Sunday, November 04, 2007

Reflections on Remembering

It's been an unusual week, to say the least. Three exams in what is my first university finals, submitting my photos for the PAUM Photography Competition, having a lot of suppers along the way, and waking up yesterday morning feeling very weak.

Felt extremely thirsty after breakfast yesterday (I had bread with garlic spread, but the thirst was beyond what garlic normally causes), and extremely hungry in the later part of the day. Shivered at night but there was no fever at all.

Many theories, but I think it could be some form of food poisoning.

I say it's been an unusual week because despite the flurry of activities, it has been a relatively calm week compared to many of the weeks this semester, and because I have been reminded of many things that have happened. It's been a week full of trips to many significant moments in the past.

I'm still trying to make sense of it all, so maybe the best thing I can do here is to describe my encounters with these various figures and images of the past, in order of appearance in the past week:

* * * * *


I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.

When How mentioned U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' seemingly out of the blue early in the week, I had no idea just how much the song would haunt me over the next few days. And not just the song, but music in general. Jee Haw's (classical) guitar was a real blessing, and by the end of the week I was able to pluck an arpeggio accompaniment to the songs 'Sanctuary' and 'O Mighty Cross'.

Back home, I searched for and found the live U2 performance with the New Voices of Freedom Choir in the Madison Square Gardens back in 1987. The gospel-style, mostly a cappella duet was probably the highlight of the Joshua Tree Tour back then.

But the reason why this song stirred so deeply in me is probably because it was one of the first U2 songs that actually grew on me a good number of years back. I was in Form Five then, and The Joshua Tree was my second U2 album after All That You Can't Leave Behind.

I could identify with the song in its sense of searching and not quite getting there yet. That year was a whirlwind of a year and I remember there were a lot of things--mostly spiritual--I was grappling with. Lately, echoes of 2004 have been emerging, and again I find myself at a place where I'm questioning God--not about His existence or theology or my faith, but about an apparent decrease in my desire to do what is right.

At this point in time those lines quoted above really mean something; I don't know if I'm speaking with the tongue of angels or holding the hand of a devil. Sometimes I can't tell the difference, and sometimes even if I can, I don't care.

* * * * *

Mr Kali

Now, if you walk past your friend quickly, can you shake hands and say hello? No. Likewise, molecules at higher temperatures, which have higher kinetic energy, cannot form bonds. Because they move too fast.

But if you walk slowly, can you shake hands? Yes, and you can say hello and form... BONDS!

Mr Kali said this sometime in July 2005, and because I liked it I put it up on this blog on 23 July. Recently Fiona included it in the header of the revamped BF Classmates blog. The words seemed awfully familiar and when I did a search on my blog, I discovered it was indeed the exact same quote.

I think none of us realised back then just how powerful the imagery of bonds would be for us as a class, and just how important Mr Kali would be in the formation of the BF identity. I think we owe a lot to our eccentric teachers who more often than not gave us not only food for thought, but food for talk. Oh, to recall all those episodes of imitating them!

And then there is that word: slow. Mr Kali was absolutely right there. Everyone knows life is hectic, and everyone knows--at least deep inside--that slowing life down is the key to solving most of its problems. But it's easier said than done. I'm glad those words have not been lost, that these little symbols and residues from our schooldays continue to journey with us.

The significance of all this sees further explanation further on in this post.

* * * * *


On another issue, there is something that is currently perplexing me but there is no need to dish out details of it here. I have only this to say: We have all received the same teachings and heard the same things every week, together; yet how is it that we have differing views and stands and become so convicted in them that it divides??!!

I can identify, at least in part, with what Melody wrote on 16 October on her blog. But the meaning these words had for me lies not in my identification with them but with how they express the passage of time.

Received the same teachings and heard the same things... differing views and stands... convicted... divides...

These words were like flickers and glimmers of the past, my past. Which is in every probability nothing at all like what she meant in writing those words. But that is not what I am concerned with here. The words awoke something real in me, something true about where I've come from, something living about the experience of these last four years.

I'm glad that people can still be together in division, and that some of the people closest to me are those who are, ironically, most divided with me. Yes, divided with me, not against me.

* * * * *

T.S. Eliot

The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence... [it] is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.


Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we
know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know.

These are lines from what is said to be Eliot's most famous essay, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' which I learnt about (from Agha Shahid Ali's introduction to Eliot in the Poetry Speaks collection), found and printed yesterday. Eliot was always a strong proponent of tradition, and here he explains his understanding of 'tradition' and why it is so essential especially for the modern poet.

If I understand Eliot correctly, what he means is that a poet ought to be connected with the past in such a way that the past continues living in him. I think this is what he means because it is the effect of his poems. Eliot's poetry is very much like a reincarnation of poets and writers and dreamers and sages and prophets past; they live on in his verse.

And this stirs something in me because I have come to learn that it is the way in which I write. Maybe it's because I started with Eliot; he was an early influence on my writing. Well, actually Max Lucado was, but it was only with Eliot that my writing shifted into forward gear.

I have learnt so much from some of these great writers of time past and I've come to realise that little good writing can come from those who write only in the present, and by 'good' I mean thoughtful and able to stand the test of time. It shall serve as a continual reminder even in my writing, for I truly believe I shall cease to be able to write anything of value the day I forget this.

* * * * *

Teeming and Yen

Talking to them last night was therapeutic, to say the least.

Teeming requested I call her; I requested to talk to Yen. Both experiences were truly what I needed.

I came to realise that I'm not easily content with a challenge-less life. Sometimes this is good, but in moments when I have to persevere with something familiar, it is bad. Like now, when the only challenge on the horizon is doing something possibly illegal.

If Teeming helped me identify the source of my struggle, Yen helped clarify the cause of it.

It would seem as if I'm in the holiday mood a little too early. Blame it on the two-week study break during which we started planning for the d'NA Trip in December, and during which I met up several times with Li-Shia. And then, sooner than we knew, the exams were upon us. And now there's a two-week break before my next paper (actually the next is on 12 November, but it's an open-response paper without anything to actually study).

All these so-called 'breaks' in between kind of confuse me. And the last time I felt like this was around this time back in 2004, when the SPM was split in two because of the Hari Raya holidays. It's like I'm caught in a time warp, as if the holidays have begun when they actually haven't... and it's hard to get rid of the holiday effect.

* * * * *

Frederick Buechner

... that still room within us all where the past lives on as part of the present,... The name of the room is Remember--the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.

... weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulles us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.

... remember those moments in our own lives when with only the dullest understanding but with the sharpest longing we have glimpsed that Christ's kind of life is the only life that matters and that all other kinds of life are riddled with death;... that what he has done, he will continue to do, that what he has begun in us and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition.

Decided to read Buechner's essay 'A Room Called Remember' at breakfast this morning, and use it as a springboard into today's Bible meditation. I was led to King David... and a clearer understanding of the significance of this week.

I think the whole thing about remembering Mr Kali and the crazy times in Form Six makes sense in light of what Buechner wrote. We are able to move on because we remember; the embers of the past ignite the fire of the present. And maybe in a similar way, this is the effect the poets of the past had on Eliot.

I think God is telling me to remember. Not just to recall experiences from the past, but to relive the journey of the last few years.

(Coincidentally, Tien sms-ed these words as part of a reply to me a few days ago: "Remember God.")

* * * * *

King David

They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before God...

That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the LORD:

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.

Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,...

--1 Chronicles 16:7-12 (NIV)

Look to the Lord and his strength,
Seek his face always,
Remember the wonders he has done,
His miracles,
And the judgements he pronounced.

As Buechner writes, "It is the Lord, it is God, who has been with us through all our days and years whether we knew it or not, he sings--with us in our best moments and in our worst moments, to heal us with his wonders, to wound us healingly with his judgments, to bless us in hidden ways though more often than not we had forgotten his name."

* * * * *

d'NA 2004

Over and above all these reflections, it feels as if 2004 is reliving itself all over again. I remember, crystal clear, how I felt about d'NA that year. I was in the midst of preparing for (and later sitting) the SPM, and at the same time in the midst of reading through The Message (and blogging about it with the online streamlined version of U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb playing in the background; it wasn't released yet).

I remember looking forward to d'NA because it would be a time when I could wrestle with God and lie in his presence atop the monkey bars.

I think I'm looking forward to the d'NA Trip this December for similar--if not the same--reasons. I've made more trips this year than any other year in my life: Malacca, Singapore, Mersing, Penang, Sabah, Genting Highlands, Jasin, Fraser's Hill. But the year isn't over yet and I believe something awaits me up in Cameron Highlands that I have not found in any of the other places.

Do I sound delusional? Mystical, even?

d'NA 2004 was such an amazing experience, and in many ways I would say the best of the three stages.

Maybe it's because of the person with whom I shared a room.
Maybe it's because we were neither too young to feel odd nor too old to feel too familiar.
Maybe it's because my photography took off from there.
Maybe it's because of the morning petal shower on the last day.
Maybe it's because we said things then that we'd laugh at now.

Did I find what I was looking for at camp that year?

Will I find what I am looking for this year?

It's these moments when I know God is calling me into a world larger than any I have ever known, which are the most troublesome. What can I imagine this larger world to be?

I can only draw parallels to similar experiences in the past, and even that is often not enough. All I know is that even until today I have been unable to solve the mystery of the petal shower. I don't know why or how it happened.

Above all I still don't really know what it meant. There was joy and peace, but is that all there was? I can accept 'yes' or 'no' for an answer. But for now, I don't even know which it is.

I can only believe that God knows what he's doing.

No comments: