How you define love is similar to how you define life. It’s how you see the world and how you react to whatever life throws at you. You have the option of holding on to life or letting go. Whichever you choose tells a little bit of your values, and what you hold dear.
A lot of things won’t make sense, and you don’t know why things happen. At first you think you know what you’re doing, but later on you realize that you totally had no idea on how to go on. And so you experiment. But you’re not 100% sure if things will work your way or not. And then you learn from mistakes.
Be prepared to feel baffled, disappointed, frustrated, ecstatic, intrigued, impressed, and a whole lot more of crazy emotions. Life wasn’t meant to be always easy. Sometimes we have to experience pain and grief to be able to fully grasp the idea of happiness, however fleeting it might be.
There’s bound to be conflicts between people, because each person’s definition of life is different. How you make use of your time and resources throughout your lifetime speaks loudly of what you want from it. Of course, we may be cautious occasionally, especially when we’re comparing our investments and dividends/returns. No one wants to be on the losing side, unless you’re the type of person who is content with giving rather than taking.
Love is not always the happily-ever-after that we think it is. We would surely have moments of disappointments, anger, irritation, and whole lot more different (and negative) emotions when we love a person. But these negative feelings sometimes stem from our own wishes and expectations from life. When we begin to weave dreams and wishes for what we thought was love, and then things don’t happen the way we envisioned it to be, that’s when we feel disappointments. Disappointments because something or someone did not live up to a certain standards. Then we start to beat ourselves up emotionally, wondering what just happened, what we did wrong, what should we do next. Or we find someone to blame for these disappointments.
I’d seen a romantic-comedy movie recently about a guy who was deemed “unloveable” because of his problematic personality. Portrayed to be someone who wanted to prove to his family that he was a capable leader for the company, the guy is mean and extremely strict towards his employees, and sometimes doesn’t realize how much he has hurt other people’s feelings. Later in the story, the guy is revealed to be the illegitimate youngest son of the company owner, and the reason that he is so driven to succeed is because he just wanted to be accepted by his half-siblings. The guy wanted to please his family, thinking that was the only way to “deserve” their love. And when the project he was handling fell through, he distanced himself from the girl who loves him (even though he had developed feelings for her). He told her to have pity on herself, because she will only get tired of hoping, wishing, and waiting for the love to be returned. As the guy said it, I couldn’t help but realize that his words mainly referred to the guy’s hope of being accepted by his father’s family. He was seeking for an affirmation of love, and upon finding none, decided to give up altogether.
I think experiencing negative emotions is inevitable for everyone; there’s no such thing as a “perfect” life. But how we react to the struggles and sufferings we face is what we can control. We have the choice to approach these negative emotions in either an optimistic or pessimistic manner. When we treat these struggles in a positive manner, we can think of them as a challenge meant to make us stronger. It is when we find ourselves vulnerable that we learn to discover our limitations and work with that. Sometimes we just need to find our motivation to live—something to keep us going when things get tough. For the guy in the movie, his motivation was to get his family to accept him. But when he made the decision to give up the fight (for his job and employees), he also lost the one person who accepted and loved him despite being “unloveable.”
So whenever you think that you don’t “deserve” love, think about the people you know (family, friends, colleagues, even remote acquaintances). There’s bound to be at least one who care about you and what you do. If things get tough, remember that it’s much better to continue the fight (even if it’s hard) than to give up so easily, because you’ll never know when things will suddenly look up and get better. When you give up, you lose your opportunity to change things.
If there’s anything that is more valuable than money that you can offer to the people/things you love, it would be time. Once time is spent, you can’t get it back. Great artists honed their skills by spending tremendous amount of time on their craft. Day in, day out, they would make something everyday, or try out a new technique until they get the hang of it. And when they’ve mastered the technique, they would make more products in order to stretch the limits of their skill and knowledge. As for people, we spend time with family and friends to strengthen our bond with them. We talk and hang out with them to know more about their daily lives, and from there we maintain the emotional connection. The more time we spend with them, the more we value our relationships.
Spending time doing things you love, whether it’s a simple task like reading, cooking, or cleaning the house, is very important—not only for others, but also for yourself. It is when you’ve accepted that you like doing a certain routine, activity, or people, that you realize what kind of person you are. You also discover your values, ideals, and priorities. After you’ve spent time with someone or something, memories will be what you will mostly remember, not precisely the amount of time you spent. Yes, occasionally you would remember how long you’ve talked on the phone with your family, but the fact that you did something with someone/something you love is what really matters. In relationships, other people will remember you for what good (or bad) you’ve done for them, no matter how small a gesture it is.
It’s also when you spend time with things or people you love that you feel a little bit of happiness, even momentarily. We may not feel happy all day every single day, but I think it’s also good to do something for yourself that makes you happy—whether it’s chatting with high school friends you haven’t talked to for months, reading a fiction novel in two hours, or having dinner and movie date with the occasionally annoying siblings. Even doing things that may not necessarily cause immediate happiness (i.e. doing house chores or going to work)—we should also do it. It gives us a sense of accomplishment, and keeps us going everyday. It’s a reminder that we’re alive, and we still have a purpose in this world.
Indeed, I believe that we’re living in the world for a certain purpose—it’s just that we don’t know that exact purpose. So we live on… struggling with life, living with family and friends, coping with work stress…. it definitely has something to do with finding out the purpose of our life.
For the past week, I’ve heard of many stories of how people remembered my grandmother. And it got me thinking about why and how that happens, but the only thing I could think of was that people remember different things about a single person, object, or place because of how they interacted with them. With my grandmother’s case, people had only positive things to say about her, and I learned so many things about her that I never knew before.
As I was growing up, my dad and one of my aunts (姑姑) would occasionally tell me stories of the hardships they went through when they were younger, as well as stories of how their mother struggled to support all her children. My siblings and I were not particularly close with our grandmother, so we seldom had the opportunity to talk about her history (and my being an introvert didn’t help). Little did we know that our grandmother could not read nor write, as she didn’t have the opportunity to go to school and study. But she did odd jobs to make ends meet, in order to send her children to school. She was very frugal, preferring to walk long distances just to save a few cents (which, back then, was quite valuable already). And then when her husband, our father’s father, fell ill due to cancer, she took good care of him. Our grandmother proved her commitment and love for her family for so many years, we just didn’t realize it.
Her most important legacy, I believe, is her faith. Many (if not all) who spoke and shared their memories of our grandmother during the wake mentioned our grandmother’s consistence and persistence in serving others. She had a really good heart; she loved to serve others in whatever capacity she can. And one of the things we’ll miss most would be her cooking. For years, she had served members of the church with her cooking, when she got involved in preparing food for the canteen in the old campus of my primary and secondary school. Our grandmother occasionally contributed food for the lunch meetings of the women’s fellowship of the church. In addition, she was known to be a steadfast prayer warrior for the church, that despite her old age and physical ailments, she would remember to pray for the church, her family, and for the unbelievers.
Our grandmother also lived very simply. Everyone in our nuclear and extended family knew of her penchant to wear her favorite old, rose-colored and loose-fitting dress, even during family celebrations. Even when people gave her new clothes and accessories, she would refuse to use them unless all her children will ask her to dress up for formal occasions. When my cousin or my aunt would send their family driver to bring our grandmother to church or to their house, our grandmother would refuse and insist on walking despite the hot and sunny weather outside. She also preferred staying home to rest, to listen to the radio, to read the Bible, and to cook for the family. When she does go out, it was to attend church service or women’s fellowship, go to the wet market, or to visit old acquaintances.
There are still a lot more things I can tell (mostly based on what people shared during the wake) about my grandmother, but what I wish to emphasize is that love can mean differently to different persons. There are so many factors that influences how people define love, as well as how they show it, but for my grandmother, she chose to exhibit her love through caring for others (sometimes even more than herself). Her countless acts of kindness to everyone and her service for the Lord would be remembered for years to come, and that’s why I feel so blessed to have such a wonderful kin. The Lord certainly looked after my grandmother and our family for so long, even up to my grandmother’s last moments.
Despite the existence of thousands of words in the dictionary, there are no words that can fully express the feelings of loss and mourning. Nor are there any photos, music, videos, and other media that can help prepare a person on what to feel, what to say, how to act, or how to deal when they encounter death in the family for the first time. Unless you’ve experienced pain, suffering, heartache, loneliness, and other negative emotions, you cannot fully relate to what you see in movies, hear in music, or read in poetry and prose. Having attended several wakes during my lifetime, I’ve always been hesitant and cautious when attending, primarily because I did not know how to behave around the bereaved. I would dress appropriately and offer condolences to the family, but I could not precisely relate to their loss. Until now.
Eleven hours ago, my paternal grandmother passed away in her bed at my aunt’s house. She had been diagnosed with colon cancer almost three years ago, and had undergone surgery as an attempt to remove the cancer cells. Back then, we were fearful of her demise—the illness was not something we expected, given her old age. After her surgery, we were unsure of God’s plans for her life, but we were hoping for a full recovery. As it was, God blessed her with two years’ life extension. It was only late last year that I was informed that the cancer cells had spread to other parts of her body, and that it was possible she might never recover. Later, the fluids that filled both her lungs had to be drained—twice. And then last week, my youngest brother told me that our grandmother had been brought to the emergency room because she had difficulty breathing. My sister, who is studying in London, expressed her intention to fly home to see our grandmother, perhaps for the last time. Sensing the dire situation (and despite my initial hesitation because of financial issues), I immediately booked a flight to my hometown as well.
To make the long story short, our grandmother lingered for four days after my sister’s and my arrival. The last four days were probably the longest days of my life. Everyone in the family were in a somber mood, because we knew that she could go at any time. Our cousins who had gone abroad just before our grandmother was admitted to the ER, had returned yesterday and noon today. Almost everyone in the family had the opportunity to see her and talk to her, hoping she might open her eyes and speak.
But just moments after our cousin (the last one to arrive from a trip abroad) spoke to our grandmother, our grandmother finally passed on. It was as if she was held out as long as she could, in order to see everyone. The nurse on duty today had expressed her surprise on how our grandmother slipped away. Her vitals simply stopped (not gradually as the nurse expected), and her final breath was shallow—as if she was breathing normally.
Indeed, our grandmother looked peaceful in her eternal sleep. Even in her last moments, she was spared from pain normally associated with cancer. Yes, there were many discomforts for her these past days (intravenous therapy, nasogastric intubation, and tubefeeding), but I’ve never seen her face contort from extreme pain. She even tried to speak last Friday and yesterday, despite having no more voice. Aside from that, our grandmother was silent, struggling to take deep breaths to keep on living. When the nurse finally declared her gone, I still couldn’t believe she had left so quietly and suddenly. Many of us were of the mind that she looked as though she was asleep—that her breathing was too faint or too shallow to notice.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the alternating feelings of (slight) anxiousness, numbness, worry, sadness, confusion, and relief. One moment we were shedding tears for her weak and dying body, the next we would make jokes about our grandmother’s imminent arrival in heaven. Indeed, the loss proved the existence of the “emotional rollercoaster.” And I expect I’ll be experiencing more of it this coming days. Now I’m beginning to feel the importance of having more of my friends and family around me, to provide support and care in this time of mourning. I’m learning the value of the prayers and words of encouragement offered by acquaintances and close friends, as well as the importance of expressing feelings in ways I am capable of.
Each person mourns in their own way. For me (so far), it is through tears and music. Remembering how our grandmother looks like and how she spoke, or moved when she was still alive has brought tears to my eyes these past few days. When my brother played Christian music on the grand piano and I tried to sing along with him, I found myself feeling a rush of strong emotions I never knew I could feel. It was as though the music held new meanings for me, and I couldn’t stop crying. I would cry until I had no more tears left, and go on doing whatever I was working on before I started crying. I am not sure how I and my family’s life would change after the funeral and cremation are over, but I am thankful that finally my grandmother is free from her illness, and I am once again reminded to live a full life with Christ, just like my grandmother did. And these feelings of indecision, confusion, and grief has made me realize the meaning of true mourning for a loved one.
The end of life doesn’t necessarily mean the end of love. Seeing life slip away from someone makes you realize that all your past conversations, activities—memories, really–have suddenly become so precious. Despite not having spent so much time with the person for long periods each time, you will always remember those short moments you’ve spent in their company. The scolding, the advising, the dry humor, the plain silence….everything you’ve grown up to, have unconsciously earned its place in your heart. You can’t imagine what life would be without them, even though you’ve known for a long time that no one lives forever–that it’s just a matter of time before they go away for good.
The end of life means a new beginning for the person who has gone. While death generally means loss and mourning, it could also mean freedom and second life—freedom from the limitations of a weak body, and another life that will never end. The knowledge that the person would be happier and more at peace in the next life brings comfort to those they leave behind.
It’s times like these that makes a person realize one’s mortality and the value of the life they’ve lived. All of a sudden you think back on your memories, your dreams, your present situation, your plans for the future, your intended legacy. When you’ve discovered what you want in life, you become more focused on living life to the fullest. And living amongst the family whom you love and loves you back is the most rewarding experience. Now life cannot be measured by how many days, months, or years you’ve lived, but rather by how you choose to spend it. Because the most important legacy we can leave behind for people we love is the memories we make with them.
I’ve never really liked science (mostly biological sciences) or mathematics when I was young. As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous posts, I’ve been more into reading fiction than anything else. I disliked reading school-related textbooks, probably just like every other “average” kid in the world. It was also the time that I wanted to learn more about different languages like Spanish and Japanese (which I still haven’t done). Having read fiction books for years, I knew I was much better in English grammar, spelling, and vocabulary than my other classmates. But for science and math, I did not really mind if I didn’t excel in them.
When I stepped into my third year in high school, we had a really funny and kindhearted Geometry teacher. His way of teaching was very different from others–he taught in a lively manner, and he was always smiling despite the students providing the wrong answer. Instead of frowning, he would say some witty comment and encourage another student to try figuring out the problem. I believe many of the students liked him, even if they did not completely understand the lessons.
Geometry was the subject in which I did not have to worry about solving problems numerically. Instead, we were taught about proofing–we had to prove that one triangle was equal to another based on theorems and corollaries. I had no idea why or how, just that I began to like (and appreciate) math just because I suddenly “understood” the logic of proofing. I was actually excited to learn more about math; and when a classmate would ask how I got the answer, I was happy to explain the process to them. And sure enough, my efforts paid off and began to excel in that class.
Fourth-year Physics and Trigonometry ended being not so bad, either. The teachers were less dynamic than the Geometry teacher, but they were nice. Yes, we were back to numerical calculations, but the science and math subjects were not as intimidating as before. Our Geometry teacher showed us that math can be interesting–that we could learn how to like math despite its complexity. He also displayed a very inspiring love for teaching and for God. Having studied in a Christian school, he was probably the first non-Bible teacher who would encourage us to have faith in God. And, the last I heard of him, he had attended a Biblical seminary in order to serve in the ministry.
When I attended university for my undergraduate, despite my initial fears of failing in my math classes (mainly because I did not do well during my primary and the first two years of secondary education), I actually didn’t have much difficulty. Yes, the Plane Geometry was confusing at first, but the other math-related subjects I took for the next four years were not as bad as I thought. Some of them (like Engineering Statics) were pretty easy because I’ve learnt them during my high school Physics class.
Embracing the Sciences
When asked why I chose to study Architecture for my undergraduate, my immediate response would be “Because I want to be an architect.” And the second reason was (which I thought made good sense to me at that time) “I can’t imagine myself studying any Pre-Medicine course. I prefer math than science.” And this was true for many years. Or at least until I was in fourth year of my undergraduate studies.
During that four year, we were required to enroll for a General Psychology class, which I expected not to like. My older sister had studied Psychology for her undergraduate, and I knew she had taken many biological science subjects. I remember her reading many textbooks and class notes, studying for exams, and even taking the cadaver of a cat home to dissect it late at night (I accompanied her in the garage while she dissected the cat). And I didn’t understand why she had to study all those Anatomy, Zoology, Biology classes. Psychology was a mystery to me—I didn’t know what its purpose was until I had to take that Psych class in college.
What I didn’t expect was that my complete aversion (and avoidance) of sciences lessened as I learned more about the history and branches of Psychology. I read our considerably-thin Psych textbook, and ended up doing additional independent research (a.k.a. surfing the Net/Google) about how Psychology could be related to Architecture. Sure enough, there was a branch of Psychology that did apply Psychology concepts to Architecture—Environmental Psychology. Since then, I have occasionally watched TV documentaries (mostly BBC) and audio lectures (from Yale’s OpenCourseWare) to learn more about the field. I grew more and more fascinated about Psych, and a little bit of Neuroscience. It is actually interesting how they are all interrelated—I hope to someday learn more about how people’s behavior can affect architectural design and vice-versa.
Putting Them All Together
Truly, I am grateful for that Geometry teacher and Psych instructor for inspiring me to do better; to not fear failure just because I had one or two mistakes on my exam; to believe in my own skills and abilities; and, most of all, to not fear change. The change I refer to is the change in my interests, preferences, and dreams
One would think that it’s important to stay dedicated or committed to a decision, but I think at this point in my life, I think change is good. I’ve been too used to staying in one place and doing the same things like other people. But taking risks (like my decision to apply for graduate studies in Taiwan) is an adventure by itself—I wouldn’t be able to know my limits if I didn’t attempt to push myself towards anything. Experiencing more things provided me with new ideas (whether school-related or just random stuff), and those experiences definitely enhanced my perception of the world around me.