“I'm looking for the thing that will fill the hole in my soul. I have everything— riches you will never comprehend. Men and women love me, the people want to be me, and I have endless companions. I can afford to adorn them with rare jewels and house them in my massive castle. I have a whole wing filled with wine older than my grandfather. I have a closet larger than town square. I have everything I want. “You have nothing compared to me. Your horse has one leg in the grave and my steed makes it look dead already. Your own home is crumbling and one day, it will crush you. The fireplace is more ash than flame and your carpet has withered. Your clothes are tattered, tarnished with the filth of a poor man's life. You survive, but I live. You will never understand my wondrous life. You clean up shattered pieces and try to save your life's wreckage but you will never be as close to this feeling as I am. But, how could you? You've been dealt a hand full of holes. You've lost. I truly pity you and these creaky floorboards and the crying ceiling and that moth banging on the windowsill.” The man goes to the window. Loving hands scoop the small creature and carry it to the door. He releases it and it flies to the sky. “It won't survive.” “Probably not.” “It wouldn't have lived much longer in here either.” “…“ “Why did you release it?” “Because that's where it wanted to finish life. In the sky, where it is free.” “I want to die embraced with warmth. The moth is a stupid creature, choosing cold over comfort.” “Why do you so strongly hate that which you cannot understand?” “I, well—,” “Do you want to feel complete? Think. Do you really have everything you want?” “What more could there be to gain?!” The man counts on his fingers. “Money, pleasure, friends, jewels— I have it all!” “Do you have love?” “Of course! I love tea.” The kettle is removed from the fireplace by the other man. He pours the boiling water into two cups, swirling crushed tea leaves. “I love my mother and father. I love my kingdom.” “Do you love yourself?” he asks while handing him a glass. “Of course…” The wealthy man pauses. “Well… What constitutes self-love?” “Self-love is not just treating yourself to your desires. It is to be confident, to seek validation from only yourself, to be virtuous, to know what you truly want.” “How will I know?” “First, realize the moth knows its wants better than you.” “Are you comparing your king to a moth?” “Second, realize you are just an animal serving its animalistic desires.” “Hey—“ “You need people to love you in order to love yourself. You lack the esteem to consider yourself lovable. You bring down others so you can rise up. You surround yourself in material value and gorge because you have no sense of reason. Your friends are slimy and they will leave you the second you cannot provide.” The man pauses his speech. He takes in the other man, glass in hand, eyes bent wide, brows furrowed. “You have to want to be good. Do good, spread good, follow your morals, be ethical. If you look deeper and inspect the waves of your mind, you will find completion.” The man drinks his last sip of tea. “I must leave.” He sets the cup down and the discarded tea leaves settle. “What will you do next?” He leans in to look and see the way the leaves have fallen. The man crosses floorboards worn from pacing feet. He takes a final look at shards lovingly collected and a carpet that has nourished. He grabs a copper handle that has worn away to gold, then opens the door. “I'll learn how to love.” He closes the door. In the stable, his horse has its head turned and resting on the back of the other. He gently wakes them. They exchange goodbyes and the man adds his fur coat to the blankets piling the aged horse, covering frost-tipped ears. They make it back to the main road. By now, the crowd has dispersed, and only the sound of wind and thumping gallops follow. The snow glistens from the rising sun, painting the man and his horse in orange and red. Something glows from the light on the horse's mane. He gingerly picks it up, delicate like glass. Its wings look shattered and broken, twitching as he cups it in his palm. “The moth died for what it wanted.” He leaves its body to rest in a bright place under the sun.
Beautiful tapestries woven with gold shimmer in the sunlight. Jewels sparkle with a million intricacies and purple flows along banners, finest of silk. Like rolling fields of golden hay, hills of treasure tumble to the floor. “A fine collection, your majesty.” “That diamond is lovely, your majesty!” “What will you do with it all, your majesty?” Asks the choir of envy. “It will complete me, of course,” the wealthy man replies. Countless women, as beautiful as Venus. They slide over each other, reaching out for the wealthy man. Countless men, as beautiful as Mars. They are adorned with diamonds and put on display. They are here for him, to serve him, “—To complete me, of course,” the wealthy man replies. A banquet table glitters with steaming pots of emerald kettles. Fancy leather chairs comfort his companions. They wear shoes he bought them, jewelry he purchased, even the clothes off their backs are from his wealth. “You all complete me too, of course.” The wealthy man smiles, but like a gap in his teeth, or childless mother, something is missing. Later that night the wealthy man lies alone in bed. “What am I missing?” he asks. “I have everything I want, everything I need— what else could possibly complete me?” He gets out of bed and stands next to the window. The glass is cold and he can see his breath from fog. He wipes the obscure away to overlook his kingdom. Hundreds of people, wandering his streets. Thousands more, tucked inside. They all have far, far less than him. Compared to his riches and wealth, their existence is nothing. They will never as close to completion as he is. Still, he grabs his red and white fur coat and stumbles into his boots. He rushes for the doorknob and glides down the stairs. Maids and butlers give him quizzical looks, but they don't understand. Tonight is the night he answers this question. His royal steed is woken by the weight of a saddle. He rides down snowy trails as knights shout his name and say he's gone mad. The horse trots into town. Turned up dirt is splattered over slush. Townspeople, his people, stare in awe as his coat flutters in the crisp wind. They eye his crown, the piece barely hanging onto his tousled hair. No guards, no armour, no sense of reason, and utterly defenceless. Filled with greed, the crowd inches closer. From the crowd, a man in rags pushes himself forwards. “Would you like to come inside for tea?” The poor man asks. “Will it complete me?” the wealthy man replies. “It will fill you for a moment.” “I've had enough of momentary bliss.” “Your horse is freezing.” “…” “I have a stable. Please, follow me.” The crowd lets them through and the wealthy man follows slow footsteps. He is lead into a dirtier part of the kingdom, where the buildings are squished and held together with chipped bricks and knotted wood. The “stable” is a tiny shack that is hardly big enough for the old, weathered horse already inside. The wealthy man dismounts and together the men shimmy the steed inside. The horses draw close together, sharing a tender embrace. The poor man tosses another blanket over them and the shivering slowly stops. “Let's get you some tea.” Inside he is greeted by a leaky ceiling. Dirt paints a carpet that has been eaten away by moths, leaving it hole-ridden and bleak. Shards of glass from a broken plate have been picked up and stacked on a rag, stained red from soft fingers. “Take a seat, I'll put the kettle on.” The wealthy man sits on a wooden chair and it creaks under his weight. It feels like a threat and another reason he's not supposed to be here. “What is this feeling you've been searching for?” The run-down house warms up as more wood is tossed into the fireplace. A dim orange glow lets him see the features of the poor man. He's smiling. Why is he smiling?
The fatigue hit Bessie on a bright day, one made for happiness, not for fraught thoughts of suicide. The reticent seventeen-year-old felt abject misery, knew the emotion was unreasonable, yet she was incapable of resisting the depression. “Why was I ever born? Was it so that I could suffer day after day, with no hope of some kind of reprieve in sight?” she typed on her Facebook post. She stared at the screen for some seconds, contemplating whether posting her comment would be wise, or ill-advised. “The trolls out there in cyberspace are far worse than those of myth,” she cautioned herself, finger hovering shakily over the ‘Post' button. Abruptly, as if ripping off an unwanted Band-Aid, she stabbed down on the keyboard. Seconds later, the post appeared on her timeline. It didn't take long for her Facebook friends to respond. Bessie was overwhelmed by the incoming comments that followed each other in rapid succession. The first one read: You were born to be loved, not to suffer. Reprieve might be out of sight, but believe me, it IS there! It was from her Science study buddy, Ghiyona. The next comment caused a catch in Bessie's throat: If you were never born, I would not have known such kindness. You were made to be loved, Bessie. This one was from her gay friend, Willie. Bessie started to cry softly, the pain in her heart feeling like a knife being shoved mercilessly deep into her soul. “I love you, Willie,” Bessie responded to his comment; she felt at a loss as to how to reply to Ghiyona's, so she simply attached a heart emoji to the girl's comment. More comments followed, each one listing reasons why Bessie should hold on to hope, fight against submitting to life's harshness, believe fervently in herself. As Bessie was about to log off Facebook, one more comment slid in under the post. It caused the distraught adolescent to pause. Your life was given to you as a gift. True, it is your right to accept or reject the gift, but why would anyone refuse to embrace what is more precious than treasure, more profound than the knowledge of the ancients? Why would you, Bessie, forget how inimitable you are, that there is literally no other quite like you? The comment continued for a few more lines, but Bessie's vision blurred because of the tears streaming down her face. She was confused, for the comment was from the one person Bessie was convinced hated her the most. The very person who had brought this despondent mood upon her, who had been relentlessly criticising her each day for the past two weeks. Bessie blew her nose and read the last part of the comment: You are stronger than you know, but that core of steel will carry you across all obstacles. Have faith, Bessie. Some hitherto hidden door of insight swung open widely in Bessie's mind. Her worst critic, her Maths lecturer, was also her greatest supporter…
As the world struggled with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there were many stories of despair and hardship. People lost their jobs, their loved ones, and their sense of security. But amid all the chaos and uncertainty, there were also stories of hope, resilience, and kindness. One such story was that of Emma, a nurse who had been working on the frontlines of the pandemic since it began. She had seen firsthand the toll the virus was taking on people's lives, and she was determined to do what she could to make a difference. Emma worked long hours at the hospital, often going days without rest. She saw patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly, and she did her best to provide them with the care and compassion they needed. Despite the challenges she faced, Emma never lost her sense of purpose or her dedication to her patients. One day, as Emma was finishing her shift, she received a call from her sister. Her sister, who lived in another city, had just given birth to a baby girl. Emma was thrilled to hear the news and couldn't wait to meet her new niece. However, with travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic, Emma wasn't sure if she would be able to visit her sister and her new niece. She felt a pang of sadness at the thought of missing out on such an important moment in her family's life. But then something amazing happened. When Emma's colleagues at the hospital heard about her situation, they rallied around her. They came up with a plan to cover her shifts for the next few days so that she could take some time off to visit her sister and her new niece. Emma was overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity. She had always known that her colleagues were dedicated and caring, but this was something else entirely. It was a reminder that, even in the darkest of times, there were still people who were willing to go above and beyond to help others. With tears in her eyes, Emma packed her bags and headed off to see her sister and her new niece. When she arrived, she was greeted with hugs and smiles and the sweet scent of her new niece. She spent the next few days with her family, holding the baby, laughing with her sister, and taking long walks in the fresh air. As she made her way back to the hospital a few days later, Emma felt renewed and re-energized. She knew that there were still many challenges ahead, but she also knew that she wasn't alone. She had her colleagues, her family, and a newfound sense of hope to carry her forward. From that day on, Emma made a point of looking for the bright spots in each day. She smiled more often, laughed more freely, and took the time to appreciate the little things in life. And as she continued to work on the frontlines of the pandemic, she knew that she was making a difference – not just in the lives of her patients, but in her own life as well.
Busy, busy place our little fibro home. Teenage children crowding: two minute noodles, friends, music: loud! And me, the middle-aged dad, knowing less about life than ever. This learning curve about me is steep and getting steeper. ‘How are the children?' my on-the-phone wife asks the voice at the other end. Wonder who she's talking to? ‘Where will they stay?' she asks. Ah! This is about old mate who's on the way out with cancer. His wife and kids need help. Something clicks! inside me. ‘They'll stay with us,' I almost yell. ‘All with us, the mother, all of them—forever!' Where did that come from? I nearly lost it right there. The day wears on. They're coming to stay. Great. Back at my screen in a dusty, cobwebbed office, something's not right. The heart's pounding, booming out of the chest like in a rugby game. This is no ordinary palpitation. Had those for years. This is like running hard: thumping, thumping, thumping but not out of breath. Walking in the yard should fix it. Nope! Still going hammer and tongs. Lying down, pressing on the eyeballs—the Vagus nerve trick—which works on palpitations. But no dice. Finally, it goes away of its own accord. Days pass and it's all good. The children come to stay. Meanwhile, we're sorting the logic of the click! and the pounding. It has to be something to do with when Mum got sick. She and Dad went away and me and the brothers went to a hostel. I was six. It's an emotional trigger event. That's all this is. Back at work. Talking to young adults about life and faith. Taking a lost boy for a long walk at night. He needs to let some anger out. Meanwhile, under my own skin: ships sinking, spaces filling with a hurrying, flooding ocean. What the hell? It's a new day. I'm caught out. Can't stop it. Here it comes: a gigantic black crate seeming to drop out of the sky. A caged monster crashing around, flames shooting out the cracks. And me the little boy, terrified. I'm supposed to flip the latch, to let it out. It goes away like a truck passing on a highway. Maybe it's medication and lock-up time. ‘It's imagination,' I say. 'You've been helping one too many traumatised kids.' But I know imagination. This is not imagination. It's real. And there's my wife and lover praying with and for me—and both of us hoping for a way ahead, that this won't be some dead end street. Not now, we have enough on our plate. Days drag on. ‘This is embarrassing bullshit,' I murmur. ‘I'll fix it myself.' ‘Whatever you do,' a friend says, ‘don't try to fix it yourself.' ‘So,' my prayer to God voice says, ‘What do I do now?' Maybe there's someone out there who could help, the idea returns to me. I laugh, thinking of all the disappointed people I know: stories of quacks and healers. Maybe you're not ready yet. Don't lose your nerve. ‘God did not give us a spirit of fear,' I say, quoting an old verse, ‘but a Spirit of power, of love and a sound mind.'* So, here we are, walking the dog down to a rippling brown river and wondering. Is there such a thing as a prayer or a question that's before its time? Or things that need to be allowed to have their day? We stop. Under a cold grey sky. The dog looks at me. What the? Did I just hear a murmur of dissent from my false-self? That middle aged—well educated—voice: offended at the suggestion that there's something on offer that I'm missing out on: terrified of the chaos this might unleash, or, if truth be told, the freedom. We reach the river, water rippling over stones and the fresh, sweet smell of a sandbar. On the haunches now, head bowed. The dog licks my hand. Before we try to sail this ship on the next Big Life Journey, perhaps we need to allow things in the harbour to float out to sea: half-formed dreams, faces running with tears, premonitions and prayers. Grievings of the Holy Spirit, longing to have a voice in the space, time and matter that is me? We make it back to the house. The un-pulling is heavier. Remember, don't lose your nerve. Trust. Pray. So tired. Have to sleep. Everyone's out, thank goodness. Here comes the lying on the floor part, paralysed. And a flashback dialogue with a fourteen year old girl, of which I'm speaking both sides—seeming to gather information about the six year old me in a trauma hell-hostel. Like a video replay. ‘Father in Heaven,' I pray. ‘What do I do now?' Relax. Lie here, wait and let it play. You're not crazy. This is real. ‘Trust in me,' the words seem to be spoken directly to me. Days and weeks pass with more monster in the cage moments, flashbacks: waiting, thinking and praying. I talk with a friend about the monster in the cage. ‘I remember that,' she says. ‘I was sitting on a huge box: all these tentacles coming out.' Oh. She's one of the sanest people I know. Maybe there is hope. ‘I had to choose to open the lid,' she says. I knew she would say that. ‘So,' she continues, ‘You're ready to open it are you?' ‘Yes.' * 2 Timothy 1:7
It's terrible that so many people are dying from Covid. I hear records being broken so often for the highest daily Covid death toll. Literally, tens of thousands of people are dying every single day. I hardly ever go outdoors, but at least today I happened to briefly glance out a window and see a flower blooming. https://photos.app.goo.gl/GRASsmS8wf1Q9hEYA Not this flower, I'm just taking this opportunity to show the ugliest flower I've ever seen so that you appreciate other plants more. My own backyard managed to be disconcerting because I was just so used to the same old furniture and computer screen that represent my stagnant and colorless life indoors. This blossoming flower was as if a random child had called my name out of nowhere. Once I focused, my first thought was: this flower is kind of ugly—though not as ugly as the one in the above shot. It was just your average flower-that-is-also-definitely-a-weed, you know what I mean. I just searched up “what do you call a weed flower?” A mistake. Hopefully, this was obvious, but I didn't mean a flower that is weed, I meant a flower that is a weed: an infestation that clogs up your yard and magically sprouts from concrete. . . . don't do weed. Moving on, the pandemic has made me bitter, and the minimal social contact has caused my emotions to become bottled up. How dare some plant grow and live when literally tens of thousands of people are dying every day? Then, I realize: at least this albeit weird, random, and little flower gets to grow and live when people are dying every day. At least, life will continue, even if humans die out. Plenty of weird, random, and little things, like my younger brother and other pests, are just too stubborn to ever give up. They'll live on no matter where we've gone. Where there are flowers, there is hope, even if, correction, even when they're ugly (because there will always be ugly ones). Yes, where there is nature, even when it's ugly and actually turns out to be weeds, there is hope. I don't know if I missed nature the most in terms of feelings. In fact, I haven't given it a single thought until today, but it's like I'm meeting it all over again, and it's, well, amazing. https://photos.app.goo.gl/Sq592iVk2SKWk48J7 And any nature you see is bound to be prettier than the spiky dandelion copycat growing out of my family's green onions. I thought maybe I'd write something nice about flowers and hope but was extremely let down to find no other flowers in the backyard for inspiration. As a last resort, I turned to the stuff growing on top of the green onions, which I think look too weird to even be classified as weeds. They actually seem kind of exotic or maybe my brain is getting fuzzy because I need sleep. I spent a whole second looking for my glasses before I realized that I was wearing them. In the end, the green onion stalks are edible, and that's what really matters. In the afternoon, I went outside to ponder the plant some more. I took a step out of the door, and the first things I noticed were the sun and its warmth, the sky and how blue it is, the plants and how they seem to glow with green life, and then the little bugs and how they crawl around. It was a perfect sunny day (despite the bugs). The distant noise made it seem like I was a part of the world again. Without a mask covering my nose and mouth, even the air I breathed seemed fresher and sweeter. I felt free. I felt alive. The previous paragraph was all in my head. When I went out, it was completely dark already, which is probably why I couldn't find proper flowers. I did notice that the moon, stars, and night sky were beautiful. This was probably because of the contrast between the dark, black sky and the bright, white moon and stars. There were also the vague shapes that seemed to be both in the stars as constellations and in the moon as shadowy figures. There was the silence. However, I only registered the colors and shapes in my unconscious mind. Consciously, I just noticed that the night was beautiful and spent a few seconds marveling at it. Then, I noticed the silence. Next, I was too busy running around with a phone as a makeshift flashlight trying to find flowers, so I didn't notice anything abstract. Finally, I got too cold and didn't want to get bitten by mosquitoes, so I made do with the green onions and went back into my cozy home. It hadn't seemed that cozy and welcoming for a long time because it had slowly faded into the background, as is easy for literal background to do. I guess it can be better to think of home as a safe place and destination so that you're happy to be there instead of indifferent because it's just the background. A lot of stories probably end with this sentence, so here it is: I was glad to be home. Side note: Part of this story is sarcastic. I only wish to make hope more meaningful by showing that anyone, even if they're feeling angry or cynical, can find that hope.
Year eleven is biding your time, playing Kelly Pool and stuck on the problem of the square root of minus one, which sounds more like poetry than maths. I get poetry but not maths pretending to be poetry. And not the teacher looking at me like it's funny that the boy who thinks he can do anything is defeated by something. Enough of this. It's time to catch the freezing midnight train to Coolabah. We make it to the station via a cigarette-smoked taxi. Here comes the rolling, banging contraption, nicknamed the Midnight Mole. I make my way to a dog box with a foot-warmer! So love these huge steel encased cylinders—full of acid and sand. I wrap my whole body around it to keep warm. A banging, shunting night of sleep passes. A station sign says Coolabah. It's just me with no brothers this time. Dad takes ages. It's hot. There he is: in his new Toyota smiling under that big hat. ‘Had some good rain,' he says, throwing my gear in the back with petrol drums. ‘Uh huh,' I say, looking around at red dust. We get into a cabin that's layered in red dust and smelling of gun oil. The ABC news is up loud and we're hammering our way along the red gravel road home. I doze off and wake just as Dad stops and gets out. ‘Look at this,' he says, examining some fresh green shoots. ‘Reckon we might have more rain on the way. ‘Reckon so,' I say. Another forty minutes and we're home: passing hundreds of acres of green paradise, kangaroos and sheep. A piece of livestock bliss that astonishes my sleepy sixteen year old eyes. As usual, while we've been at school, Dad—the magician—has conjured beautiful farm land out of thick masses of box and mulga scrub. Audacity is what this is. Mostly what I'm remembering is drought, dead sheep and misery. And then this grand plan: Dad bulldozing trees, windrows of dead timber and a green paradise. And field days with crowds of admiring block-battlers from all over. Dad parks the ute in the big shed. Days of stock work and fencing pass. Bruises and cuts accumulate. Clothes are torn. The lovely smell of red dust is in everything. A quiet day comes. I'm on a step in the shaded side of the house, facing the dam and the big pepper trees. This is a good think-time spot. The old black tom cat brushes past me. A thousand thoughts rush by. Just can't seem to get my head around it. Mum's gone. And look at this place! The filthy kitchen, the greasy dining room. The grime. Those old wheelchair marks against the door frames. This monster of a world seems to have a thing against us. Dad walks past and—in his friendly way—wants to know what's on my mind. I ignore him. He keeps walking. I'm sulking: rivetted on that red and green expanse and beyond that, the shadowy secrets of the box flats and the mulga: my painkillers. More days pass. We talk of plans for our other block, up north. ‘We've got some mustering to do at Bre,' Dad says, smiling. ‘Okay,' I say. The block at Bre is the one that's saving us. The ute is loaded with bikes and, of course, rifles. There's always plenty of pigs there. We make the hundred and sixty kay trip and set up camp. The stars come out. The fire is lit, the steak cooked. Such juicy steak! And we talk. Do we ever talk. The sulk fades. This big, fat beast called the world isn't so bad after all. If you have a go. Just jump in. Nothing lives long. Go hard as you can before it dies too. Even if you get killed in the process. Might as well. What else is there? Dad falls asleep. I'm by the fire, taking it all in. Especially the shadows and the way they play with the moon as she touches the skin of the trees, and those dead-pan, dead-still leaves. This my real home—here in the dark with the silver. Kookaburras announce a new day and away we go. Me on my bright green motorbike with a rifle and a pig that's going hard through deep grass. This is more like it. Bang! We've hit something. Up in the air, high over handle bars. The bike falling away. Crunch! Headfirst at a low angle. Face ploughing through dirt like a cow-catcher. Everything blanks out. I wake up. I'm alive! Tasting dirt and blood. Lying here for a bit under a hot blue sky, waiting. It's okay. Just need to find water, to wash the mouth out. Time for school. Back on the train. Feeling silly with this great scabbed face that's scrubbed the surface of the planet. What will they all think? And now, we jump decades into the present to a room and a chair by a fire: me, the old man growing old, together with his wife. Astonished at how Dad won my heart. And how he, the moon and Bre turned the shadows into a wonder. And even now, over there on the wall of this room: a photo full of shadows. A woman in a long dress (my son's wife) walking through a glade of trees like some great queen. And three children running and laughing: one of them—caught in mid-flight—her feet off the ground, like a faery floating on air.
I was on my way to my new apartment one day when I saw her. I wouldn't have noticed her in the swarming crowd if she didn't extend her hands out to me when I passed her. I didn't stop at first and she got busy on other people. But I went back and gave her a quarter. Her face lighted up. She looked at me with her wrinkled lips parted into a big smile revealing her yellow crooked teeth. It was only a quarter, I thought. When I saw her again, she was sitting on a newspaper spread out on the pavement eating rice from a paper bag. All her belongings which included a bottle of water, a paper plate, a bowl with some coins in it and dirty rags were gathered around her. She didn't look up when I passed. She was too busy gobbling up her meal. I stopped in front of her and handed her a bag of apples. She beamed. She gazed at me with an open mouth and then took the apples. The hopelessness in her eyes made a little space for joy. She said a prayer and then asked God to bless me. Her crinkled hands were thanking me. She watched me walk back all the way with a huge smile on her creased face. In the evening, she was munching on the apples. I guess she liked them. Weeks went by and I gave her a quarter every day. She was always so happy to see me, even at times I didn't have anything to give her. Others like her never stayed in the same place but she could always be found under the old sturdy tree by the parking lot. In rains, drenched from head to toe, she found shelter under a plastic sheet. I wondered what was her story? Where did she come from? Had her life always been like this? Or was it because some misfortune had befallen her and left her homeless? Did she have any family? Where were they? Or was she all alone in the world? A month before when I was leaving for work, she was still at her old spot but something was different. She was not in her usual stained loose old clothes anymore, rather she was wearing a neat dress that was not shredded from anywhere. Instead of the newspaper, there was a basket full of ripe and fresh apples spread out on a mat in front of her. She waved when she saw me. The concrete cracks on her face looked a bit loosened. She offered me some apples. When I tried to pay her, she refused. Apparently, she had saved up all my quarters and started her own business. She did not want my money anymore but told me that I can take as much apples as I wanted from her and whenever I wanted them.
"Hope's Walk" I am here alone to the dark of a desolate beaten path, often traveled and packed by the weary tread of wayward soles. The path of heartbreak, the path of shame, a path so broken not cared to name. Time a wisp to lapse, pain no stranger to drive me through memories looked upon as wasted endeavors. Memories that do bring joy that fades to strife, and comfort that bleeds into remorse. I'm shut out and shut off from the world around me, portals closed and electric off, I peer through the darkness to shout against a storm of internal anguish. My soul a blackened lit candle suffering a tumultuous gale of doubt and ridicule. I strive to yield not to the hurricane of depression derived from what is and what may be. I struggle to lift myself from the well of the fallen to set my mind free, free from the torment, from the turbulent turmoil that festers within me. Faith, I keep, in me, my spirit, my light within. I will walk this weight weathered path that stretches before me, ever optimistic that my second chance will find me... or I... find my second chance. (Image courtesy of www.freepik.com)
I simmered with humiliation as Gram insisted on taking challah home from the diner. “Don't make that face. It's a shanda to waste like that mamaleh.” I didn't understand, but I do now. Wrinkly tomatoes become sauce and shriveled blueberries become compote. Gushy strawberries and sparkling wine remnants are summer sangria. Mealy apples and hard raisins become cinnamon-sugar oatmeal bars. Vegetables and fruit are sculpted to remove evidence of decay. You can freeze anything. Fresh spinach, as is. Onions, chopped. Grapes on the precipice of death, make for an amazing late-night snack. Greek yogurt in ice cube trays can use it to make ice-cold creamy smoothies. The pandemic exploded my anxiety. I was alone a lot and food was exorbitant, and mostly delivered, and with so many people suffering, it felt gratuitous to not be appreciative. I exercised freedom in the only way I knew how. Nourishment. I played with textures and flavors. I mixed hot and cold, sweet and salty. Diced bell pepper, mango chunks, tuna, and red pepper flakes. Smoked turkey, white-fleshed juicy peaches, bread and butter pickles. Oatmeal with almond milk and crunchy peanut butter and a soft egg, oozy yellow core dripping. I started with old chipped Pyrex and then, I upgraded. Vintage. An amber-colored etched bowl. I loved the way the sunlight played off its golden hue. I adored its weight. Delicate, iridescent plates, reflecting rainbows on my ashen-stained kitchen table. Miniature blush tinted bowls with the most feminine scalloped edges. Obsession with kitschy cocktail napkins. I hunted. I negotiated. I needed appropriate tools. I often worked through lunch, hunched over my laptop. Occasionally, I had the bandwidth and ability to chat with a friend or family. Whatever my company, I escaped into my creations. I savored. I cherished. During a hyper-stressful time, I allowed myself these few moments of joy. I couldn't explain this to anyone. How could I share that I found a portal into a right-side-up world through my culinary exploration? It felt shallow. Self-serving. Irresponsible. People had lost everything, and I had found respite in candied pecans and vegan mayonnaise doctored with sriracha and chunky sea salt. And so, the garbage pail salad was born. I affectionately titled my mid-day meals as such because nothing in my refrigerator or freezer ended up in the trash. I didn't have a savior complex, I don't, I just had a deep, burning desire to be mindful. Ironically, my meals mildly resembled salads but were mostly not. I felt comfort in knowing that each meal involved some sort of greens and so, the salad descriptor was reasonable. I am an equal opportunist when it comes to greens. Spinach, romaine, butter lettuce, broccoli slaw, shaved Brussel sprouts. I might not fight you for that last bunch of kale, but I'll definitely throw dibs on a meaty bunch of tangy arugula. It feels important to declare this point, to explain that greens were always a part of it. I had become the mistress of food conservation. The queen of combinations. The arbiter of complex taste arrangements. If I went astray, and I occasionally did, I bent my taste buds accordingly. Alexa, what's the quickest way to caramelize fruit? Alexa, what's the best way to store an avocado? Alexa, what's the safest way to defrost cooked turkey meatballs? I've always liked food. I've always been a live to eat rather than an eat to live kind of gal, but this was different. My garbage pail salads became my canvas. My clay. They became an act of self-love during a time when little else was feasible. I couldn't just peel open a yogurt anymore and throw in some granola. That felt rude. Many months have passed, and the world is still weird. There is some modicum of stilted socialization. There are fearless trips to the supermarket. Trader Joes! One can indulge in fine dining. I have every reason to abandon the garbage pail salads, but I don't. I hold steadfast to this tradition, this ritual that I've created and cultivated. I noticed very recently the acronym for my habit. GPS. This makes sense. When it was easy to get lost in the world, I found this odd but most perfect way to get myself back to me. Every time. I drew my own map. A large piece of parchment, meticulously folded, with handwritten scrawl across every inch. Fresh corn cut off the cob, stringy bits included for posterity. Crispy sugar snap peas with the ends still affixed. Lime sprinkled cashews. Hummus with everything seasoning in abundance. Pistachio ice cream drizzled with honey and coated in toasted coconut. A path paved with invention and patience and bravery. Also, humor and a lot of love. That's the thing about being human. Sometimes the world falls apart and we need to find ourselves through therapy or travel or relationships. And then, sometimes, just sometimes, we find ourselves in the most magical and real way, at the bottom of a pre-loved and oft-neglected crystal bowl.
In 2016 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease - Celiac. At age 18, the concept that pizza, bread, and pasta, would now essentially kill me, seemed to be the craziest thought in the world. Five years later as the world lives in constant fear/avoidance of a pandemic, that fear of my own "new normal," is long past. Instead, I believe it prepared me for a Covid-19 in ways I never could have imagined. _____ You never expect to be diagnosed with a life-changing illness, but you expect it far less in your first month of college. It was not easy. I spent months trying to understand how to avoid this thing called, 'gluten,' and navigating how much cross-contamination I could handle (hint: the answer was, 'none.') Overtime, across the months that followed, I became accustomed to checking every ingredient-list, cross-examining every waiter/chef, and carrying along with me an emergency supply of 'safe foods.' I began to move from a stance of uncertainty at the unknown to one of survival and coping. I slowly moved from fear, to hope, navigating a "new normal." When you can get sick from literally everything around you (sometimes even through the air you breathe) life takes on a new meaning. Sick-days were inevitable, and asking clarifying questions about what sorts of accommodations I'd find at the other end of a journey, became commonplace in my world. I became very accustomed to saying "no" to stay safe, and avoiding anything that may have touched the dreaded gluten. In short, I lived life with something deadly all around me, and I learned to cope again, live again, and even enjoy life again. In the process, I learned to trust. To trust myself, to do what I had to, to keep my body safe. To trust that this 'new normal,' was not the end of the world. To trust that His plan was, and is, greater than mine. What I didn't realize, was that this was all to prepare me. This photo is from my "last minute of normal," on a missions trip, in March of 2020. What I mean, really, is my last moment of what was already MY "new normal." The last moment of my life where my own gluten-related fears were the worst part of my world. The last moment of my life when I would feel guilty for wearing a mask if there were gluten around me that could make me sick, or where I would have to apologize for missing class due to being so sick. The last time I would have to watch as I seemed to be the only one who noticed if someone didn't wash their hands between touching something else, and making my food. The last time I would ever wonder if anyone else knew how terrifying it can be to know that there is literally something that could kill you, all around you. Most of all, it was the last time I would ever consider Celiac to be the disease that changed my way of life the most. I've been thinking a lot, lately, about just how much Celiac prepared me for Covid-19. See, Celiac was a reminder for me of so many things. It reminded me that life is short and should be lived to the fullest. It was a reminder that I am not invincible, and that I cannot rest on my strength, alone. It was what reminded me the most of the promise of 2 Corinthians 12:9: "But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me." During 2020, and now 2021, many of us have been reminded of the truth of that verse. It is easy to just dwell on the after of Covid-19 - on how incredibly difficult the past two years have been for so many. However, I think there is something beautiful about what God taught me through Celiac, and in that last-minute before... Psalm 46 states, “There is a River whose streams make glad the city of God.” In the midst of a passage about desolation, the roaring of the waters and quaking of the earth, wars, and a reminder that God is our help in times of trouble, there is that short sweet reminder. There is a River. There is gladness. There is a city of God. I see that in this photo. I think of what it was like to sit there, by the water, and soak in God's presence on land dedicated to doing the work of the Lord. God used those moments “before,” (in my 'during') as a time to quiet my heart and mind, reminding me that, in the midst of a season where I'd have to remember that He is our refuge and strength, and ever-present help in trouble, there is, also, gladness, peace like a river, and the city of God. There...is...hope. Celiac reminded me to find strength through Christ, alone. Covid-19 reminded me that strength is found only in His presence. Someday, each of us will find we are in the last minute of our time on earth - our own "normals." What will we each be doing when that moment comes? What would be our final legacy? My prayer is that “in His presence” would be my answer. Will it also be yours?
I can never forget the sadness and the eerie feeling the date March 13, 2020 has brought upon my country. Bombardment of Announcements from Schools and Universities about the cancellation of classes filled my Facebook newsfeed. I stumbled upon news after news about how Covid-19 has entered the Philippines. It was a shock to everyone. With people of different ages and backgrounds and economic status severely affected, it was disheartening. Everything and everyone was all over the place. The lungs were damaged. From front liners demanding a rest due to the burnout they were experiencing trying to save patients here and there to blue collared jobs slowly dismissing and firing their employees due to insufficient funds, it was evident that it wasn't just the economy that was put into lockdown. The mind, soul and body of each and everyone was in a lockdown and light still can't be seen despite being almost at the end of the tunnel. Families were grieving because death came knocking on their loved-ones quite early than expected. It wasn't just the Covid-19 patients who were struggling to breathe. It was the whole world who were struggling to breathe. The lungs were crushed. The air seemed too condensed because of the blood, tears and sweat everyone had to undergo. How can the lungs breath air again? Despite the ear-deafening silence and frustrating response of the government, everyone continued to fight no matter how difficult the battles were. The lungs forcibly tried catching its breath. It grasped for air as if there was no tomorrow like an athlete on a race track trying to reach the finish line first. Each and everyone surely had a struggle they must overcome. There were the Covid-19 patients who fought for their lives. Front liners who had to sacrifice being with their family to take care of the patients. People who fought loneliness due to the lack of human to human interaction. Students who were brave enough to continue this schoolyear despite the toll it would impose to their mental health. Everyone fought. Everyone tried. The lungs kept fighting. It never stopped fighting. But the thing about Covid-19 is that, even if its existence took millions of lives away from all over the world, it didn't take away our humanity. In fact, a lot of people made use of their lockdown time to figure something from themselves may it be a talent or a hobby or even a relationship. Patients who took their time to study about their health and rethink their lifestyles. The lungs are slowly recovering. Covid-19 gave birth to many possibilities in spite of its nature of taking away. Quarantine produced time everyone was asking for. Quarantine made us realize that even if hope is slim and suffering was inevitable, our cries can turn into breakthroughs. Our lungs-the world's lungs has regained its strength.
Covid-19 has been born.... The Pandemic has killed more than millions to even count.... A virus born to kill.... And never seems to yield.... The media makes a big deal out of the new virus that's sweeping through the world like wildfire. It reminds me of Robert Frost, saying something like "The news is where you find it." - and by this saying I mean things in life are not always as they seem. For example, butterflies are seemingly delicate and fragile, yet they go through a pretty tortuous, matted metamorphosis from being caterpillars to becoming butterflies. And just like how hard it is for them to be reborn as another species; sometimes we all need extra motivation to make changes in our lives which may seem difficult at the time but end up leading us to better places before we know it. I mean, it still does take a lot of getting used to but come on, I bet even when this whole nightmare was over, people will definitely have a hard time not putting on their masks and keeping their distance. It's like this has become our new "normal life"... If you had asked me a year before this global pandemic: that the whole world would deal with the same fear, isolation and the uncertainty of what their next day was going to bring, and you don't even known if you were going to make it to the next day alive and healthy. I might have laughed out pearls of tears, saying that's impossible, and was just as unlikely as going to Jupiter and having a picnic party with aliens shaped like cotton candy and eat with their nose! But I was so wrong... When life decides to play its games, no one and I mean not a single soul out there can stop it. We can prevent it -- but there are costs to them. In the morning, I wake up feeling like a robot programmed to perform the same tasks. It's like we're prisoners, but instead of walls and jail railings it's buildings and cars encircling us on all sides. We're caged in our homes for our own protection. The hours of sunlight were controlled to give us just enough light but never in combination with daytime or nighttime so as not to confuse or unsettle us during this time of transition. I felt that the animals in captivity at the zoo must feel similarly cramped and confused. My anxiety increased every day until I started demanding my rights and they let me out into a world that was foreign to me where everything appeared new and only a few people walked around resembling zombies looking rather bewildered as I did, unable to process how abruptly our lives had changed... It starts to feel like you are in a different planet where danger lurks every corner of the surface. Even if it's the size of Mount Everest or as small as a bacteria. Our world will never truly be safe from harms hands, but if we try to be good people, perhaps our world would at-least be kinder and more considerate about how others would feel and be impacted. And this year going to in-person school again was more than I could handle. Everyone's faces were decorated with masks, which locked away our expressions and emotions. Those who I had considered friends now don't even seem to recognize me. It felt really upsetting when I saw someone familiar on my first day back, and a smile would warm my face underneath my protective shield. I would wave and call their name, but in return I only got a sharp glance and the cold shoulder. And I felt broken... Anyway apart from school-- My family and I had been debating about getting the vaccine for months. We have gotten it last month but it was being of being pressured not of choice. We think the vaccine might have been the 'so-called hero' but in reality it had always been that little spark in everyone's heart. The one that told us we won't give up, and if we fall, we will rise once more and give it all we got. The hope and love and compassion has helped us to overcome this strenuous past months that led up to a year. But still hatred and violence flourishes, and the media often adding fuel to them. If we can't work together even when we had each other. How will we ever overcome this wave of disaster? They say count the blessings not the curses. We have all learned a new thing, and some a lot. One can find inspiration from the natural world. Like I had mentioned before, just as a caterpillar must go through metamorphosis to become a butterfly or a butterfly must go through metamorphosis to become a chrysalis, we all have to undergo our own individual transformations in order to mature. As much as there are challenges awaiting in this process and things that may happen unexpectedly along the way, everything is worth it if you emerge with strength, confidence and wisdom. We must fly high like a butterfly and dream about big goals, spreading joy and happiness and just try to show someone you care about them and they aren't alone. And when the time is right, the breeze will pick you up and take you to the skies...
COVID-19... The word that strikes fear and nausea in one's mind and burrows a dark void in the soul. Also known as the 'pandemic', the one that has separated families, kindled anger and the fear of the unknown, and has taken away so many lives. When I look through my bedroom window, I lay my eyes on the road that hasn't listened laughter for a while, there were still the street-lamps, persistently sparkling into the night. It was as in the event that they essentially adore to share that golden gleam, regardless of if anybody appreciates it. The street itself has that loved and homey appearance, the activity of decades having passed over it. This was a road where genuine life had been, the turning of skipping ropes and screeches of children had grown up each year, once ridden four-wheelers to starting collage. Dogs barking in the distance, and party music beating within the corner house with swarms of cars stopped along the sidewalks with no gap in between them. But now… all I listen is silence, pure stillness within the air, as in case the world has paused for a minute to breathe. I would let my eyes and heart touch each place I have a chance to reach out to and investigate. Back in early 2020, I had thought maybe this abandonment and nightmare was a brief thing, just a passing cloud, and the bliss and enthusiasm would return to its formal shape. But I had been wrong. Quarantine life sometimes suffocates me. I never really liked to stay in one place, and yearned to go outside any time I got the opportunity. I started to isolate myself, and to which I feel like I've fallen into a deep pit where I might never rise up again. It feels like a dark place without any source of lumination. It's like sitting in a room at night by yourself and feeling like this is the forever of life. It's like being in middle of a thousand people but feeling invisible to each one of them. It's like strolling on a path without any directions, without any idea where it might lead you. But then something just suddenly inside me something clicked… like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that finally fits. It felt like a spark of aspiration. I have started to read eBooks since COVID-19 has hit because all the libraries have closed, and while I read, I think about how I myself could start writing. It felt like a tough mountain to climb with so many ditches and steep cliffs, but with a positive persona I just might be able to overcome almost anything. I cradle my Macbook in my hands, feeling it warm up between the cracks of my fingers. I turn it on, as the dim bluish yellow light floods the monotone room. I wrap my arms around myself and ponder over what my first word might be. I start to write mere words into a blank document. I can feel the words just dancing in my head like ballerinas. My eyes fly to each word I type, and even when my fingers felt sore, the words didn't stop flowing. Some days aren't the same. I sometimes get writer's block but a few days later I'm back at it, flying from one key to another, smiling when I get something right, and frowning when some words don't seem to fit it. It almost became part of me; of my life more better put. COVID-19 has taught me so much. How to be a better person. How to survive isolation and remaining sandwiched between four walls. To realize that the world is independent as much as we all need each other during times of need. To find that inner passion hidden inside me. And… To know that I'm not alone… we all face troubles in life… and it's our duty to help each other out. To make someone smile. To discover new friends through writing. To make video calls with friends around the globe who I might have never met if I hadn't been in quarantine. COVID-19 might have made our life terrible but... I embraced it simply as a hurdle that life throws just to make me prepared for what might be coming. I got to spend so much time with my family, that sometimes I can't wait to get back to school! But it was still great to help with the chores, and seeing everyone cuddle up on the sofa with a bowl of aromatic popcorn and a spine-tingling movie. I also got to visit my cousins who I haven't seen for 2 years, and it was always fun to see more people. I also understand that when we take simple things for granted, we realize their importance when we don't have them. Some may think this is maybe just a killing wave... a virus. But it's just a life lesson we all need to learn, accept and move on. I believe no one is ever going to forget this for years to come and it teaches us to be kind, giving and most of all... be happy with what you have. You could say we all have a story to tell our future generation about how we stayed strong during these difficult times and managed to see it pass us, with us holding a cup of victory. We will never get though this with hatred and violence but kindness and compassion.
You see the title. You're thinking, it's about 2020. That's been the worst year for everyone. No, not me. My worst year was 2019. One sunny day in 2018, I got off the school bus. I walked through the double doors of my middle school. It was my normal routine. I would go to English class, I would sit next to my friends, it would be...normal. I was walking up the stairs when one of my friends ran up next to me. I'd known her since kindergarten, we'd grown distant ever since we got to a new school. She tapped my shoulder, she said to me, "Hey, did you hear? Maddie got diagnosed with cancer." Maddie was one of my best friend's little sisters. I'd known her since she was 6, maybe even younger. This news was a punch in my gut. Not even that. It was like getting hit by a train. As all children do, I still had hope. That's what keeps us going. Hope. It's why kids can recover more easily from disease and injury than adults can. We believe. My naïve mind was not able to comprehend that, a little more than a year later, I would be at her funeral. I saw her go from a bubbly child who loved to play soccer and practice gymnastics to a kid who rarely left her room. I went to their house for a project once. I remember seeing this girl sitting at the kitchen island doing her homework. I remember thinking, what happened? I believe this was also the moment in which any meager belief I had in God finally disappeared. How could any higher being do this to a child? Give a child rhabdomyosarcoma? An extremely rare disease, I saw it destroy her. We had to leave school early for the funeral. We, being our small class of 5. We left our seats in Spanish, we walked down the stairs, we left the building with our bags around our shoulders, and got in our parents' cars. I vowed to myself not to cry. I hadn't seen her in awhile. We hadn't been best friends in the first place. The church was only a mile or so down the road from our school. Purple balloons floated above the sign. Purple was her favorite color. I was wearing my dress with a white top and a black skirt. I couldn't fit into it now if I tried. We walked inside. A long line around the space, winding around the pews. And at the front, an open coffin. Gods, I even cry now thinking about it. I saw so many people I recognized, some whom I hadn't even realized knew her. I saw my school principal. I saw my teachers from elementary school. A few assorted people from school whom I hadn't realized would leave for this. The line grew shorter, I got closer to the front of the church. And then I was at the front. Staring down at her pale face. Holding a teddy bear. And I broke my promise. I didn't deserve to be crying, either. I hadn't lost a sister, a daughter, a cousin, a grandchild. I wish emotions worked that way. My star sign is the crab. I've always been too emotional for my own good. I kneeled down in front of the coffin. And when I had finished my words to her, I continued in the line. I hugged her dad. I hugged her mom. I hugged my best friend. And I kneeled down to hug her little sister. And as if my emotions hadn't already gotten the better of me, I had to sit back down and listen to the eulogy. Her father had given it. Her mom had tried, but couldn't go on. He talked about seeing her golden ponytail flying in the wind as she played soccer. That broke me down even more. Maybe it was selfish of me to wish it would end already. It almost definitely was. She was only eleven. She was in fifth grade. And her life was cut decades short. Maybe that was the beginning, the first seedling planted of my greatest fear: death itself. Life is too short. Spend time with your family and your friends. We don't have time to waste. Ever since that moment, I've wondered. When will my time come? I can't bear to die young. I certainly can't bear to die alone, or in a hospital bed with a breathing tube and an Ecmo machine. I will never forget my first funeral. My first time knowing someone one minute, and seeing them dead the next. I cherish life, at least, I try to. I say "I love you" to my parents whenever they leave the house, or whenever I hang up the phone on them, because I can't handle them dying without those being my last words to them. The worst year of my life was the year that a part of me died, along with Maddie.
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