it. We had one last walk together yesterday, and I asked him if he was willing to try. All he could tell me was that he didn’t want to hold me down. I guess I have made my own plans and he has made his, and there’s nothing we can really do to change that. What I do know is that I am willing to try. Life is too short for the in-betweens, don’t you think? Perhaps this is silly and I may get hurt really, really badly, but this little voice in my head is telling me that this might just be worth it.”

* * *

“For the past few years I have been raised single-handedly by my dad. I wouldn’t say that my childhood was abject misery, but through my formative years I’ve witnessed some things and felt certain emotions that no kid should ever have to go through. All I know is that through all this, I’ve had nothing but respect for him. That, and a love deeper than I’d like to admit. Though he’d never feel this way, I’d like to think that he was my very own superhero through these years. My friends all had other idols and heroes that were physically superior and much easier on the eyes, but as long as my dad could carry my weight I’d always feel that that was enough. More than enough, in fact. And that was our biggest difference: my dad never felt like he was good enough. He always apologised for not being there for me, for falling asleep on the couch before I came back home, for the late shifts that meant he couldn’t see me off to school the next day. I saw him once when I woke up to visit the toilet. He was hunched over the book cabinet at four in the morning, reaching deep in to repair a loose hinge, his legs skinny and back full of sweat. That was when I realised how tough it must have been for him all along, that when grief rendered me insular that I never considered that somebody was up at 4 am trying so hard to fix our lives again. I just want to take this chance to say thank you, Dad. You never gave up on us, so there will never be a reason for me to give up on you. You have been and will always be the greatest superhero in my life.”

* * *

To fight for what you love is a complex thing, but like the examples above show, we owe it to ourselves to give it a shot. A famous author once said that we only get two or three chances of finding true happiness in our lives, and in the light of that we have to grasp at any opportunity we’ve got at finding it. I believe that our passions have a higher function; not just to make us happy, but also to mould who we are as people; to define our very being. We are but the sum of our life choices, and many of these choices are inextricably linked to the things we love and hold dear to us. In that respect, there is no time for any half-assed attempts at what we truly desire and long for. The struggles that are borne out of these passions eventually make for a life worth living, or at least a life you can be happy with. This privilege is not to be trifled with, and I hope the above examples have encapsulated such a sentiment. 

What do You Want to be when You Grow Up?

We’re at this point in our lives where people around us like to ask this peculiar question, that is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I think people treat this more as an ice breaker question; no one really cares about what you want to be (except maybe your parents but sometimes their concern takes a trajectory independent of your passions). Perhaps we’re too caught up with our own lives to really care.

But what do you know? After a while, this question does get annoying. It creeps into your head and before you know it, you’re asking yourself the very same question. Except, for this once, you actually care. What do I want to be when I grow up? Geez, get your act together, you how old already?

It was on a cool, quiet night when this question presented itself. I was walking with my friends, down a secluded street in Potong Pasir in the dead of night. It was so quiet that I swore I heard the traffic light click as the light changed from green to red. It was then that one of my friends turned to me when we were lagging behind, and asked the question. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was as abrupt as a dense cloud on a sunny day.

I wouldn’t tell most people what I want to be when I grow up. But you can sort of infer what kind of job suits me, as have I. I didn’t do all this writing for fun, and I’ve decided I sort of love it. And with that little passion arose certain dreams and what not. But look, lets be realistic. We’re in Singapore, and every Chinese New Year I’m rudely reminded of the harsh reality of what the future holds. My relatives are very realistic people. Money and success is as scarce as colourful butterflies and being mediocre as common as the soldier ant.

But strangely enough, on that cool night, I told him. I could have made up something like editor, or teacher, and those aren’t bad jobs. It just wasn’t something I really wanted to be. So in the end I just told him what I truly dreamed to be, along with all the doubts that surrounded such a dream. He looked at me, a large, indian fella probably twice my girth and maybe twice my weight as well. He has been through a lot in his life, I grant you that. But then at that moment his gaze softened up, and he spoke in absolute sincerity, “never underestimate yourself.”

Now I’m not the kind that’s easily inspired. It takes a lot to inspire me and run of the mill stock phrases like “don’t give up” and “every failure is a lesson” inadvertently makes me feel uncomfortable. But at that moment, with the cool night air and the absolute quiet, those words really meant a lot. It was like a thick blanket on a cold day. Never underestimate yourself. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Ultimately, it was a reminder to have courage. Perhaps we don’t like risks. We’d rather take a safer path than bash through the bushes for a shortcut. We plot everything out predictably and sensibly. But look. This is the rest of our lives! We owe it to ourselves to have a shot at greatness, and we owe it to ourselves, especially, to do things with a big heart and approach every challenge with oomph and sincerity. That’s what it means to do what you love, to know deep within yourself that it’s worth fighting for. And yes, it makes sense. In the pursuit of this ideal image, you cannot, for one moment, underestimate yourself.

And at the same time, it reminded me of the beauty of words. It was uncanny that three simple words like that could draw out such vivid, coherent thoughts given the right situation and delivered with the right emotion.

It was like a baseball bat striking the baseball dead centre. It’s the same sort of feeling. Those words really hit home.

If I ever end up doing what I love as a living, I’d think back to that cool night walking through the quiet streets of Potong Pasir and the words that were given to me. I will think back to that time when it was so quiet you could swear you heard the click of the traffic light as it turned from red to green. You can bet I will.

Death of a Child

“Dad, there’s nothing under the bed”
I’d tell him as he towered over me with hands
Raised above his head, imitating something that
Doesn’t exist.

I’d take off my 3D glasses halfway through
The movie. I tell my friends there is nothing
Fascinating. It is what is known as an
Optical illusion

.

After studying I walk past the Novena underpass.
I ignore the uncle singing a Christian tune
For I think he has enough and in fact
More than enough

“There’s a shortcut through that bright alley,
Dear,” I’d tell her, as we avoid our usual route
Through the dimly lit park, alive with the crickets’
Noisy chirps

.

We won’t be meeting, I text her a few months
Later, that a text is all we need. I can see
She is upset but I know for sure a breakup text
Seals the deal

“Forget about the taste” my friends will tell me
“Whisky is only good when chugged” and so
I listen. As glass after glass goes down, I start
Seeing the stars.

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