let’s talk about death

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Content Warning: I talk about some pretty morbid topics, not because I necessarily want to but because it’s become important to process some recent events.

Last week, after an already incredibly emotional series of events, as I was waiting to board my plane to London, I found out that Eric Judge, my fraternity brother and someone I always respected and looked up to had passed away. If you have read my post about pain, then you’ll know exactly what my body and mind went through at that point. I had to find a space, sit down and try to calm myself before I got onto the plane, because I had lost someone I cared about and the realization that I would never see them again hit me. This time last year, my paternal grandfather passed away of old age, and I remember feeling a reeling sense of shock. Now, my body knew what death of a close one was and immediately reacted emotionally.

Eric was one of the first people I met in my fraternity as I began my education process and immediately I knew he would play an important role in my understanding of Lambda Chi Alpha. Yes, he was known as the frequent caps player and the teacher of all things beer related, but he was also a brother in the most expansive form of the word. He would celebrate everyone who joined the organization, and he would shut down anyone who spoke poorly of another brother without regard for their dignity. It’s weird to speak praises about those who have passed only after they left, especially knowing that he was in Chicago and I only spent one other occasion with him before his incident. I wish I could have told him all of this – how I respected him and how my time in the US was made that much more special because of him. I will remember him dearly. Eric, this is my way of processing your death. I tried speaking to friends and family, but it helped little knowing that I had lost someone I cared for. My friends mean the world to me and it’s horrible that the cosmos wouldn’t give us any more times to celebrate our lives.

Eric’s death made me all the more resilient in speaking my truth to others. I am no longer ashamed of being honest and spontaneous in my expression to those I care about. It’s naive for me to claim that as we get older, death will be a more commonplace occurrence because so will marriage, birth and all kinds of other celebration. I am entering a portion of my life where the innocence of living is eroding and I have to choose how I interpret the things that happen around me.

There is a part two to this post, one that I feel I must write although I’m not sure how to write it. As if Eric’s death wasn’t enough to dampen my mood, as I landed in London I saw on the news that there was another terrorist incident in northern London. The cities I plan to visit – Berlin, Brussels, Paris – are also no longer strangers to acts of terrorism. I am literally living in a time and place where the concept of chaos is close and familiar and I have to adapt to the fact that I have to choose daily to live my best possible life. I have to also choose more than ever to be cautious, alert and smart about things around me.

But there’s this weird what-if question that remains. What if I do die? I know, I know – the human psyche is afraid of the question. It’s one of my biggest fears in life – my mortality. It’s very much why I continue to do the legacy work that I do. I feel like I should start thinking about it though, not to give the enemy any upper-hand in mental victory, but to give it the intellectual space it needs to provide insight. I immediately thought of my family and my close friends, the ones who actually do care for me the same way I cared about Eric and maybe even more. I immediately thought of the same pain crashing through them and felt awful myself. I want my life to speak for itself, my values and my character to continue beyond my existence. I want my conversations to have lasting impacts on the people I had them with. I want people to keep believing in a community that supports itself and is resilient.

Ironically, even considering the impact of my death made me so much more committed to fighting to live and to fight the forces that threaten my or any of my loved ones’ existences. There’s so much more work that needs to be done on this planet and no one should be able to steal that opportunity from us. I also recognize that the issue is so complex because of the politics involved. Terrorism only seems real because it happens in cities with people of actual power, but attacks happen in other parts of the world including Syria and Iraq, by countries like the US and UK. People all over the world are dying because it seems easy to detonate a bomb. Death is becoming a stranger topic until it hits someone close.

That has to stop. This desensitization to death has to stop. We need to feel emotionally connected to every aspect of the human condition and that means recognizing that it’s completely wrong that people have to die for acts they were never responsible for. I am carrying and will continue to carry this pain. I have a few ideas of how to move towards addressing these problems and am making efforts towards them, but I hope everyone who reads this recognizes they have that power to change their perspective on death in the world.

this is a perspective shift.

make a difference.

understanding invariants

Maturity hurts. It’s a weapon you carry in your inventory, embellished with the pains of your past, that adds to its ferocity in battle. When you carry it, you become slower, but therefore more calculated. You become tired easily, but also calmer. The stronger your sword becomes, the less you have to use it. One day then, you’ll have to leave the sword, and the person who carries it from you will have to learn to handle its weight.

I’ve been called ‘mature’ since I was young, without ever understanding what that meant. I’d nod my head, and say ‘Thank you, sir’ . I never thought I was ever mature though. I was curious – that was probably the better word for me. ‘Curiosity killed the Cat’ right? Well, I let myself face death, danger and disgrace many times in my life.

My curiosity was derived from a dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that was fed by my environment’s challenge to always be better. It was initially academic, and once I discovered I had a handle on studying, I wanted to deepen my knowledge of more fields. I wanted to be a better adventurer, a better leader, a better social butterfly. As I entered into these fields, I faced my first big hurdle. Rejection. People told me I couldn’t do what I wanted to do – that I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t fit for it. I was distraught , disgraced even. Then I gained my first taste of maturity. My parents and friends presented me the sword. ‘You’re growing up’ , they said. ‘You’ll need this’. I wiped the blood of my wounds on it, and felt its strength. I walked forward, and claimed my place. People won’t define who I am, I said, and did what I knew was right.

The problem with carrying a sword as powerful as maturity though, is that you think you’re prepared for any battle. I walked into the military, thinking I could handle this without a stretch. I was brought down immediately. Hubris and physical toil hit me hard. I remember so many times being at the end of my limits, and having to dig deeper. I had to remember my family back home, so that I could continue on my mission. I had to remember my platoon mates had families too, so that I could help them build their shellscrapes. I had to remember my own mission to be better, and that helped me get a Gold in my fitness test. People yelled in my ear : ‘Is this how you want to go down, Rovik?’ , and I realised my sword was definitely in need of more embellishing. I wiped the blood of my wounds on it, and felt its strength. I became a better leader, and a better soldier. I saw my friends almost die, from all kinds of ailments and physical conditions, and realised how truly sacred life is, not to be meddled with.  I was going to take life and security a lot more seriously.

The moment when you decide to start teaching others how to wield a sword is an interesting one. I had the benefit of mentors since I was 18; people who invested in me as a person and gave me personalised advice. When I started The Hidden Good, I was put in a position to train people and envision the same future I was seeing. More than that, I wanted them to add to it – to share it with me. I realised I was building an army then. An army of mature, wise and passionate individuals who knew how to wield their own swords and carry on the good fight. While teaching them, I too learnt how to better wield my own sword. I had to be confident in my lessons, and uphold them , bettering myself as I went on.

Perhaps the most forgotten aspect of swords is that while they’re heavily offensive, they play defensive roles as well – protecting you from the vile forces of others. I’ve let down my sword too many times. I trusted people too many times or I was tired of the weight of the sword and wanted to forget it, lapsing into immaturity. I had to remember to carry my sword again, and I would be reminded why it was so heavy in the first place.

Why is this topic important now? Because I’m realising how fleeting almost anything I do in college can be. My maturity, in its limited capacity, has reminded me that there is no point stressing or worrying about aspects that honestly would be forgotten in a few years. I’m reminded to invest in things that last – relationships, lives and futures. Love more, live more, smile more.

And in all of it, carry your sword with pride.

geronimo.

how one man inspired me to live

It’s been a while, but I feel like I’m finally ready to comment on the series of events that have just passed in Singapore. Founding Father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew passed away last weekend. I was sitting in Nashville, Tennessee when I read the news on Facebook. It was 0300 in Singapore, it was only 1400 for me here. I was one of the first wave to read the news. I remember sitting , and being taken aback. There was grief and then there was confusion.

I didn’t understand why I felt so emotionally connected to the death of someone I had never met before , yet supposedly was so familiar with. I remember telling Derrick, another Singaporean, who was travelling with me about the news and seeing his reaction of shock as well. We sat down for a while and let it sink in. We then continued to help share the news to bring closure to the worry that was spread in the past few weeks with regards to LKY’s condition.

I was always a fan of this man. It started when I was 17 and read Men in White, the book documenting the formation of the People’s Action Party and it’s evolution over the years. I didn’t become a PAP supporter after reading the book, and neither do I have any necessary political affiliation, but I definitely became a LKY admirer. I admired the ferociousness with which he had decided to take on life and the sense of purpose that drove him to make Singapore a country to be proud of. I valued his ability to be grandiose and a technocrat, while still basing his decisions on the simple value of humanity that every Singaporean deserved.

Perhaps the most fascinating and inspirational series of events for me was the simple decision to form a party back in Singapore. LKY had made friends and had conducted debates in the UK where he was studying and after much dialogue and some time in between , brought together a solid group of people, some of whom he had had such debates with, to run for government. These debates involved fantastical ideas of reforming governance and heartfelt hopes for the nation. He had essentially created a “mafia” of leaders to shake up Singapore. With that vision and clout, he essentially road-mapped the country to where he could pass it  on successfully.

That to me was a powerful idea. One man had the ability to understand how to bring people together towards an optimal vision and leverage off that combined vitality to shape a whole nation.

As the week went on, I was slightly afraid of the consequences. I  had started The Hidden Good to get Singaporeans to rediscover the pride in being Singaporean. I loved our unique state and wanted us to collectively protect our culture, heritage and future. We ought to be the only ones to path our future, no one else. But as much as that came from an innate belief in the good in Singaporeans, it was also a hope to persuade Singaporeans to put away their cynicisms and decide to believe in hope instead. Throughout the process of building the organisation in the past 2 years, I have been overwhelming confirmed of the fact that Singaporeans are an amazing bunch of people and have slowly put away their cynicisms. Yet, the desire to criticise without the desire to improve still existed in circles. People still wanted to throw hate where it would not do any good. This was a perfect opportunity for the country to come together or be split apart.

We would have achieved 50 years of history, come this National Day. 50 years isn’t just a story of what we had achieved, but an invitation to dream of what our country can be. We had built a nation, we had shaped history. But what’s next? That was the challenge I wanted to solve as a part of this generation.

LKY’s legacy is in this nation. It’s in our  existence as a community, racially and religiously diverse coexisting . It’s in our economy, robust and immensely strategic, not overly privy to the whims of harmful agents. It’s in our safety, in our ability to understand how to leverage any possible asset to keep our asses covered. It’s also in our values, pragmatism and excellence shining throughout wherever we go.

That legacy lives on, but it need not be everlasting. It’s the start, but  it  need not be the end. LKY was not known for talking about compassion, but it did not mean he didn’t value compassion. He wasn’t remembered for talking about community driven initiatives , but that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary for our future. We are given, right now, the ability to decide how LKY’s passing affects us.

The truth is, Singapore surprised me. Singapore went out of the way to mourn not just the death of a great man, but to remember the journey we had made as a nation. I feel some of it came out of the fact that we just realised how much we had taken for granted the life we had in front of us. For someone to give so much of his life, almost Messianicly even, to help a nation, reminded us that we had rarely appreciated that sacrifice truly.  We came out in flocks, and as I watched from the US, I was overwhelmed. We then collectively shared our experiences. We connected via social media and the news. We spoke to one another, and had discussions. We reflected and appreciated our successes and shortcomings.  We then cared for one another. We gave those who needed a shoulder to cry on, a sturdy support. We gave out water and snacks to the queues that needed them , purely out of the desire to support.

We were starting to show our priorities as a nation moving forward. It was extremely unfortunate that our Founding Father could not witness the nation celebrate its 50th birthday. I remember when I witnessed The Hidden Good’s first anniversary, the immense happiness I felt at how far the  organisation had come. I cannot imagine the sense of joy he could have felt. Yet, I believe it gives us the opportunity to  use this 50th birthday to decide where we want to go. It’s morbidly uncanny, that his passing happens this year even, almost signifying the change of times.

LKY inspired me to want to take on the challenge of building a society. He wasn’t the only person, but definitely a major player in the series of events that made me drop my old lifestyle, and passionately chase dreams and visions. I only hope that with his passing, we don’t forget that same tenacity can be adopted by us too.

We are his legacy. Through our survival and our excellence, he lives on. We take the good , learn from the bad, and work on the rest.  I sympathise greatly with PM Lee Hsien Loong, who not only was able to witness his father build a nation, but also see him have to pass.  I could not imagine that for any son to his father, let alone someone as esteemed as him. But I also imagine him to be well comforted by the crowds of people who share in mourning with him. It is comforting to know that a person you loved will not be forgotten easily.

Here we are now. We see the road built, and are given the tools to pave the path forward. I cannot wait to be a part of this future. Every moment from now onwards decides what values we adopt, what culture we nurture and what society we shape. Actively decide to do good, to give back to society and to add value to those around.

I continue mourning the passing of LKY, and invite anyone who hasn’t reflected on this series of events, to truly do so and be impressed by the lengths our fellow countrymen go to celebrate our nationhood.

We’ve come a long way, and have a long way to go. But we’re here now , one people definitely united.

geronimo.

save me

i feel like i’ve seen everything, she said.

have you touched the sky?

have you felt the scales of a shark?

have you experienced the rush of near death when you jump off a cliff?

have you met people who know nothing about you?

no, she said. but i wish to experience them.

 

well, till then – we haven’t seen anything.

i’ve danced with death; i’ve fought in a war; i’ve seen despair met with hope

i’ve known illness and gratitude – but at the end of the day i know i’m lacking in the world. to believe that we learn everything here is to be foolish.

my last kiss

the most distinctive trait of a hospital is its smell. there’s a powerful clinical odour that demands noticing anytime someone enters the hospital, almost as if it was declaring that the area was different from the rest of the land. the stench of sanitation as it was, was what killed the boy.

Frank had plenty of visitors in his ward. His mother was his rock, always sitting besides him as much as she could. It was the moments she went off to rest that he saw the rest of those who cared for him. From his father, to his elder sister, to finally his friends ; everyone was there for Frank, hoping and praying that he would recover.

Frank was 15. And he was about to die. He had an ailment, and he was told that it was incurable – that much he had understood.

Frank noticed his companions in the ward change day after day.

“They’ve gone to a better place,” the nurse would always say when she came back.

He knew what that meant. He’d be going there soon.

Time passed slowly , and Frank was just waiting to pass on sooner.

“I don’t want to make you all sad anymore,” he would tell his mom.

“Shut up and sleep,” the mom would curtly reply.

Yet the day time passed the slowest was the day Lacy walked in. She didn’t even really walk in. It was a lot more of a saunter. But Frank noticed every step.

She sat on the chair next to his bed, and smiled at him.

“Hey, you” she said, the smile still on her face.

“H…H…Hello… Lacy” Frank replied.

Frank’s heart skipped a few beats everytime he say Lacy. She was a simple girl next door, with a heart of gold.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, nervously.

“I didn’t see you around school the past few weeks so I asked Mrs Rita about you. She told me what happened. Are you okay?” she said in reply.

“It’s difficult, but I’m getting there. It’s nice to see you Lacy, it really is” he said.

“It sucks that you’re here though. You’re only 15” Lacy noted.

“I know. But I make the best of it.” Frank went.

“Oh how? ” Lacy asked in genuine surprise.

Frank stared back. That was meant to be an empty statement – something you say casually in response.

“Hmm… I’m not really sure actually… ” he commented.

Lacy reached out for his hand and grabbed it.

“Do you remember the last time we were together?” she asked him.

He did. Lacy was a year older than him, but she had caught his eye from the moment he saw her. He had approached her awkwardly and had just started chatting. But that was all that was needed. They clicked immediately after that.

“I promised to take you out” Frank said, his smile disappearing.

“You did. And I waited for you” she said quickly back.

“I wish I could Lacy. I really do.” he said.

“I like you Frank. I really do.” she firmed her grip on his hand.

Frank’s face glowed. Here was Lacy, one of the most popular girls in the school declaring her affection for a sickly boy. She must really like him.

“I like you too Lacy.” he said, and kissed her hand.

“I’m gonna be here as much as I can. What are some of the things that you’ve always wanted to do , let’s plan to do them!” Lacy said excitedly.

“There’s not many actually. Everytime I wanted to do something, I’ve always ended up being told it’s too dangerous.

Lacy let go of his hand.

“And so you didn’t even try? There’s so much out there. Now you’re in a hospital and you can never try them!”

Frank stared back silently. She was right. Painfully right. He edged slowly away from her.

Lacy reached for his hand again.

“Hey… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. There’s still stuff you can do. Tell me, what’s one thing you’ve never done yet”

Frank blushed. He was in the perfect moment and he didn’t want to spoil it. But she was right. Carpe Diem. Seize the Day.

“I’ve always wanted to have my first kiss.” he said, boldly.

Lacy smiled, and firmed her grip on his hand.

” We can do that ” she teased. “Do you know how to kiss?”

Frank shook his head. He was really a blurhead when it came to these things . Regret was not something he wanted to die with.

“It’s okay . I’ll teach you” Lacy reached in.

“You tilt your head, and move in halfway. I’ll move in too, and you place your lips on my…”

It was a magical moment. Their lips were locked, pulsating furiously as they fed off each others energy.

They broke the kiss and stared at each other for a while, before breaking into laughter.

“How was that?” Frank asked. “Do I pass?”

“We have some work to do, but that’s definitely not going to be your last kiss.” she said cheekily.

Frank looked down . It may very well be.

“Lacy, I have to tell you something.” he said. This time, he reached out for her hand.

“They’re moving me to the operating theatre tomorrow. I may become slightly less able after my operation. I’m glad you came today. I’m glad I got this shot to be with you.” he said, slightly tearing.

Lacy’s eyes welled up.

“That’s not fair. I just found out. We just started…”

Frank held her hand stronger.

“I know. But you gave me my last kiss. And that’s enough. I wish I had a lot more to do, but this one chance I took was worth it.”

Lacy stared back at him affectionately.

“That wasn’t your last kiss” she said. “Move in”

i think best when i’m drunk

It’s all over now

so let me write 10 random things here –  because they float in my mind like incessant rats pecking at the edges of my sanity. these things are part of a whole, these things all make me feel cold.

  1. this is an exciting process. my mind goes numb again, i sleep late and wake up early. i skip breakfast, i drink to tone down the ringing noise, i let my ideas just run off onto paper and then into reality. i’ve had such highs before, and I know i must run the race to make best use of them. Yet, the day will come – when I die once again. everything will have a game-end – and this time I will be the cost.
  2. partnerships are tricky business. there’s a line you have to draw between being a friend, and being in business. but honesty has always been our key- and I’m a clinical liar with anyone else.so let’s keep this torch lighted- let’s not let metaphorical illusions get in our way. let’s fight , because I’m a warrior at heart.
  3. my body is dying. the heat load i’ve taken upon myself , together with the fitness regime I must endure to get back to shape and the emotional stability I must portray have taken its toll. geronimo, i sleep and wake up in a wink – and my body carries the pain for me.
  4. i’m glad my life is become so fulfilling. i’ve met new people (celebrities, experts, activists) and as I stand at this point – I know I’ve become 10x better than the person I was 3 months ago. God has shown favour on me. This is high intensity- high impact.
  5. Where I used to be afraid I was losing friends to time and travel, I’ve begun to treasure the few that I care about.  To me , I’m utterly loyal to those who believe in me and vengeful on those who try me. It’s not Christian , yes. Moving forward, I think I’m pretty happy with the posse that I’ve managed to discover, and am glad for the nights out I have with these individuals.
  6. Where the heart used to yearn for a relationship and a romance with someone , now lies a romance with life and God. Yes, I still go for random dates and meet with old flames but I’m happy that I’ve become satisfied with a pace that is God-driven and confident in a future that will unravel on itself. Boy, am I looking forward to college also.
  7. my music playlist is a lot more interesting now. as is my hidden finds. catalogue. as is my good reads. catalogue. as is my business ideas. sheet that i carry in my wallet. lists are great. they help me keep track of the fascinating things I encounter along the way.
  8. leadership is a lot more dynamic now. am i a good leader? I hope to be. I hope to inspire, to overcome, to take charge. yet, more importantly I want to groom, I want to unleash potential, I want to explode people to new heights. Mentoring is an investment – it’s not as easy as speaking words. Having over 90 people looking to you in total for a say or instruction is a hefty thought for someone who hasn’t entered university or work yet.
  9. I’m a purveyor of good things – talent, awards and skills. When I ORD , i don’t just hope to take a picture of all that I’ve collected in my time here in army – but a picture of the lessons I’ve learnt and the abilities I’ve gained. I don’t know how to capture it.
  10. i will have a hotel in my name called the rovik. this is my ambition speaking. and it’s proven to be a force not to be reckoned with.

there, my mind is a lot clearer now. i can stop drinking now.

to the rest – check out our facebook page here http://facebook.com/thehiddengood  – LIKE AND SHARE PEOPLE. I DEPEND ON YOU.

to the sleepers in the day,

rovik.

geronimo.