Musings

‘Deatheaters’

What do you do when you lose 4 members of your family in a space of less than 2 years? First your aunt, then grandma 1 followed by grandma 2 and now your uncle.

What do you do when you know that your dad is hurting so much over the death of his brother and the only thing you can tell him is ‘has the burial date been fixed?’ When you want to hug him so tight but you can’t ‘cos you’re thousands of miles away?

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2 crazy friends posing as VOLDEMORT and L. MALFOY in a HP’S themed dinner

What do you do when you realize that despite your mum’s brave front, she’s so devastated by the turn of events? So much so that she has asked her prayer group to pray over her and cast away the spirit of death.

What do you do when your sister is so upset because she thinks that some family members are partly responsible for her uncle’s death? Because as she has judged, they failed to take adequate care of him while he was sick.

What do you do when the answer to ‘has the date been fixed’ is ‘no o. We’re waiting for money’? And you know that it’s just a polite way of saying ‘my dear, we’re still recovering from the burial of your grandma last October’.

What do you do when you want to cry out ‘enough? Why do we have to do expensive burials, depleting savings and even up to the point of borrowing? Why can’t we do simple but dignified burials?’ why do we have to give a banquet, to throw a party when we know that we can’t?’

What do you do when these thoughts accompany you throughout your day but you hold your peace because you can only think ‘will my people understand?’

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Musings

Jonathan’s Chronicles

January is almost ended. Only four more days to go. It feels like I’ve already lived a year. I think I am getting better in the art of assuming the problems / needs of others and of sharing in them; making them mine. And so I have lived so much. I’ve wept and smiled and laughed so hard.

But today made the crowning point of it all.

Jonathan was born and died today.

When I was in primary school, I learnt a rhyme of Solomon Grundy for the days of the week –

Solomon Grundy; born on a Monday, christened on Tuesday, married on Wednesday, …, died on Saturday, buried on Sunday. That was the end of Solomon Grundy.

It didn’t make sense then. I couldn’t fathom how Solomon who lived for only one week could have done so many things. Now, many years later, I don’t have a Solomon. I have a Jonathan instead. I’m going to let him tell his own story. It’s a short one. It lasted not one day but 60 minutes only; 3600 intense seconds.

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My name is Jonathan and I am a being for death. Of course that quote isn’t mine – it’s Heidegger’s. A 60 minute old child isn’t supposed to know anything, to have lived anything, to have felt anything. But I know a lot. I know what it is to be chosen to be kept and loved by a mum and a dad and 2 sisters and a brother.

10 weeks ago, when I was five months old inside my mum, we went to hear what the doctors had to say. They said something like ‘fatal kidney failure’ and mentioned ‘death’. At that point, I stopped swimming and squatted still. Not because I knew what that word meant. I mean, I don’t have any online dictionaries inside the womb. I stopped because I could feel mummy’s dread.

The doctors went on and advised abortion given the circumstances. The baby – I – wasn’t going to live after being born. Most couples chose that option. The other one wasn’t worth trying. I wasn’t worth keeping.

Daddy thanked the doctors and got up, ready to take his wife home. A decision had to be made. Mum’s cloud of dread hung thick over me. I laid still, face up, wondering what it all meant.  Mum began to cry as soon as they got into the car. I was disturbed as the cries racked her. But that cry was good, very good. It drove the cloud of dread away. All was clear again. My life had returned to normal. My world was okay again. I resumed swimming.

Two weeks later, I heard Tess, Dan and Leah whispering together. Dad and mum had called a council. Dad repeated what the doctors said, omitting death and the abortion option. It made no difference anyway. I still didn’t know what those words meant. What mattered was this – that thick fog had been dispersed two weeks ago and it hadn’t come back since then. My siblings erupted into cheers. Dad had added that although the doctors had vouched for the uselessness of the decision, we were, they were going to keep the baby. And – mum added – we’re keeping Jonathan. Hurray!

Now they had to inform the rest of the family. Well, I suppose each one reacted in his way. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. What I know is that since that day when Dad told his family and mum told hers, I became a celebrity. There was ‘Jonathan’ on many lips. There were many cries to heaven for Jonathan. My aunt Charlie went as far as telling everyone of her over 100 Philosophy and Theology classmates in Rome; her Jonathan was passing through a rough time and could they please say some little prayer for him and the family.  My feeling of importance shot up. I am Jonathan and I am world famous.

Mum changed clinic. She simply started going to another. I found it strange. But no matter. I guess a woman like her knows what’s best for her baby. The doctors in the new clinic said it was going to be very difficult, almost impossible. But never again did I hear the words ‘useless’ or ‘needless’ or ‘in vain’. Given that everyone, even my 2 year old sister Leah, was saying a little prayer for me, dad decided to add his grain of sand. He would pat mummy’s stomach many times. And I felt his touch; as if he was holding on to me, asking me to fight, to hold on. But I don’t even know what ‘to fight’ means.

Fast track to New Year’s Eve. I was now 28 weeks old. Mum was going to see the doctors again and Dad had patted me to say that he was coming of course. The doctors mentioned February 13th and added ‘an hour more or less’. Dad, I suppose, sent the message to his extended group. My aunt repeated it to all her classmates – a cry for help for Jonathan. Help for his family.

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Baby Jonathan and his brother

Today finally arrived. But it wasn’t February 13th as planned. I couldn’t wait. I had to come now or never. At 6.40am, I was born into earth. After the quick clean up by the nurses, everyone rushed in. Mum was weak but smiling. Dad too. But there was this tinge of sadness in the corners of his eyes. Mum’s dad was there. Dad’s parents too.

They all wanted to hold me, to cuddle me. I couldn’t understand. I could only rest in the intensity of their love. As if they could transform every one of those minutes into days, into years. Imagine, 60 years instead of 60 minutes. But what am I saying – I don’t even know what a ‘year’ is.

They took pictures with me. I was truly a star. They wanted to keep these memories of their baby and their brother and their grandchild. I was slipping away. But I didn’t know it. I was just content to be in the arms of Tess, Dan and Leah; their arms joined together to hold me, their brother. Time pass quickly. Time passed quickly. Mum called for her baby. And she cuddled me with dad on the bed beside her. I was still slipping, going by the minute. Leaving, leaving…, and still leaving; until the 60th minute when I left. Mum’s dad broke into tears.

—–

Jonathan died at 7:40am today, 60 minutes after he was born, surrounded by family and by love. They dressed him in a white dress with tiny wings attached. Their little angel! And they mourned him, each in his / her way, but together, closely bound by this baby.

Thanks to Charlie for the privilege to share in this story. 2 weeks ago, I practically wept over the death of Catherine, who died from infections after giving birth. She was a total stranger to me. I stumbled on her story on Facebook and wept with the knowledge that she died in an attempt to give life. Women shouldn’t die in the life giving process.

My sorrow was dealt another blow when I read Akwaeke’s story of removing her uterus for reasons which I would never have imagined. Dear Akwaeke, I wish you a quick and complete recovery from your surgery; and a light in your path of discerning your place in this world. I’m with you!

Then came the good news of the birth of my niece. My sister posted pictures on Facebook, thanking our dear mother for having gone to help with the baby. I appreciate my sister. I love the baby. My senses have been sharpened by sorrow. I value this new act of generosity by my sister and her husband. Never again will I take it for granted. My sister added – ‘many more grandchildren on the way’. How beautiful.

Dear Rebecca and Simon, parents of Jonathan, we are with you. And Jonathan too. From heaven. He’ll help you adjust, recover; help you to live through those moments when you’ll want your child in your arms, your new born baby. When your breasts will be full with milk, ready to feed your Jonathan who now has no need of it. You won’t ask yourself if it was worth it – you already answered that question 11 weeks ago when you said yes to Jonathan, to Him. Thank you so much for keeping Jonathan. Thank you so much for giving him the 60 minutes chance. Thank you. Thank you.

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ART, Little things, Pixpers

Transformation

I once heard that no one eats with their mouth

Children eat with their eyes;

Young people with their stomach

Adults with their head.

WARNING;  mouthwatering presentation. Risk of hunger afterwards.

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Okay so, where are these pictures from? Most of them were made by me in collaboration with others. It was such a delight last summer to learn to transform the usual fruits and vegetables into such lovelies.

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Little things, Musings

DRINKS AND THE SOUND OF MUSIC

My first contact with the sound of music was thanks to Mrs. Togonu – Bickersteth, the vice principal of my Federal College. That day, without previous warning – at least to the students – the academic staff had gone on strike and we were bereft of classes. To help us take advantage of that free time, the vice principal invited all the girls to the school hall to see the musical. I had to leave with other day students half way through. This was in 2001.

Over the years, I have seen clips of it on TV, listened to my friends sing some of the songs, sang doe, a deer, a female deer in music class at school; but I never got to see the movie from start to finish. Until recently. With the birthday of Amanda.

Amanda, my friend from Hong Kong, wanted a big birthday bash. So we went all out for it. A good homemade buffet, thanks to the Administration of my residence, a make-shift bar with a proper bar tender to boot and a movie! From the dining room, we went, cock – tails in hand, to the sitting room, to see the sound of music. At last! I’ve always considered it a beautiful story and a great movie; sitting through it now didn’t diminish my high regard for it.

At the Bar

Yesterday, I put down the book behind the musical. It’s called the story of the Von Trapp family singers. The musical is only a taste of the icing. Maria von Trapp, the novice turned wife and mother, recounts in a very wonderful way the family’s trip cum flight to the USA and the fight they had to put up to live a dignified life in their new country. It’s an extraordinary book that tells the ordinary life of a family of 12. The episodes that shine out are few in number. But neither are there any dull moment.

Maria writes of the hard work, their joys, their rehearsals, their different singing tours, their faith in God, etc. Along the way, there are many who cross their path and many of these stay on as part of the family. There are the various friends who welcome this new group of immigrants – yes because Baron Von Trapp was just one more Austrian immigrant – and help them with their first tottering steps in making a life for themselves in the States.

Maria also demonstrate her understanding and respect for those who saw things differently from the Von Trapp family. I was very impressed by the way she writes about the Austrian Relief Fund; an NGO started by the family in 1947 to send aid back to their ailing nation at the end of World War II. They publicized it during each of their concerts asking their listeners for donations to send to the needy in Austria. Maria mentions that many of the responses were positive; the participants were usually much moved and gave a lot the next day. But there were also negative and even violent responses. In some cities, some in the audience complained that they had come to listen to good music and to relax and not to be burdened with the world’s problem. A very legitimate opinion. But read what Maria writes next

With time, she says, we got to respect those views too and to ask the opinions of the organizers before the concert if we could publicize our Austrian Relief fund and if we could expect a positive response from the audience. From then on, we received only positive feedback from our audience.

They didn’t shy away from their NGO in order to keep up their singing fame. Nor are there any negative comments in return for each of the negative responses they received. They tackle the issue the right way – with dialogue and with a lot of charity and respect for those at the other end of the table. I’m definitely picking up one or two tips from this.

Now the Von Trapp family still have to ‘contend’ with the millions of fans of the sound of music, some of whom visit their Lodge in Vermont, who firmly believe that the reality was exactly as the musical; which it is not, I assure you. The directors of the Sound of Music knew their stuff. They have given us a classic and if I’m writing this blog post after reading the true story, it is thanks to them. Without the musical, the book wouldn’t have called out to me when I first saw it. But life is richer than a two – hour long musical which gives us ‘the end’ after the fifth chapter of a more than twenty – chaptered book.

Have you seen the musical and didn’t even know that the book existed? Well then, it’s not too late. You’ll truly get good value for your money. For those in my shoes who have read the book and seen the musical, I’ll like to hear from you! Am I alone or do you see things the same way?

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Little things, Pixpers

Ordinarily great? Yes!

The Church celebrates one of her greatest saints of the 20th century today. He’s St. Josemaria, patron saint of ordinary life. It’s my kind of life, it’s your kind of life too! God, Family, work, friends, parties, moments of solitude…  just name it.

Unfortunately it may, and sometimes it does include war, quarrels, being a refugee, moments of despair, moments when it feels that you just can’t go on, loneliness in the midst of crowds, etc. Even in those circumstances, You are not alone. There God waits for me, for you, to find Him, so that together, the burden can be borne.

St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Opus Dei

St. Josemaria, Image in San Salvatore Lauro, Rome

St. Josemaria, pray for us so that, like you, we may learn to turn all the circumstances and events of our lives into opportunities to love God and to serve all souls.

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