If is the largest word in the English language, it reveals the smallness of our faith and the depth of our desires.
“We’re so safe in everything we do, hiding behind headphones and cellphones. Stealing glances on the subway, sticking to what we know, who we know.
God do we stick to who we know! Maybe if we didn’t, we’d realise we’re all a little lonely out here, each of us a little cold.”
There was an old ill man lying on the hospital bed, reflecting on his life. He shed a tear, only realising that he didn’t live a full life. His time had come.
As a young man, a square four cornered world was all he knew that existed. It comforted him, made him feel safe. He heard others excitedly talk of ‘the outside world’, and of great people and bizarre things that made no sense to him.
He tried to avoid the noise, turned away when others talked of unfamiliar things and focused on what he knew—working.
He didn’t want to let go of what he knew because he was mostly scared to lose physical things. Losing these things meant more to him than gaining what he didn’t—in life experience, possessions, in purpose and self-fulfillment.
Order—he wanted order and control of his square four-cornered world and feared having nothing. But absolute control is rare in anyone, even for the most determined.
He lived like this for years, allowing his work to dictate a linear life.
He worked and worked, rarely stopping to enjoy what he worked for. The enjoyment was seeing his account balance increase.
His family encouraged him to live, to spend, and to “see the world”.
“I’ll save the money for another day” he’d say.
“I’ll use it for another time”
“I can’t afford to use it right now”
“I need it for my future”
When he first lost his job he feared that he’d lose the money he saved. He counted each dollar spent and cried when he couldn’t make that money again.
“I need a job”
So a job he searched for. Months passed and nothing. It maddened him when there was no reply or at the very least a rejection letter. His rage quickly turned to self-disparagement and paranoia.
He found work but was displeased. Unwillingly he worked. But his cash flow increased, that’s what mattered. He soon lost motivation and his job. This cycle would happen 8 more times in his life, and he only questioned his happiness when he was hospitalised for a heart attack.
By then he lost some of his friends and withdrew himself from his family. He became selfish and his relationship with money choked him. He was frugal and couldn’t justify spending his money unless absolutely necessary. He constantly calculated and recalculated numbers in his head. He always thought, “What do I have left after I’ve lost it?”
If he had a phobia, losing money would be his.
On the table next to his hospital bed was an old note. It was a bucket list he had written in his twenties. Few of what was listed had anything to do with money, except the expense attached to trying a new life experience (e.g. skydiving, travelling, hot-air ballooning). Even fewer of these were ticked off and achieved. Too often he struggled with expense and experience—he never defeated it.
When he died he was a millionaire. This is the note he left his family:
They say it’s never too late, but maybe for me it was. I can’t believe my foolishness—I pushed you all away from me just so I could see myself become rich. I let the money beat me, I let it define me, I let myself love it, and it killed me. Now I truly have nothing.
I always believed that I wouldn’t get caught up in materialism, because that’s what I was taught, that’s what we valued as a family—that no physical possession would ever make you truly happy. Yet I tested that fine line of happiness and greed countlessly, and realised too late that physical possessions only made me hungrier, and crave that temporary euphoric feeling. I was chasing something that was never going to be chased.
I apologise to you all for my selfishness and bitterness, for disappointing you and hurting you. I apologise for being blind and failing to see that I already had everything from all of you—your love, your support (through the good and bad), your undying faith in me and your constant presence. I failed to give you the same or appreciate the blessings I already had.
My only wish is that I am no longer associated with the money. Do what you like with, but don’t let it affect you the way it did me. None of you deserve that! I wish you all true happiness and a life of fulfilment. Count your blessings, not your dollars.
I love you all so dearly,
His family counted the dollars and fought over it for months. When they couldn’t make a definite decision between themselves, they donated the money to charity instead.
Count your blessings, not your dollars.
We assume before we know.
We worry before knowing why.
We sell before we create.
We over-prepare before we try.
We don’t believe anymore, we just see.
We can’t focus because we just want to be.
We’re narcissists, do you see why?
Because there’s few who fight for ‘you’, and more who live for ‘I’.
If there’s anything in this world we depend on, it’s the kind of relationships we form with people. Every human relationship—past, present or future impacts us, whether that’s dramatically or slightly.
The different people we meet become a chapter of our lives. They can influence you; sometimes change you, or just reassure you of who you are.
You were friends with that girl who you sat next to in your boring tute class. Hung out a couple of times, D&M’ed, then never really heard from her after.
You knew each other in that moment, but you don’t know them now that moment’s passed. It just wasn’t meant to be.
You realise that a lot of people walk in and out of your life like that, merely a blip on the radar. Sometimes the hardest part is finally realising, because you thought it would last.
But even that’s a good thing, you learn things that you wouldn’t have known until you met them, whether that’s about the world, humanity or that hip coffee place where the barista knows you.
Sometimes time only strengthens that relationship—an old friend reconnects with you, or a stable friendship becomes closer. On the other hand time can have the opposite effect. It just distances you, until you see them years later on a peak hour train, awkwardly pretending not to recognise you behind their iPod.
Relationships can form out of pure circumstance—you were at a party and the person next to you starts talking, or you know someone because you work with them.
But we all seek and depend on relationships with people that provide constance, quality, commonality and mutuality. The people who fulfil these make your life happier—your family, good friends, your partner etc. Or maybe you just haven’t met them yet.
So slide in and out of ‘acquaintships’ and Facebook numbers but surround yourself in the kind of relationships that have noteworthy value.
Because we all need someone to ride out this crazy life with!
There comes a point where you look at yourself in the mirror and don’t recognise who and what you see. It’s not necessarily your hair, the new clothes or the tan.
It’s your whole identity.
You used to roll out of bed every morning and feel so sure that you found your purpose, that you had it all figured out—that things were ‘right’.
Then a moment of uncertainty presents itself. It poses you a question. But it’s not important for you now, because you’ve seen similar manifestations. It’s just another ‘phase’ you think.
But the question traps you. Naturally you’re scared because you’re not familiar to changing. You don’t want to take the risk of actualising that change in your life. You’d rather continue being a circle trying to fit into a triangle.
And you wonder what if that change doesn’t work out? What if things screw up? How much will I lose?
But what if you don’t try to answer that bugging question?
Yes, there’s potentially more stability and normalcy if you continue with what you’re familiar with. But there’s also less understanding of who you are.
Too easily we’ve been caught up in what we think is right, rather than being caught up in what we know deep down inside is right, for ourselves.
That, along with being who you are is your purpose. It is your identity.
Let’s stop from our lives a moment, take a step back and sink ourselves into the people and the world around us.
Take a look at that 20 something man. He’s seated by the window on the 8.17am train to work. At least 6 foot tall, slim, dressed in a navy suit. He’s thumbing through the hundreds of photos on his iphone with his earphones plugged in. You can’t tell now but he broke up with his boyfriend of two years last night. He was cheated on. He’d rather not go to work today but wants to keep his mind busy.
Hop off the train and standing outside a busy cafe is a blonde 17 year-old girl. She’s in her torn denim shorts, black top, boots, wayfarers and headphones. She’s holding a cheap cigarette in one hand, takeaway latte in the other. At age eleven she taught herself French, Mandarin and Latin. Her parents make her attend an all girl Catholic school—apparently “religion will do her some good”. Today she’s wagging school to meet her boyfriend. But where is he?
There’s a woman who just entered the same cafe. Early 30s. Brunette, shoulder length bob, 5”8 and beautiful. She carries a Julia Roberts like grace. She’s in her usual black blouse and pencil skirt. But there’s something different about her. It’s not that she changed her coffee order from a cappuccino to a green tea, or that she tipped the barista who’s been hitting on her for who knows how long. It’s the new jewel on her ring finger. She’s excitedly on the phone to her best friend, telling her how a-mazing her fiancé’s proposal was. She can’t believe this is all really happening.
Fast forward the day a few hours.
A young girl and boy—brother and sister, are looking on outside from the front window of the house. Their small palms and warm breath are fogging up the inside of the window. Their mother is angered at her husband in question; she just threw an empty wine bottle at his car. The children are crying. Did they just see their father arrive from work, load the boot of his car, hesitate then drive off for good?
Down the street a teenage boy is nervously knocking on the door of a girl she really likes. They’re going on a date. His heart is racing and his hands are fiddly. But when she finally opens the door smiling, he relaxes. He smiles back at her. Things will be ok. He just needs to be himself. Of course he doesn’t know it now, but there’ll be more of that nervous butterfly feeling in years to come.
From a corner a dishevelled unshaven man weakly waves down the teenage couple for spare change. But they’re too caught up in each other to care about him. No-one would recognise that he was the CEO of his once large business, until he let his gambling addiction get the better of him. You can tell through his faded blue eyes that he’s close to giving up. His wife drew the line when he pawned his wedding ring. Now he sleeps on cold cardboard instead of a four poster bed with feather stuffed pillows.
A woman in her late twenties sympathises for him and tosses five dollars in his cap. She has a PhD in oncology. A year ago she started her own cancer research institution. But she deserves people who understand her. At 22 she was diagnosed with manic depression. Some people ask her why she didn’t just study her mental illness instead. But knowing too much about it will drive her insane. Sometimes her unexplainable mood swings keep her awake for days. When it’s really bad her suicidal tendencies can kick in. Today she’s feeling ‘normal’. Maybe it’s because she decided to reconsider her love-hate relationship with her medication.
In a restaurant across the street a man has just blown out the ‘85’ candle on his cake. He’s sharing dinner with his family. They’re flashing cameras in awkward positions and clinking glasses to celebrate. The happy wrinkles on this 85-year-old’s face tell the hundreds of stories he’s lived through.
But step further from what you see around you. Understand that you live in a shared world, with billions of people and billions of stories.
Are you open to making their stories a part of yours?
Or are you too busy writing yours to read others?
Look beyond her surface and you’ll understand her. Take off her sunglasses that she hoods her life from, and I promise you her eyes will tell you everything. See past her unnatural smile and you’ll see the natural her. Talk to her, really talk to her, and you’ll learn something new than if you hadn’t said a thing. Give her a second chance, because everyone deserves a second chance. Don’t tell her she’s beautiful, show her she’s beautiful—she’ll believe you more that way.
She’s insecure that she’s not good enough for you, but you know she’s perfect for you. She’s impervious to what you see in her; lend her your eyes and your point of view. She’s been hurt before, but don’t mistake her hurt for distrust in you—she needs you to guide her. She’s declared love to another, but wants to declare it to you. She won’t stop thinking about you, but wants to know that you can’t stop thinking about her too. She likes it when you make her smile, but adores it when you make her laugh.
And when you know her, love her with your assuring hands always by her side.
Gently hold her from behind with your hands around her waist, your head resting on her shoulder. Carefully take a strand of her hair and tuck it behind her ear. Rest your hand on her cheek and kiss her slowly. Hold her hands and thread your fingers through hers.Thumb her tears away when she cries on your shoulder. Hug her warmly when she least expects it. Hold a pen and write her a note signed with your name because you can. Take her left hand and slide a ring on her finger because you mean it when you say you love her.
Lift her children above you with your wiser hands and make airplane noises as they smile heartily. Let her hold you tightly when she doesn’t know all the answers. Offer her your hand in a dance because you know she can still have fun. Smooth her knee when she’s sitting next to you because you know she’s anxious. Straighten her back with your hand when her walking stick isn’t enough. Pat her forehead with a cloth when she’s feeling sick. Carry her to bed and let her hold back your tears and choked words because you know this might be it.
Take her hand one last time and remember through that ring how you saw past her surface and understood her. How you looked into her eyes and saw past her unnatural smile. How you really talked to her and gave her a second chance. How you made her feel beautiful.
This is how you knew her.
Promise her through that ring that your heart is still hers, regardless. Promise her that your assuring hands are still by her side.
This is how you’ll always love her.
But there’s a photo of you she can’t burn and forget; where she watched you lay in some undignified box, dressed like Cinderella. It’s a contrast to the melancholic voices of organ pipes and sobs.
I guess this is what we’re supposed to call ‘the end’; an unexpected yet expected human truth.
She lights her favourite photo of you in your red ball gown, behind her glazed drunk eyes and abrupt laughter, fooling herself; because by then she’s reached her threshold of pain—she’s surpassed numbness.
But she will always deny that you’re not here.
You’re. Not. Here.
She has to sound out the words to remind herself that ‘not’ will always be “used to express the negative of other words”, the negative of alive.
Just like that, with one swift desperate movement; weapon in your hand.
She’ll never really understand why you robbed yourself, because you robbed everyone around you too.
You’ll always be someone’s child, someone’s sibling, someone’s friend; but more than that you’ll be someone’s smile, someone’s reason to live, someone’s comfort.
You’re worth more than you think.
She didn’t even get to tell you…
But in front of her lays your weapon, its steeliness is cold in her hand. She doesn’t know why she kept it.
Yet when she glints your weapon to her face, not even the faintest reflection emerges.
In her mind she’s already gone, her perceptions too distorted. She’s stationary in the background world around her, in her red ball gown.
Remember how she’d smile at us all reassuringly? Did you fall for it too?
Now all that’s left are ticking clocks in silent rooms reminding us how finite a life really is.
The clunky steam train headed past the border left that afternoon.
He clambered down onto the train tracks and walked past the end of the platform; lawns of stubbled grass on either side of the track. He sat, knees up to his chin; where the warm chunks of rock gathered between the parallel metal lines.
The young boy picked up a rock and studied it for a moment, then threw it. He picked another and threw it further than the last.
Between each throw he looked to the distance, towards the mirage—a place beyond the border. The possibilities of this outlined silhouette excited him.
In his mind’s eye he sketched a blueprint, erased the noise, coloured the whites and re-drafted it with perfect detail.
He conceived his city, his dream. And this dream became his truth.
“There’s not much to see there kid. Trust me.”
A tall unwelcome shadow blocked the sun from where the boy sat. It was a fit middle-aged American man in his grey suit and beige hat; right hand in his pocket, left on a fat Cuban cigar.
Blankly the boy considered this man for a moment, his reverie broken. As the boy understood this man he was already gone, only his laugh hung in the air like his thick cigar smoke.
You see when a dream becomes your truth, sometimes reality doesn’t exist. And the only truth the boy knew was now seemingly… untrue.
But there had to be more. Or was the man right?
Are our dreams a mirage? Is there ‘not much too see’ on the other side?
Or are we too concerned with people in grey suits puffing on Cuban cigars?
He stepped off the train; the gravel dusting his shoes. Sure enough it was ‘nothing’ to the man, but it was a blank canvas of ideas to the boy.
He laughed to himself. There was more dreaming to be done, more mirages to demystify.