Friday, April 07, 2006

Symphony of Insects

Symphony of Insects

Sprinkling rain and the rumble of thunder in the distance.

A bit of rain in the late afternoon is always good--it douses the heat of the day and cleanses the air; too much of it, unfortunately, causes havoc, especially here in the Klang Valley: flash floods, traffic jams and falling tree branches.

It's that time of the day when lines from Debu-debu Kuala Lumpur, flash across my mind:

Di celah-celah itu gadis dan teruna berpegangan tangan. Mengadap sungai yang airnya mengalir lesu. Berbisik di senja itu. Bercinta dan berdusta...

What made us all come from all corners the country to pursue our dreams in this cesspool of humanity?

I think of all the people out there; I think of the executives working in that catacomb of steel and glass; I think of all the magnificent structures that have sprouted up in this metropolis in the last 20 years; the hypermarkets and malls that mushroomed in every densely populated suburb; the glitzy bistros and clubs that line the sidewalks of the city; and I wonder: Is this the life that we want?

We love the excitement of living in the city don't we? We are willing to tolerate the bad air, the incessant noise and the perpetually gridlocked traffic so that we can party at the coolest nightspots in town, enjoy the widest range of shops and restaurants and most important of all--get a chance to claw our way up that corporate ladder of success.

I've been waking up at 4am every morning this week. That's the only time in my middleclass neighbourhood when you can't hear the sound of humanity--no TV, cars, no wailing babies, no alarms going off. And I noticed--when I listened intently--there's alway the quiet sound of insects in the background--that monotonous drone, almost orchestral, growing louder the longer I listened. And they brought me back immediately to the sound of rubber estates--the distant echoes of my childhood.

For a moment I pitied those displaced insects. They belong to that rustic paradise of my past, not this false urban utopia of concrete and cars. Their incessant songs seemed like unconsolable laments for a lost Zion.

Now, every morning I look forward to this symphony of insects, immersing myself in its serenity until the first light of dawn begins to break, and humanity awakens; and another episode of cinta dan dusta begins...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Midweek Sermon

A Midweek Sermon

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God...
- Exodus 20:5

For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
- Deuteronomy 4:24

Jealousy is a strong emotion; one that's certainly not pleasant. We feel jealous whenever we find ourselves not in possession of something or someone whom we feel belongs to us. If your girlfriend (or some girl you admire) goes out with another guy, you will naturally feel jealous. If your colleague gets the promotion instead of you, you'll feel jealous. This feeling arises because you think you have some special right to the object you desire. The feeling is compounded by the belief that the person who took it away from you is somehow undeserving of the prize.

First there's a desire towards something. Then an attachment. The longer this attachment is allowed to build, the stronger the feelings become. Your heart has sprouted invisible tentacles, reaching out to your object of desire, taking control, taking possession, taking ownership. These emotional tentacles wrap around the object of desire like gnarled roots around temple ruins. Imagine how difficult and painful it is remove them.

Jealousy arises from a sense of possession. All relationships have some element of possession in them. This is inevitable because no matter how noble we claim our love is, whenever we love someone, there is always some selfishness involved. We are all imperfect creatures.

You want your partner to behave the way you want them to so that you yourself will feel secure, comforted and happy. You want to mould another person's behaviour so that he or she satisfies your expectations. And you even have the audacity to claim that you are doing it because you have your partner's interest at heart!

But that's what we would normally call a "relationship". Acknowledge the fact that selfishness will arise; each party will show a certain degree of possessiveness towards the other. Good couples understand their partners' sore points. They make the necessary adjustments. Sometimes it takes a lifetime for such adjustments to be perfected. Sometimes you'll just have to accept that it's just a perpetual boxing match, with neither party ever winning or losing.

The God of the Old Testament is a "jealous" God. But He is also a forgiving God. Again and again the Israelites resorted to idolatory and incurred the mighty wrath of God. But still God forgave them and answered their call whenever they pleaded for help.

God kept his covenant with Abraham--to protect his descendants and to deliver the Promised Land to them. Marriage is also such a covenant. Pain, jealousy and rage will arise throughout the course of a relationship. But take comfort in the fact that even God gets jealous and angry. But he is also all-merciful: "For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not fail you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them." (Deuteronomy 4:31).

We can't help being jealous and angry sometimes. But let's not forget to ask ouselves why these feelings arise in first place. In such moments of quiet self-examination, the roots of our resentment will reveal themselves. Grab hold of them: They are there so that you may yank them out. What remains behind is love.