Jiamin Choo (middle) at Kallos event
I don’t travel much, so I’m envious of my books that go places that I’ve never been. This book has been to 20 over countries! (more…)
Today is Good Friday, I trust that each of you have had a meaningful time commemorating our Lord’s sacrifice for us.
For my last reflection for Passion Week, I recall Adeline. I met her when we were hospitalised together, but lost touch after that. I hope she has found Christ like me and the other patient; because we all need the Lord.
Adeline Khor’s mother fetched her to the door of the support group meeting. “I’ll be waiting in the carpark when you finish,” she told Adeline anxiously.
Adeline escaped gratefully through the door. She wasn’t looking forward to the support group meeting but neither did she want her mum to hover over her. Adeline felt enough of being a burden already.
The room was already full. Among the misfits, she immediately spotted the facilitator. He must be the facilitator because he looked so cheerful and in command. Her knees grew weak at his groovy good looks. How she wished a man like that would pay attention to her. But in the next heartbeat she told herself, “Who would ever pick a girl like me?”
The man dazzled her with a smile as she took the seat he indicated. “Welcome to the Support Group for Nihilists,” he greeted her.
“Wha-at?” she thought to herself. “Nihi who?”
She must be in the wrong room! But she was too lethargic to interrupt the meeting and leave.
“We have a policy that newcomers always get to share first,” the facilitator said playfully. “Adeline, tell us why you are here.”
She squirmed inwardly. She hates it when people pay attention to her. She blurted out, “Isn’t it obvious why I’m here?”
The group looked blankly at her.
“I’m thirty eight kilogrammes,” she said by way of explanation.
One participant, an aging geek who looked and smelled like he hadn’t washed in a week, snorted, “Yup, we know why she’s here. Self-absorbed. Thinks the world revolves around her.”
Adeline was incredibly wounded by his remark. “How often will I feel hurt by this kind of comments? It’s not as if this is the first time,” she scolded herself.
The facilitator silenced the man with a wave of his hand. “Perhaps you can just tell us about yourself, Adeline.”
Adeline’s mind was blank. She looked desperately around the group for ideas. That’s when she noticed a little old woman. She wondered why an old woman would have problems with nihi-whatever. Seeing her gave Adeline an idea.
“I miss my grandmother,” said Adeline. The group waited.
Oh dear, more was expected of her. “I miss her because she cooked wonderful food but she never forced me to eat.”
The participants took turns to share. The middle aged geek ranted against his boss, his mother (with whom he stays), the People’s Action Party… Adeline drifted off.
“Adeline? Adeline? Grandma Letty is sharing now and I thought you would like to hear her.”
With a start, Adeline came back to her surroundings. Oh dear, she hoped the delicious facilitator would not think her rude for losing attention.
The old woman, Grandma Letty, said, “So much angst among such young people. Why! Two or three of you together would not add up to my age.”
She started to work her jaw. She took out a tissue from her huge handbag and slowly worked a gob of spit onto the tissue. Then, she folded the soggy tissue carefully and put it back into her bag.
Adeline reeled. “When does this thing end?” she wondered desperately.
Grandma Letty said, “I need help to go toilet.”
The facilitator looked expectantly at Adeline. She didn’t want to disappoint him. She got up and felt a wave of blackness. Clutching her chair till it passed, she wondered who would actually be helping whom.
Grandma Letty took Adeline’s arm and shuffled with maddeningly slow steps towards a distant toilet door.
“Starving yourself is a cruel slow death. But I know you can’t help it, dear child,” she wheezed.
Adeline was intrigued. Nobody had ever told her that she could not help herself. They were always telling her to “just eat”, “eat more” and “don’t you dare purge!”
Grandma Letty droned on, “Yup, the only way out is to lose yourself on the Cross.”
Adeline was amazed. How did Grandma Letty know about her fascination with ‘losing herself’?
Very few people understand Adeline. Call her a coward, but she did not want to plunge to her death, or slash her wrists, or take an overdose of pills. They’re all such painful and messy methods to die. All along, she had this fascinating thought − if only she could lose herself! The way she lost her wallet on the bus or her notes from school. That way, there would be no father to mourn her, no mother to cry, “You’re breaking my heart!”
But how does one lose oneself on this Cross-thing that Grandma Letty is talking about?
They stepped through the toilet door and Adeline stared.
Instead of a tiled cubicle with toilet seat and sink, she saw a hillside, hordes of people, hot sunlight glinting off bare sand and a black silhouette against the sun. She felt the prick of sweat immediately. Her eyes adjusted to the light, and she saw that the silhouette was the grotesque impalement of a living man upon a trunk.
She had seen bronze statues like this on the steeples of Roman Catholic churches. They’d looked so majestic and noble. But here, cracked lumber, rusted nails and torn flesh assailed her senses. Adeline vomited.
Adeline could feel the man’s agony as if it was her own. She completely forgot herself. The man looked down at her and said, “Daughter, behold I have left you my Comforter. He shall teach you all things, help you and be with you forever.”
Adeline had had a trying day. Unlike other people, she had very little reserves of energy. She fainted.
When she regained consciousness, Mum was screaming, “Adeline! Baby! Don’t all of you know she has anorexia? I’m bringing her to A&E right now.”
Adeline opened her eyes, but although she saw her mother and the support group people gathered around her anxiously, she could not get the image of the crucified man out of her mind’s eye.
“She’s all right,” wheezed Grandma Letty, “She just needs a drink of water.”
She took a recycled mineral water bottle out of her bag. Adeline could see Mum’s eyes widen with disgust at the thought of her frail daughter sharing a bottle with an unhygienic senior citizen. But suddenly Adeline felt incredibly thirsty.
“Mum, can I have some water?”
Mum looked shocked and delighted. She fumbled with Adeline’s personal bottle of vitamin-boosted water and poured a cupful for her. “Sip slowly, you don’t want to throw up,” she fussed.
Adeline took a few gulps. Water never tasted so delicious to her before!
“What now?” Adeline asked, looking past her mother at Grandma Letty.
“Well, a bowl of soup would be a good start,” said the old lady, “Grandma Letty’s soup is the best. Come on, give an old woman a helping hand.”
Let us rejoice this coming Easter… BECAUSE THE TOMB IS EMPTY; OUR LORD LIVES!
Three million people visit Via Dolorosa every year. They go for different reasons – sightseeing, scepticism, research, pilgrimage… Only one man rushed eagerly and lovingly to his death on that road. Let us travel Via Dolorosa today and meet Christ on Golgotha.
Humans give birth astride a grave. There is no meaning in life. But there is no purpose in death. So I travel on and on, trying to escape my conundrum. One day, a wood splinter got into my palm. It was extremely painful. I am a hitchhiker. I have very little money; too little to consult a doctor. As a foreigner, to see a doctor one has to pay cash. Not that I have plastic. I never stay in one place long enough to register for a credit card. I don’t even have a forwarding address anymore. My parents’ home and my parents are a distant memory.
The splinter has stayed in my palm for a few days now. I do everything left-handed. A hard welt of skin has grown over the splinter. I worry it will never come out. At night, I dream that the splinter travels around my body in my blood stream. I try to slow my heartbeat so that the splinter travels more slowly. But fear makes my heart race faster. In my dream, I can see the splinter riding crimson waves like a surfboard. It gets nearer and nearer my heart. I know with an irrevocable certainty that once it pierces my heart, I will die.
Some nights I wake up shivery and sweat drenched. Some nights I drift to the surface remarkably calm, hoping that, indeed, I had passed to the other side, and that the death I had desired and yet dreaded will have come and gone, as uneventfully as the waking from a slumber. Then, in the dark, I would rub the welt of skin on my palm and, with a sinking of the heart, realised that it was just a dream.
I am on the road again. The tourist guidebook tells me this is the famous Via Dolorosa. I shoulder one backpack and drag the other with my left hand. I am extremely tired. Then, incredibly, a heavy thump. A dreadfully huge and dirty piece of lumber fell across my path. I stumbled over it.
“Carry it,” ordered an authoritative voice. I had hardly shrugged off the straps of my backpack when a white hot pain slashed across my back from shoulder to hip. A sharp crack and hiss indicated that I had just been whipped.
Fearful for my life, I wriggled like a worm under the huge trunk and heaved it up. As I staggered to my feet, for the first time, I saw my situation. I had been bowed down from birth by a curse. The curse of existence. Where there is no love, there is nothing to live for. And, therefore, people without love simply… exist.
I have been carrying this heavy burden and, over the years, have sunk lower and lower under its weight so that I could not see the truth. That day, I looked up. And I saw the answer to existential angst. I saw Him.
He wasn’t in the best of shape. He was looking quite bloody actually. There was blood matted in his hair, blood in his eyes, blood on his shoulders where the trunk had rubbed it raw. Blood on his torso and, um, on his pelvis… He’s not wearing anything. He’s naked. Blood sprays grotesquely every time he lurched forward. I am amazed that he would want to move forward. What is he moving forward to?
Here is Love. This is the answer to my wanderings. Here is home, the place where I can finally put down my backpack and my questions. Here, in the face of His death, I finally have my reason to live.
Tomorrow – On the Cross
Was Good Friday just an event in history? Or do people still experience it today? This story is semi fiction, but this man is real.
I was instructed to interview this 50-year-old man for his story, not in his office or in a cafe, but at his HDB flat. That’s odd, I thought. When I got there, his wife led me to his bedroom. The man was lying in a hospital-issue bed. She cranked it to raise his head so that he could see me. He did not lift a finger to help. He could not. He is a quadriplegic. Paralysed from the neck down. This is his story. Let’s call him Geng Xin.
Geng Xin is a tall and good looking man. Even with his body wasted from 10 years of paralysis, one could tell that he must have been a real lady killer before his accident. And he was. Geng Xin partied hard, gambled hard and played fast and loose with all the ladies in Desker Road. He was on his way to the Genting casino to top up his spending money when the accident happened. The car spun out of control, breached a parapet and plunged down a ravine. Geng Xin’s spinal cord was severed. He never moved of his own free will again.
Geng Xin had known Jesus. He had accepted Jesus when he got into a spot of trouble and had to go to jail. But after his discharge, he got his act together. With his assets, he didn’t need Jesus so much anymore and gradually forgot Him.
And now he was flat on his back and would never get up again. Now he had all the time in the world to remember everything in his past, and Jesus. He did not come back to Jesus. What would God want with a quadriplegic?
This is what he told me.
One day, a commotion broke out in his room. Turning his eyeballs, he saw many men yelling and jostling and… tearing their clothes. Why were they tearing their clothes? Their robes were richly embroidered and looked expensive, but the men looked like they enjoyed tearing them. In fact, they were hugely enjoying the drama they were putting on. Geng Xin became aware of the smell. There was a smell of sweat, of self-righteousness and…bloodlust. These men, for all that they looked like university professors, wanted to spill blood.
Geng Xin strained to see who they were all so mad at. Finally, a gap appeared in the crowd and he looked straight into the most compassionate eyes he had ever seen in his life. The man in the centre of the hostile crowd was looking right at him. Although it seemed like the crowd would tear him limb from limb at any moment, he wasn’t afraid for his life. His eyes showed that his only concern was for Geng Xin.
“Stop this!” Geng Xin tried to remonstrate with the men. He could only use his voice. But they were using their fists, their influence and their money. Finally, they had their way; they had the man dragged off in chains. All this while, the man did not say a single word in his own defence. And his eyes never left Geng Xin.
Geng Xin struggled mightily, but did not even disarrange his bedsheet. He yelled. His wife rushed into the room, startled. When Geng Xin told her about the strange event, she understood that it was the false trial of Jesus Christ because she was a believer. “There’s nothing you could have done for Him. He wanted it this way,” she tried to comfort her husband.
“I wanted to do something for Him. But I couldn’t do anything. I CAN’T DO ANYTHING.” After his accident, Geng Xin had promised himself he would not cry as he did not want to be a burden to his wife who had to do everything for him. But now, Geng Xin wailed as he had never wailed before. After he had wept until there were no more tears to weep, his wife wiped his face and left him to rest. Geng Xin stared at the ceiling. The room was empty once more.
Around this time, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane. I considered writing about other people but… the Garden is mine. Of all the events of the Passion Week, I identify most with the Garden because I know what it’s like to be the Walking Dead.
I wrote about Gethesemane twice. Once in 1985 and the second last year. In 1985, I was only interested in rhythm and rhyme; I hadn’t yet lived. I hope I was more mature in 2011.
It has been said that Jesus Christ did not die only at the Cross. He died for me first in the Garden when he said, “Take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Thine be done.” Let us prepare our hearts to drink the cup together this Good Friday.
The garden is a place I go to hide
When all is confusion and hell inside
Although I hide, it’s not a place to stay
My Saviour went in, free
And came out a slave.
This world is a place at once guileless yet
This world is for waiting, not mine to stay.
Now I walk this earth like Him
Sowing in tears and waiting to reap.
I wait here to be saved.
In Gethsemane I am a tree.
At evenings I’ve heard many couples weep.
Too many to count, the lost ones that moan.
To boring to recount, the sinners that groan.
Never once did I bend my leaves.
You see, compassion is alien to trees.
Immunity was my proud maxim.
That is, it was, until I heard him.
He didn’t weep, he didn’t wail,
But sorrow hung like a heavy veil.
He kept praying to some god,
About removing some cup or something of that sort.
And a lot of things I didn’t understand.
But this I know, he isn’t just any man.
In shared pain, I bow my leaves.
In humility this I think:
“If I, a mere piece of wood can feel such emotion,
How much more must his people feel the burden.”
Tomorrow – At the Court
We draw nearer to the anniversary of our Lord’s crucifixion. Here is another reminder of what He has done for us. The man in the following story does exist. There are people like him in Singapore.
God bless you with His freedom.
Day 1 – At the Gate
Day 2 – At the Table
Day 3 – At the Garden
Day 4 – At the Court
Day 5 – On the Road
Day 6 – On the Cross
Koh San Boi does not eat pork, mutton or any meat from four-legged animals with cloven hooves. They are not clean. He does not eat onion, garlic and leeks because these stimulate the libido and disturbs a man’s tranquillity. He wishes he could avoid instant noodles as artificial additives are frowned upon by his religion, but his wife gave up cooking for him because of his many dietary restrictions, so he often had to resort to Maggi mee.
San Boi eats bananas, but he does not like them. He is in charge of food offered by devotees to the temple. He had told them repeatedly not to offer bananas, but they forget. Maybe because bananas are cheap and rot easily, so these get pushed to the temple. The spirits hate bananas. San Boi has no choice but to bring them home for personal consumption.
His diet followed that of the Tibetan spiritual masters, but still San Boi suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It is fated, he told himself.
San Boi adjusted his weight from his left knee to his right. He had been kneeling for about five hours now.
Zhou Zhang, the No 1 Medium, was still in his spirit-possessed trance. He continued ranting at the devotees. His spittle descended on them like rain. Their punishment this time was for insufficient offering of opium for the spirits to smoke.
“Don’t play play. Don’t yawn,” San Boi whispered fiercely to the di xiong kneeling beside him. He fingered the scar that ran clear round his neck. Last month, he had been riding his motorcycle to work when he rammed headlong into a power line. How could a power line be hanging at motorists’ height? It was the spirits’ work. They were displeased with his service and wanted to kill him.
He was not the only one being disciplined. Two months ago, his friend had been cleaning the engine of his prime mover truck when, inexplicably, the heavy hood had slammed down, instantly killing the man.
After two more hours of kneeling, the spirits deemed, through Zhou Zhang, that the disciples had been sufficiently disciplined. San Boi could go home. His stomach growled loudly. He stopped by a coffee-shop and was shown to an upper room.
A large group of men were sitting down to a big feast. There was roast pig, braised duck, different types of vegetables and fruits, a loaf of bread, Chinese tea and wine.
“Sorry, I didn’t know there’s a private function,” San Boi said politely, backing out.
“Don’t go. You are welcome to join us,” the waiter said.
San Boi thought that it was strange for the waiter to answer for the group. He was tearing up the bread into chunks and serving the guests.
The waiter moved towards San Boi and guided him to an empty chair.
“We’re all di xiong here. Eat, eat,” a big man with a booming voice greeted him.
San Boi surveyed the table hungrily. His eyes dismissed the pork and duck, although his nostrils were assaulted by their tantalising aroma. He pondered the xiao bai chye.
“What is this dish cooked with?” he asked politely.
“Lard,” answered the waiter, watching him.
Pig’s fat? No thanks. San Boi shook his head. His chopsticks moved away towards a plate of kang kong.
“They’re all fried with lard,” the waiter explained.
San Boi put down his chopsticks resignedly. Now to think of an excuse and go home to Maggi mee.
“Have some bread,” the waiter said kindly, serving some to San Boi.
“Take some wine with it,” he added, pouring San Boi a glass.
He moved to the head of the table and sat down. San Boi perceived now that the men were looking at the waiter with tremendous respect. An embarrassing truth occurred to him. This man was not a waiter. He is somebody important. A leader who is a servant?
“When you are with me, my son, you can eat anything,” the man said with authority to San Boi. His eyes sparked with anger. But San Boi knew, with a certainty as sure as the solid table before him, that the man’s anger was not directed at him. The servant leader was angry at all those who had told San Boi that he could not and should not.
Turning to the men around him, the servant leader picked up the bread and said, “This is my body. Take, eat.”
Picking up a glass, he said, “Drink. This is my blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
After the meal, when San Boi was so full he felt that he would burst, the servant leader led him to the window. “You have no part in what follows, but I want to show you something.”
San Boi looked out the window and saw an astonishing sight. There was a riot outside! A big crowd had gathered and they were yelling, rolling their bloodshot eyes, pulling their hair and raking their faces with long nails. At first sight, they looked like people, but there was something off about them. Tongues of flames licked their bodies. Their clothes were charred from fire that seemed to come from within them. Skin and flesh hung off in strips.
The servant leader seemed to read San Boi’s mind. “These are the spirits that have intimidated and bound you for so long. But I have set a table before you in the presence of your enemies. They wail and gnash their teeth, but they will not have you, my son, as long as you are with me.”
The anniversary of our Lord’s death and resurrection is here and I wondered how I can commemorate it this year. So I will worship God the only way I know how, and that is to tell a story:
Was Passion Week a historical event? Or do people today still meet with the Passion Week? This is a semi documentary with fictional elements. The people are real.
Day 1 – At the Gate
Day 2 – At the Table
Day 3 – At the Garden
Day 4 – At the Court
Day 5 – On the Road
Day 6 – On the Cross
Day 1 – At the Gate
“Hurry, hurry! He’s almost here.” Mr Kaan said over his shoulder loudly.
Mara shrank back. Why did he have to be so loud? At 50 years old, Mara was a decade younger than her husband. Theirs was an arranged marriage. And Mara had served Mr Kaan faithfully since the day she crossed his threshold as a 19-year-old bride. And she had faithfully prepared his last rites when he was bedridden with last stage cancer. But the Healer had ridden past their little town and her husband was miraculously cured.
They reached the gate. It seemed like the whole town had come out to meet the Healer. Mr Kaan elbowed his way to the front of the crowd. Mara detests him. He is sixty but still so obnoxiously healthy. Why was he healed when her dearest bestest sister was carried away by the same cancer? He was a tobacco-sucking, bad-mouthing heathen; but her sister had faithfully served and tithed to the church. Where was the justice?
“Ahh, he’s here.” Mr Kaan sank reverently onto his knees in the dust. Mara cringed. Why did he have to make such a spectacle of himself?
The Healer rode through the gates of the town on the back of a donkey. The crowd went mad with adulation. He looked so humble and yet so kingly all at once. It was so confusing. He was so confusing. What was he doing here? Why does he save some and not others?
The donkey is a little animal. It moves slowly. The Healer passed Mr Kaan, still kneeling in the dirt. The Healer saw his devotee and said, “I will like to heal your wife.”
“Mara? She is not sick,” Mr Kaan said dismissively.
The Healer looked at Mara with his all-knowing eyes. All of a sudden, with a terrific jolt, Mara realised that indeed she was sick. She was infected with a disease that was unto death, and her sickness was bitterness. Still, she hung back.
“Take your husband’s hand,” the Healer told her.
Her eyes widened. She had never been so presumptuous in all the time she had been married to Mr Kaan, not even on the day she had presented him with their firstborn son.
The donkey moved on, not aware that the humans’ conversation was not yet finished. The crowd pressed in around the Healer. In an instant, he was lost to view.
Mr Kaan jumped to his feet, eager to follow his saviour. He had forgotten all about his wife. But Mara detained him by holding onto his hand. “Come home. I’ve made soup for you. There is time enough to find the Healer later. We will go together.”
Mr Kaan allowed her to pull him along. “Why do you think He said you need healing?” he asked. “You look perfectly well to me. But then again, he is the Messiah, he can’t be wrong. Women and the Saviour, who can understand them?”
Thank you, insidethebirdcage, qakitchen, IamNotDefined, for reading my Dark Lands poem.