The beauty of imperfection

My entire life I tried to do things right, I spent two decades perfecting the art of everything to the point my world started looking sterile. Pristine white walls with that exquisite picture just so, ikebana that is so common it has its lost meaning.

I can see the overflow of our quest for perfection, Botox beauties trying to freeze time. Lips, bosoms, rear ends, and faces getting plumped tucked and nipped. Everything from a snail, mud, blood, bird poo and the human placenta is smeared for a glow.

The world we live in has become so predictable that we are steeped in depression. We are either charging towards the edge of the mountains in search of an adrenaline rush or in a hurry to end it all. Plunging either to our deaths or for a moment of excitement, with a possibility of it.

The only time we use the words fresh and new is when describing fruits, never a thought. You know the world is a sanitized extension of our thoughts when people get excited at white being the new color of choice.

Books are written about how nothing is created, just old ideas remixed and how to do it effectively. We have analyzed creativity to its premature death with formulas deciphered to help innovation. Progress isn’t declared as such unless it is measured and compared. Everything needs a reference point in order to be validated.

Our expressions are censored, and our thoughts monitored, not just our conversations, messages, and emails. In our bid to be politically correct we have lost our right to make mistakes and learn true remorse. We do not have honest conversations just redacted thoughts that never truly understand their place.

Perfection has a new best friend, the desire to be flawless, in our thoughts, words, and deeds. In that, we have lost our humanity, our right to think, to feel, and to err. Our tears are induced by glycerin and our words scripted by professionals.

They say AI is a threat that looms in the distant future; I proclaim it is already here. We tend to emulate our ideal and can anything be more utopian than a faultless AI?

I cry a silent scream, an unheard plea, let’s bring in the human connection, the awkward hellos, the embarrassing gaffes, the silly ideas, the ridiculous outfits and the mismatched socks. Let’s take a detour; the best scenery is on that route and the best memories too.

It’s not every day that we remember from high school but our worst hair day, it wasn’t when we delivered a perfect speech but when we had stage fright that we recollect with astonishing detail, so let’s embrace the imperfect. It’s not what we did correctly in class but our mistakes that we learned from.

It’s not when someone is impeccable that we fall in love with them but when they show us their blunders and their quirky side. It is not a great memory when you smile just so, but it is when you throw your head back and snort the loudest guffaw.

It is not when someone is unblemished that you trust them but when you see their failings and know that they are human. It is when they fall and try to rise that you root for them, when they stand shamefaced and humiliated that you connect with them because we all know that moment. We all share that nightmare. It is what makes us human, our failings, our regrets, our pain and it is by our shame that we learn humility and compassion.

Conceal our mistakes, sanitize our thoughts and redact our actions and we will never learn or evolve. The world will indeed end up a stage where everyone will wear a mask and hide behind well-crafted personas. We will all be plastic, and the real will be equated with dirt to be swept away and disposed of.

In our quest for perfection, we will not only lose our creativity but our humanity. So let us celebrate the weird, the quirky and abnormal. Let us embrace the wrinkles, the scars, the blemishes and the crooked. Let us rejoice that we are human, imperfect and alive.

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Go forth and make mistakes, a blessing for you!

The Internet is buzzing; two of my favorite motivational gurus are at loggerheads with each other. Mel and Tony ironically Robbins are in the newsfeeds. Tony is a no-nonsense coach who uses intimidation, force, NPL and energy to get his message across. Mel is a practical, intelligent motivator who recommends easy mental hacks to sabotage your brain into getting results.

It is obvious why the two wouldn’t get along, but not clear as to why I love them both equally. So let me explain. It is because they both help you to get to your goals albeit through very different routes. Tony is the military-style trainer who shouts in your ears, deafening the sound of your, ‘I can’t and I don’t feel like it’ moans and bullies you into your goals. It’s not for everyone and if you are the type who doesn’t like to be told what to do by someone else, he is annoying.

Mel, on the other hand, is for the thinker, the type who doesn’t like to be told what to do but likes instead to be inspired. She has been there, knows the aches, and the fact that she gets it is the main attraction.

I go to Tony when I am caught in my downward spiral of negativity and the mental fog is so dense that I can’t think. I listen to his powerful voice and pull myself out of the abyss but once I’m out and I can hear myself think, it’s time for Mel. I hear her common sense tactics; her mental hacks and I plan for a sustainable lifestyle.

There are others I turn to, the Bible for wisdom, the stories of saints for inspiration, the Ted talks to know what others are thinking, Simon Sinek to remind myself of my why, Vishen Lakhiani for personal growth, Jim Kwik for learning and many others.

In Proverbs 13:20, Solomon says: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Or like my mom always said, show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are. I like to keep the company of the wise, the explorers, the free thinkers and yes that is what I pursue in my life as well.

The reason I have a huge list of people I listen to and the online courses I take is, apart from being a research junkie, I am trying to discover the truth, my truth. In my 42 years of discovery, I have found that while our destination might be the same, happiness, fulfillment; our paths can be very different. The journey of life is never linear, upward or predictable. It is skewered, jagged, sometimes in an endless loop and often a full circle.

Ben Sweetland the author of I Will, a book I read when I was nine and must admit greatly influenced my life, always said that success is a journey, not a destination. I have come to realize that life is in the journey and not the destination, money, joy, or enlightenment. It’s not the things that we acquire but the experiences that happen to us, yes life happens we don’t plan it, in our pursuit of it. The insights we get, the tears we shed, the pain we carry and the forgiveness we learn is what this life is all about.

I am a great believer in dialogue, of conversations, and hence my love of storytelling, yes I am an author. The one greatest achievement of mankind that separates us from other forms of life and perhaps the reason we haven’t found alien life is that we tell stories. We give our feelings, emotions, aches, and pains a language, we breathe life into an insight for others to assimilate and be inspired. In order to explore the vast dark universe, we need to ask what, why, where, how and then imagine the possibilities.

We need to be mad to ask a question and then seek an answer, for what else would have made the first voyager to leave the secure sands of a home in search of possible islands? You had to be madder still to follow when none had returned, the fire of curiosity is a unique gift, the kind we should always cherish and never admonish.

We need to be brave to be able to express our opinions no matter how wrong or politically incorrect, for only then can we have an honest conversation. It is only when you hurt someone that you get an opportunity to learn the art of seeking forgiveness and offer the power to the other to forgive. A master who does not fail has nothing to learn and the people who will not forgive can never learn.

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Lost for words

In my journey of life, I have had the amazing opportunity to interact and even assimilate, albeit for a short while, with people and organizations that have been deviant in their line of thinking. From silk-clad gurus to jeans and T-shirt new age thinkers, I have hummed and chanted for world peace and enlightenment. I diligently say my rosary and seek the counsel of the wise thinkers.

I am 42 and have never been more lost or confused.

The more I learn and discover the more I find the scaffolding that holds our world together, crumble. As a child I used to have a recurring nightmare, that I was walking all alone in a shattered, destroyed, and ravaged world, devoid of life and hope. End of the world movies convinced me that I was merely having a premonition of times to come. Perhaps, in retrospect, that was the reason I delved into new age thinking, meditation and the eternal search for enlightenment. From meditating in the Himalayas and dipping in the Ganges I sought refuge in the monstrance and the solemn vespers of the Catholic Church.

While the Catholic traditions have sustained my interest for the longest time and the teachings of Christ has nourished my soul, the leaders of the church, save for the holy Pope Francis, have not inspired much faith.

Which brings me back to my most startling revelation, every human is just that, a human nothing more. Every teaching that comes from man is flawed and myopic. Even knowledge from God is flawed for the translator is human, and his or her experiences and perceptions taint the holy wisdom.

Take the famous saying of Jesus Christ, ‘know the truth and the truth will set you free.’ People have interpreted this in every way possible to justify their line of thought, from Seek the truth to We are the truth. What is Truth? Something that is in accordance with fact or reality, meaning you are limited by your own knowledge of facts and reality. A worse definition is ‘which is accepted as true’; meaning anything that is beyond your current state of understanding is automatically false even if it is indeed true.

As if grappling with this crippling though wasn’t bad enough I stumbled upon another, ‘people cannot understand what they have no words to describe’. I had heard the story of how the human mind could not see beyond their mental frame network. Joseph Banks, botanist on Captain James Cook’s 1770 voyage commented that the natives paid virtually no attention to the 106-foot long Endeavour. The natives were unable to comprehend the foreign object

A recent discovery of a new fact (for me as this research is old) that the Himba people, an ethnic group from northern Namibia, are unable to distinguish the color blue from green because they do not have words to describe the color blue. The color blue though starring them in the eyes is invisible or green to them because they do not have the words to describe them. As is the case of Hunanoo from the Philippines who do not have color as a concept and instead describe the lightness, wetness, or similarity to other colored items like turmeric or ash.

IQ is often related to a person’s vocabulary, higher the IQ greater a person’s vocabulary. So goes the common concept of Intelligence, I neither accept this generalization nor do I reject it. While I can appreciate the liner thought process that assumes that a more developed mind will find a way to convey its thoughts with the most appropriate words which can lead to a higher vocabulary, I wonder about all those mathematical geniuses who are verbally impaired.

Contrary to this line of thinking is the foundation of eastern philosophy. Silence is the pathway to enlightenment with mental ramblings actively discouraged. Wise sages are often known to be men or women of few words. Like the yin-yang of existence, I find a dichotomy even in the quest for truth and wisdom.

Which essentially boils down to the simple truth of left and right brain concept. Life has a logical explanation and a deeper more spiritual experience. The seeker must decide which path to pursue, the wordless experience that promises to envelop galaxies in the space of an atom or the linguistic decoding of creation.

As I sit here ravaged by the predicament before me I stare, speechless and lost for words in search of worlds within.

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One day, but not today.

Friday 9th March 2018

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Yes, It’s been a while since I broke my ‘journal a day’ commandment. Life, I have found in my 41 years of life on Earth to be the most reckoning force. It can dissolve the intentions of the most resolute person and powder the ambitions of the strongest individual.

Life gets in the way of the most sincere souls but it always wrecks havoc on mothers and people who are selfless. There is no prize for guessing who wins when there is a choice to be made between fulfilling a commitment and taking care of a sick child. As a mother I am used to putting my ambitions aside to focus on the needs of my children, even on the rare occasions I sleep in during a fever I am ravaged by guilt.

I have been known to collapse from exhaustion but you’ll see me smile and rise when I see my children call out for me. There is a power that comes from self-sacrifice, an inner strength that makes you survive with no sleep and zero rest. When I look back to those years when I raised three little children, 4,2 and 1 years of age, all on my own, I stand in awe. Divine help is not far away when the cause is noble. It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not when you cause is worthwhile, help is always at hand. In my experience even the devil steps back when a mother cries for help, everyone respects a mama, even the demons.

Times like this I am forced to acknowledge that there is more to life than what we generally fathom. There are forces, unspoken guides, angels if you will who share our space as silent spectators. Sometimes, I wager, they even throw a few roadblocks just to let us know that they are here if only we would reach out.

But we prefer to stay cocooned in our little superficial worlds, with our little luxuries, our routines, our familiar ways that we fail to notice this other universe that coexists. When disaster strikes and jolts us out of our illusions we come face to face with the truth that we are not in control, this world is not the only truth that exists and for a brief moment in time we are vulnerable.

We see the light and we do what our seven billion-year-old mind does best, we either fight it or take flight from it, failing to grasp the truth that can literally set us free. Every successful person on earth who lives or has ever lived will attest to the fact that there is a higher power that governs, and aligning ourselves to it guarantees enlightenment.

Yet we resist the unknown, honed for survival we have incubated our freedom in the throes of ignorance. One day we will have to break through, we will have to embrace the unknown, one day.

It is time

Tuesday, 20th February 2018

Time is an unstable commodity, elusive, distracting, and chimeric almost! Almost is more to its fantastical elusive attribute than its certainty. I know that many if not all of the extremely few who do read this will scratch their heads. I have been known; to the unfortunate few who regard me as such, to vacillate from abounding in common sense to the recluse who vomits verbiage that pretends to be intelligible. I love words, as a dyslexic, my appreciation for the language is hard to understand. Perhaps I should start with the groundwork, lay the foundations of I and then perhaps we can rise together onto the summit of my viewpoint.

As a child I found that the letters in a word danced around, they flipped, changed positions and got me into lots of trouble. For a child of three learning to read the cat sat on a mat, well it was more like the act sta no a tam, to which I’d pause and try to make sense. A phonetic shout from my mom, the c-a-t s-a-t o-n a m-a-t! The letters would rearrange into the cat tas on a mat. A few more shouts and a smack later the cat (finally) sat on a mat.

So in my hyper-imaginative mind, the letters were wee little imps that loved to dance around when no one was looking. I took a fascination to Irish folk tales, I totally understood the plight of the little children who saw goblins and fairies that no one else could. I dreamt lavish dreams of magical lands where every letter had a mansion filled with objects that started with that very letter. I was forever being chased by the lowercase p and her twin sister q, b and d were the harbingers of trouble and i and e were interchangeable lovers.

I grew to view words as living collaborations between highly fickle letters. They formed in my naïve little mind beings who needed to be pleaded with, and they never settled for any offering that wasn’t sincere. My passion had to be true and burn with an urgency that threatened to drive me insane if I expected them to grace my blank page.

Which brings me to the point of time, just like words it can mean differently to different people. It demands inconsistently from different souls, it behaves illogically with different beings. Time moves fast for one, painfully slow for another, non-existent for someone with Alzheimer’s and stands still for someone in a coma. Even our minds find it hard to follow time in a linear fashion. Sometimes we are trapped in past, stuck in a horrific memory or a happy moment that runs in a loop, or in an imaginary future, but rarely in the present. We burn our food, let our coffees get cold, lose our keys, neglect our plants, but we always complain about Mr. Time. We all get the same amount and we are all granted it in the same fashion but we have such different experiences and results. Some live a lifetime in a moment, some go through an entire lifetime without living a single moment, some choose to end it abruptly, some do everything to extend theirs, and then there is me.

For me time is elastic, I often find myself neither in the past nor in the future and not even in the present. It’s like as if I am standing on top of a mountain looking down at a river, I can see where it has been, where it is at and where it is headed towards. Sometimes the indecisions of my life cloud my vision of the future, sometimes the pain of certain events blur the details in the past but one thing is consistent I feel disconnected.

The more painful the past or scary the future I find myself returning to this spot on the mountain, just watching. When things need to be done right now, I hear a whisper, it is time.

As it is right now to leave this page and to move on to living…

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The greatest truth in the biggest lie

Monday, February 19, 2018

Journal writing in the most undervalued form of writing in my opinion and I do have many opinions. From my take on globalization, colonizing Mars, overcoming grief, living life and the very meaning of life, there are few and far between that I really have nothing to say or write about.

As I child I was always plagued with why, so my father brought me a book, Tell me why, then after I devoured that Here’s more tell me why, Lots more tell me why and Still more tell me why. By the time I was 18, there was very little in the world that I did not have an answer to, having read the likes of Napolean Hill’s The law of success when I was 8, I had a well-developed philosophy on life and living. I quoted Carl Jung, talked about psychosymbology, ESP, and thought Confucius was quite spot on.

There wasn’t an adult, besides my parents, who didn’t think I was destined for greatness, I even had a physics teacher who hoped I’d win a Nobel prize. Life had other lessons and plans; I discovered that reading a handful of books did not give me the life skills needed to succeed. While I could indulge in interesting, intellectual and even inspiring conversations, I could not decipher the formula for material success. I was always broke and still am. Every endeavor I make is always regaled as a great effort but it always fails to translate into monetary success.

This monologue has been discharged as a result of a movie that I watched yesterday, a grand experiment on the part of its creator to produce something that defied the norm and dared to investigate with the unknown. The result? A disaster, the masses rejected it, the resistance to be coaxed into the unknown and worse, the idea of letting go of the familiar proved fatal.

I realized the greatest truth in the biggest lie touted in today’s world, Think different, be innovative. What they, the narrators of the world trends, are actually telling you is that we are bored of the same plot lines, impress us but don’t get too different lest we lose the tethers that still determine our identities. For what would society be if in a split second they could let go of all the walls that enclosed their lives and actually stepped out into the Free world of unregulated creativity?

Look at how we see beauty, in lines of symmetry, a mirror image of what we accept repeated to coax us into the comfort of the familiar. I remember staring into the face a beautiful woman troubled that her eyebrows were too large and disproportionate to her delicate face. I was seeking beauty within the confines of what I had categorized as beautiful.

The most beautiful are often a standardized version of the classic beauty with one feature, just one for two is too much, that is different. The typical dark-skinned beauty with striking blue eyes, a typical white beauty with an African hairdo, we seek different within the confines of the familiar.

It brought to mind how the evil masterminds groom their victims, one aspect at a time, they start on a common ground and slowly drip feed their agenda until the victim is a perpetrator.

Even inspirational or motivational thinking has to be based on the familiar, it needs the ladder of common sense or at the very least a promise of a better life, for the mind to accept it.

So where does that leave me? Nowhere, I am where I always was; lost in awe of the human mind that is complex yet stupid.

Superman’s got nothing on you Ma!

18th Sunday, the day of the Lord in the year 2018.

 

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This journal writing has brought to light something very disturbing, 24 hours is not very long. Worse, we don’t get much done by the way of achieving life’s milestones. As I try to recollect the past 24 hours, sieving through chores, incidents and living life, nothing much has been retained. Considering I am 41 years old and have lived the better part of my life trying to tick my to-do list, I am disappointed.

While I was high on my dopamine getting all my jobs done, and ticking them off the list, there wasn’t much room for realization. No awareness of the self as I rushed to do laundry, homework assignments for my kids, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, I was doing my children’s projects, I know I’m just ‘helping’ but it sure feels like I am in school. Sometimes I feel as if homework assignments and projects are a parent’s Karma. All the half a$$%^ attempts that I put in school has come back with a vengeance.

I now have the answer to the question I always posed to my mum as I did algebra, “When will I ever have use for this mum?”

Now, you will have a use for them, now, as you sit down with your child getting them through their homework. As you cut up the pizza that you serve your kids for lunch and explain to them how Maths solves everyday problems, is exactly the time when you will need to remember fractions.

As I stand in my mom’s shoes and mouth the very words I had rolled my eyes at, I stand humbled.

As I stare into the eyes of my son as he moans, “This is so dumb mum! I rather do a million things besides times tables.”

I am reminded that life is very short but long enough to make you come a full circle. As I sigh and hug my son and tell him that I understand his frustrations having felt it myself, and urge him to trudge on, “You’ll thank me one day son, as I did my mom.”

So this journal entry is a tribute to my mum, a salutation for all her hard work, her perseverance against great odds, a spunky irritable me at 9 must have been nothing short of torture. Motherhood can be a thankless job, where you slave on amidst hostility from the very souls whose life you are trying to improve.

I know what she must have felt as she stood there being brandished as heartless, mean and a punisher for trying to get me to do an extra page of Maths, for those are the very things my son accuses me of. Karma, there is no escaping it and experiencing it makes me so ashamed but so honored to have a mother who cared enough to overlook the hostility and still soldier on.

For after an hour of hostile banter I give up and allow my son to run off into the garden to enjoy his time in the sun. My mother never did, so today despite being a dyslexic I am an author, and I passed my 10th maths exam with a decent percentage.

Thanks, mum, today I realize how strong and noble you truly are. How, it takes a lot more than love to be a good mother, it takes courage to brave the anger of a rebellious teenager and still do what needs to be done. Thanks mum for being so strong, to quote my son’s favorite song, ‘superman’s got nothing on you Ma!’

I, Me and Myself.

pexels-photo-774866.jpegSaturday, February 17, 2018

Writing a daily journal is tedious, it forces me into examining the previous day. It ambushes me into corners I have been blindsided to, either by choice or by some subliminal neural programming. I have been forced into acknowledging the fragmented personality that is I, me, and myself.

I never quite understood the subtle connotations of that phrase, I, me and myself. Three days of introspection and I have been plated that realization. I realize, much to my disdain, that there are many versions of me. There is an I, the lively, generous, optimistic, industrious, ambitious individual that you would most likely bump into when you cross paths with me. There is a me, she is reserved, suspicious, judgmental, pessimistic, intuitive, cautious, and forever alert. Her you will never meet but she is there lurking behind the surface, quick to the rescue should either persona cajole me into a predicament. There is myself, a daydreamer, introspective, forgiving, slow, patient, painfully slow, trusting and innocent. She is the creative one, the writer, the artist, the culinary prodigy, and the one who is in command when I suffer a heartbreak or meltdown.

Each version of me, not to be confused with the judgmental me, is intense and deep-seated in my psyche. There are no blurring of the lines, no shaded area where one personality overlaps with the other and herein lies the conundrum that befalls me, as a whole. For I can, with the jarring ease of a schizophrenic, transfer control to either personality and there is no smooth transition. Like Sodium being cut, the new exposed me is bright and shiny for all to notice and a stark contrast to what was.

It explains much of my life, the comments of those closest to me, ‘you flip! This is not how I expected you to react!’ begins to make complete sense. The sagacity of my need and desire to live a life that is compartmentalized is dawning on me. I have always had tastes that were polar opposites, classical music, hip-hop, trance, dance, and Catholic chants all feature in my playlist. The books I devour range from academic, self-help, motivational, thrillers, classic or children’s fiction. I can stay riveted watching a documentary, quantum physics, comedy, action, or children’s cartoons.

So the point of this journal entry? Nothing, I am beginning to try to live life without a focus on the point, I find it very stressful, very demanding like a perpetual carrot that dangles forever beyond reach. It’s purpose to tantalize and nudge you into being manipulated for another’s benefit. I am making that brave attempt to live life by my own rules, to throw away those markers handed down to me by society in their bid to make me conform.

Maybe the purpose of life is to have no purpose, at least not the ones that society thrusts upon us but to discover new ones that are liberating and not restricting.

The miracle of life is every second, starting now.

Friday, 16 February 2018.

Group of childrenIt’s two days since my last journal entry, I gave up on my self-promise, a promise I make to myself, within 24 hours that I would write every day, no matter what. I decided to publish my journal entries as a public reprimand should I fail, which I did, invariably, despite my better judgment and firm resolution.

It was not just a creative exercise; writers are encouraged to write every day, but a ‘note to self’ cathartic process. It was an experiment to find out my state of mind, the state of my soul, was I looking at things objectively? Am I truly living life, experiencing every moment or have I turned this once in a lifetime experience into a monotonous grind? Do I allocate enough time to myself, for reflection, for peace of mind, for the sheer joy of being me?

My instantaneous response was to admonish myself for being too busy to ‘stand and stare’, a memorable line from “Leisure” a poem by Welsh poet W. H. Davies. After a cup of aromatic coffee, I ruminated over the past two days, the events that tore me away from my self-promise. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, a day to be reminded that we are dust, from dust we are born and unto dust, we shall return. After a frantic morning getting kids, lunch boxes and myself ready, we headed off to mass.

During mass Ann, a delightful woman managed to giggle and spill ash all over her trousers. She was meant to carry it to the nursing home to mark the foreheads of the ill with ash. I reached out into my handbag, the bag I had meant to leave in the car and pulled out quite a wad of kitchen paper towels, the ones I shoved in my bag as I wondered, ‘why was I shoving kitchen towels in my bag when all I needed was a single tissue?’ My sister-in-law, Agnes, reached out into her bag and pulled out a KFC wipe, the one that never makes it into her handbag but did today.

The effervescent woman was grateful and cheekily quipped as Aggi handed over the KFC wipe, “where’s the chicken?”

Yes, that’s Catholics for you, we find humor always, especially when things go awry. On the ride back I decided to spend time with my brother and Aggi. Aggi and I kept remarking about how both of us, in the midst of the madness that is a school run, we both managed to put into our bags the very thing Ann would need.

‘The Lord looks after his own!’

That revelation stayed with me and brought me comfort, it caused me to smile whenever I washed my hands and looked in the mirror and saw my face marked with a cross of ash. I may be born of dust and I will return to it but I am loved by the maker of the universe and that is plenty.

I was so ecstatic by the revelation that I hadn’t thought of jotting it down. I was too preoccupied with living in the moment to actually transcribe the events.

Wednesday, was a revelation, how would Thursday hold up?

I sipped more of my glorious warm coffee and as it swirled in my mouth and filled my nostrils with the aroma of roasted cocoa beans, I found myself on Thursday. I spent the majority of the morning cooking, determined to give my children a good vegetarian meal, it’s lent after all. I was also multitasking doing the church newsletter; I read a few books online to keep my eyes from going askew fixing the formatting.

The kids rolled, yelled and whined their way back home by 3:30 pm. After that it was one chaotic event that is mostly a blur, there are sporadic memory flashes of yelling, threatening, bribing and pleas, all from me. It was study time with the kids and for once it wasn’t marked by pleas for the torture to stop, that would also be me! Instead, we were talking about the first word uttered by my children. Frohar, my oldest, had to do a history project, a personal timeline. The question, to write something memorable from the time you were a baby, got the entire family in guffaws.

“Mom, what was my first word?”

I paused, shrugged and after a long silent mental debate relented, “Dada.”

“You wish it was Mama, don’t you?” Frohar reached out and hugged me, the kind you give a sick puppy when you know there is nothing that can make them feel better but you try anyway.

“Actually it was MAMA!” I screech as loudly and terribly as a parakeet squawking when it chokes on a nut. Not that I have ever witnessed one but I do remember a cartoon that depicted it quite vividly, hence the enactment.

“What? Why did he say that?” asked my girls rushing to find out what the commotion was all about. I catch Fravashi’s eyes gleaming with mischievous theories. Freny has that sly look, the one she gets when she feels she might be able to blackmail someone at a late date.

“Well, Frohar was a possessive little boy and he always felt that I was going to abandon him for another baby. He never let me carry another baby. So there was this one time that I had gone out to bid farewell and he was convinced I was abandoning him so he screamed, MAMA!” I squawked again like a parakeet in distress and my three children fell on the floor laughing. A unified chorus of, ‘again, again‘ got me to squawk three more times.

“That was the only time he ever said Mama and then when he started talking he said Dada first and then Mama. So I guess we better record his first word as Dada.”

“Nah! I’m writing this down and I’ll tell the whole class, this is awesome!!!” Frohar started writing frantically on his project.

That was an awesome memory that we created reliving an old one and I couldn’t help but go to bed that night with a smile. It brought to mind that happiness is found not in lavish homes but warm hearts, not in exotic locations but in the company of loved ones and it’s not bought with gifts but with the currency of time that we choose to spend with the ones we love.

Yes, Thursday carried on the high note that Wednesday had left off on. Which begs the question how many more little miracles, joys have we in our busy lives forgotten to jot down, enjoy and relish? Yes, this journal-writing endeavor is a good one, one that I hope to carry forward to the end of my days.

 

 

Notes to self, how to live beyond a tragedy?

Sad womanTuesday, 13th February 2018.

It is bright and sunny here in Seaford Rise, Adelaide. A soft wind dances across the room being granted entry by the large windows in my study. The curtains, ruffled by the lack of respect offered by the impolite wind, try to maintain their dignified silence as sentries to the large window.

I can hear birds chirping, there is strange rhythmic insect call and I try to scan my memories to figure out the species. Realizing that I am no botanist and too lazy to Google native South Australian fauna, I relent to ignoring it. I’ve labelled the collective ‘noise’ of the outdoors to ‘background music of life in suburban South Australia’.

Yes, it is important to label, it gives one a sense of proprietary, of control. So desperately needed in my life, at this stage of my journey towards my end. I am 41 and though I don’t look haggled, dishevelled and middle-aged, I truly am. Yes, haggled not haggard, it’s not a typo; after all, I do have autocorrect, spell check, thesaurus. And no, you may not lecture me on the wrong usage of words, or throw a style guide at me, it is a free world. If my writing is an eyesore then please feel free to look away. After all, even ancient Sumerian teachers complained about the deteriorating writing skills of their young, as discovered when deciphering ancient clay tablets.

Haggled, yes, I feel as if I have been bartered, negotiated, or bargained with. I feel I have been given a peace meal offering in exchange for my rights, my integrity, and my self-worth. As a single mom of three kids all less than 10 years of age, I have made compromises, settled for far less than what I’m entitled to and agreed to the very basic that is on offer. It is a choice made by my free will but it’s not to my liking. Hence, that’s how I feel, haggled.

Disheveled, no I am not dressed as if an orangutan is my stylist, nor does my sense of style match the frenzied taste of an orangutan, but it is how I feel like I’m wearing my insides out. Nothing is where it’s meant to be, my heart breaks as I chance upon a withered plant in my herb garden. I hear it’s lament at being rejected and forgotten; it’s life not worth a sprinkle ever so often. My tears roll down when I see a neglected signpost, beaten down by the weather, barely standing still and yet dutifully proclaiming the location.

Middle-aged, I am squarely in the middle of my life and I have no inkling of which side is worst. I wish I could say I’m stuck or frozen, but the truth is, life carries you forward, like a leaf bobbing on an ocean, the current transports you. You can swim along and reach your destination quicker, fight it and drown in the inevitable or be passive and pretend that nothing has changed. Move you will, the stars will change their positions and no one seeks your permission or even cares whether you disapprove.

The thing is when you are born you watch the world with wide-eyed curiosity, and believe that you are the centre of the universe. Even though your parents and educators are constantly reprimanding you and are consistently disappointed in you, the fact that your performance can give them so much grief convinces you that you are indeed important, that you matter. You go through life, being sought after by the opposite sex or same, depending on your preference and still the impression continues. Then you have children or pets and then you are thoroughly convinced that not only are you the centre of the universe but you are the architect.

Then life throws you a crisis, you lose your job, or marriage, or health or loved one and you realize that it was all a dream. In an instant you lose your identity, If you are a manager and you are fired and can’t find a job, what are you? If your marriage breaks down then in an instant you no longer are a wife or a husband. If you get diagnosed with cancer and it’s terminal your dying. If you lose someone dear to you, a person who coloured every moment of your existence with their presence who are you without them?

Suddenly in a split second, you are changed, the life you lived until then is no longer valid, just a memory, your identity is changed forever. Confident to clueless, in a matter of seconds, but what really cuts, is that life goes on. The sun still shines like a happy day, the birds still chirp in delight and people still plan for births, weddings, and parties. The clock keeps ticking, the chores need doing, the bills need paying, you can pause and take a breath but then you need to get going.

And then it hits you, what was the purpose of my life? Why do I exist? You reach out to Epictetus and you get stoic. You begin to embrace your vulnerability and live fearlessly. You start to let go of your identities, the real cause of your misery, after all, it is not the event that shatters you but your perception of the tragedy. The drama that we endure in our minds and the imagined anguish we feel in our hearts is what really torments.

But if you stay in the moment, take a deep breath, let the smells carry you, let the noises transport you, then in that moment you can either choose to be broken and lost or you could start to truly live. In that moment you are enlightened, as a human you are granted a glorious mind that can travel through space and time, coupled with a body that can make every imagination feel as real as can be. You uncover an unexplored realm of human consciousness, where you can choose your own existence, exploration or imagination.

So I say, ‘Go forth and live, to infinity and beyond!’

Broken crayons still colour!

Broken crayons still colour!

There is a lot in this statement, the words broken and colour have nothing in common, but a crayon does. That summarises our lives, we can be broken and we can still excel, the two characteristics have nothing to do with each other unless we empower them to. We are authors of our own lives, protagonists of our life stories, we can either write a bestseller that is motivational or a horror story that leaves one, with nothing but despair.

Too easily we surrender our power of thought, emotion and mostly action to our circumstances, the whims of people, society, or to our vices. We forget that while the past is real and often painful and crippling, it is over. The present, right here and now, is where we are and where we should be designing, moulding, and creating our future. And if need be the present is where we rewrite our past so that we can be in control.

Yes, we can rewrite our past, after all, it is only a memory that we feed with our emotions, fears, and our energies. A harrowing incident that left us scarred and broken can be rewritten and thousands have done it to great effect. A mother who lost her child to a drunk driver can rewrite her loss as a mission to save other children from similar fates. A rape survivor can take a stand to bring criminals to justice and help others like her.

Broken crayons colour, for the simple reason that being broken doesn’t make you any less but more, much more. You see life from a different perspective and whilst painful you have the unique opportunity to own it, to command it. Or it can rule you, determine your future by controlling your present.

It’s a choice, there is always a choice.

Painful?

Yes.

Hard?

But of course.

Will it ever be easy?

If it has to be worthwhile then the payment is sweat, tears, and blood, always blood.

While we may not choose to be broken, we can choose if we wish to colour twice as much, because broken crayons still colour.broken crayons

Language of Love

     I was scanning some pics for my mum, she has written her autobiography and wants it in a pictorial format, showcasing her life with thoughts and images. As I was digitally documenting her life from the marriage of her parents to her youth, I couldn’t help noticing the gentle souls who had perfumed her life with memories. At 75 she seemed to remember clearly and often fondly her educators, employers, friends, family, and yes off course her loves but most importantly, places.
     Now I know that as an Australian the nomadic gene is quite strong, I mean we are all offspring’s of travelers, but somehow the thrill of discovery resonates strongly in her life accomplishments. She is keen to dedicate pages and pages to her travels, for upon those dusty roads I think she discovered herself. While I might disagree why she wants to put in pictures of café’s and famous landmarks, after all, better quality photos exist on the internet, I think I understand.
     These landmarks aren’t just witnesses of mankind’s urge to celebrate milestones, they are an ancient need to remind oneself of where we came from, what we have overcome and more importantly to leave a marker to be remembered by. Together they form a shared heritage, the town’s accomplishments, and my mother’s journey, from birth to form.
     As I rummage through old school magazines, tattered and frayed, they offer me a peek into the world, not unlike my own, their views as relevant today as they were sixty years ago. The headmistress takes it upon herself to exhort the students, “From community, we have our livelihood, culture, and protection in a reign of law: to the community we owe a just return of loyalty and service!”
     Whatever the adage or style the message is clear, be not takers but givers. This is what our culture of obligation is based upon to find meaning and purpose in life through service to society. Sadly we have failed to impart that onto the younger generation and some of us are sadly drifting away from that concept that shaped our progress and saw us explore the moon and beyond.
     As I rummage through vintage satin printed cards deciding which one to immortalise in her book I am enthralled by the detail and labour that went into making a company Christmas card. The irony isn’t lost on me as I have just returned from purchasing a $3 birthday card from the shops. The fact that she has treasured them for over fifty-six years tells a lot about how little acts can imprint itself onto one’s heart and mind. How integrity isn’t in the grandiose but sometimes in the littlest of things.
     As I plough through scanning black and white photos, I glance at a few, noticing that they have faded and succumbed to the realities of time. As I touch them up, easing the crease lines, filling up blank spots, one feature stands out that hasn’t faded, the commonality of us humans. Even in pictures seventy years old, we lived, laughed, loved, cared and most importantly held onto memories.
     One of those pictures spoke to me, a happy bloke, with his dog and a giggling little girl clutching a freshly cut bouquet of succulents. It’s her smile that captured my soul, that euphoric grin and the gay abandon with which she pointed her left feet, with her toes barely touching the ground as she leaned towards the equally blissful gentleman. Not a fan of ballet I suddenly discovered a new appreciation for the art. Captured in that moment was the unspoken bond between a Father and his first born, the circle of life so beautifully encompassed.
     All of our toil, our achievements, our aspirations lead us to an end where we leave behind a legacy, for those embarking on what we have spent a lifetime discovering. While most of us hope the best for the generation starting out, mostly, we pray that they don’t repeat our mistakes but mainly we want to inform them that it will be alright. Don’t beat yourself over a mistake, you’ll make worse ones along the way; no heartbreak lasts forever; no matter what anyone says it’s never the end of the world; love yourself especially if no one else will; aim for the stars, don’t live a life of regrets it passes quick enough; and look to the heavens ever so often, it’s too late when your time is up, you’ve missed the whole point of living.
     That’s what Mum’s book is all about, the journey of January’s child, the journey of a sixties girl, raw and undiluted. Along the way we meet kind family members, inspirational people, fun loving souls, charming men, pretty girls, and we discover life in Australia sixty odd years ago.
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‘FakeNews’ and its repercussion

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I wake up every morning, wishing it wasn’t and as I mentally grumble about how tired I am of being tired, I have a little gratitude mantra that I do for 30 minutes that gets my grumbling to stop and my foot on the floor. I reach out for my mobile and go through my news feeds, this world gives me an endless supply of SMH (shake my head) news feeds that make me realise how petty my problems are.

Today’s news feed got me especially stirred up, and my next cathartic step is to blog about it. It was about how America is in the paroxysm of ‘FakeNews’ conspiracy psychosis. On the fateful day of December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members of The Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, U.S.A.

This sickening news was the deadliest mass shooting at either a high school or grade school in U.S. history and the third-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history. It triggered massive debates on gun control and thankfully stirred the country to rethink its gun laws.

What it brought along with it was the unmasking of conspiracy theorists who would go to ugly lengths just to prove their belief. While conspiracy theories like ‘whether we actually landed on the Moon’ and ‘Obama was not born in America’ makes for light-hearted humour, asking the father of one of the six-year-old victims to exhume the body to prove that the child existed or is, in fact, dead is downright despicable.

As a mother of three the thought of grieving for a child is unbearable in itself, and to have barbarians troll the internet insisting that my child never existed and is ‘FakeNews’ orchestrated by the government is just appalling. People are reaching a new level of low and it is disturbing, to say the least.

Conspiracy theorists can no longer be ignored, as they are the secret force behind the election of the world’s greatest bigot as the most powerful man on Earth. Systematically tracking the trending conspiracy theories that had the greatest support, he concurred with it and thereby drove throngs to the polling booth that had previously shunned the elections. Trump even appeared on the Sandy Hook massacre denier, Alex Jones’s Infowars during his presidential campaign and lavished praise on its presenter, saying that the conspiracy theorist had an “amazing” reputation and pledging not to let him down.

Not only has the President of America by his support of the conspiracy theorists vilified the memories of those lost but also shattered the ability of those left behind to heal. It sickens me to think that victims are the latest targets for acrimony and a growing brood of loud and angry haters are assailing those that dare to speak up.

Haters is a group because quite literally all they do it hate, they loathe free speech except when they use it as an excuse to hurl insults and debase. They abhor progressive thinking because it forces them to acknowledge their ignorance and malevolence. They despise the truth because it forces them to admit that they are wrong and holds them accountable.

Sadly they are not restricted to the borders of U.S.A. but they populate the entire earth, in fact, chances are there is one in your extended family. The one person who scoffs at your hardest attempts, ridicules your dress, your weight, your children, your spouse, your job, your beliefs, and quite often leaves you feeling miserable in your own skin.

They are a viral epidemic that is more life threatening than the Ebola, they are the superbugs of humanity. Left unchecked they will consume every last hope, dream, and aspiration until all that will be left behind is shattered dreams, broken spirits, despair, and uncontrollable odium.

Internet trolling is providing these toxic people with more power and the ability to persist, after all the written word is hard to erase and harder still to ignore. A mother posted a picture of her son holding a chook (chicken) and it garnered haters to comment that if she was a ‘good mother’ she would teach her child to be vegan!? She deleted her post.

“A Brown Girl’s Guide to Gender” by Aranya Johar is a poem where she, an 18-year-old speaks about misogyny and touches on a very serious topic of how men justify rape through women’s clothing and cleavage. It’s a plea of a young girl in India voicing what women all over echo in their silence and the hate comments that have inundated her youtube video and facebook page are appalling. They called her poem a misandry towards men, told her to stop her whining and crying, called her crazy, said it was all a publicity stunt and the list goes on.

When did we as a civilized world think it was our right to belittle an 18-year-old girl talking about her experiences in a poem? Which is why now more than ever we need to encourage each other, we need to shut those haters with all our positivity and mostly by refusing to let them bog us down. At every opportunity we need to make our voices heard; we need to laud those who dare to be positive, who speak the truth and we need to look to our right and our left and let our loved ones know that we are with them. We need to curb our own anger and replace it with peace, love, and understanding because this world is already overflowing with hate. We need to celebrate every last drop of creativity, inspiration, and beauty. We need to spread cheer and good will, we don’t need to talk about all that is wrong but about all that is right and good.

Let us fight the good fight, the one that leads to a victory of love and peace because if we don’t then no one else will.

Do we deserve to kill?

I was watching a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson

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TED TALKS:bryan_stevenson :we need to talk about injustice

His opening statements made me sit back and breathe deeply.

Bryan Stevenson: It’s interesting, this question of the death penalty. In many ways, we’ve been taught to think that the real question is, do people deserve to die for the crimes they’ve committed? And that’s a very sensible question. But there’s another way of thinking about where we are in our identity. The other way of thinking about it is not, do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit, but do we deserve to kill?

Do we deserve to kill?

Echoes from the bible resound in my ear, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” I have received a lot of flak from people who have derided my pacifist attitude. My husband is a strong proponent of an eye for an eye, which he is quick to point out, is also in the bible. As I stood explaining to my then seven-year-old son to forgive those who bully him and to avoid mean kids, my husband interjected showing him how to land a left hook. As a child with Autism he was greatly disturbed and emotionally scared by his experiences but I have tried my best to make him understand that there are only two kinds of people, good and bad. We empower the good and we pray for the bad to turn good.

I have had a turbulent life, filled with mean girls, cruel women, evil men, scheming friends, manipulative family members, and the racists few. I know too well the perils of trusting a friend only to be betrayed, repercussions of being a guarantee for a loan, helping someone only to be accused of having ulterior motives, being called pathetic and weak for not joining in, and the list of hurts goes on. However, what I’d like to add is that I too have committed the same crimes albeit in different contexts.

In my forty years of life, can I truly say that I haven’t been at some point in my life mean, cruel, evil or schemed and manipulated to get my way? Have I never made a sweeping blanket statement that might have been sexist or racist? When we sit with our girlfriends sipping coffee hearing how their husband/boyfriend cheated on them and remark, “All men are pigs!” Reading about the atrocities against the slaves by the wealthy American cotton barons, I must confess my thoughts were quite racist. When I despised my brother’s girlfriend for taking advantage of him, I shamefully admit many schemes and emotional manipulations. When I hear of a pedophile, human trafficker, or a rapist, I can assure you my desire of vengeance can be downright evil not just cruel or mean.

The point being just because we can justify our wrongs with good intent, does it exempt our actions? If so then why can we not afford that same leverage to criminals that commit crimes due to poverty, drug addiction, etc.? Let me stress strongly that I am talking of the death penalty and not in any way advocating parole or shorter sentences. There are some mentally diseased humans that need to be locked away forever but what I question is the right to take away human life.

When did we as a society think that we could decide who lived and who didn’t? I am all for consequences and incarceration for the guilty but a death penalty for me is a downward spiral in our evolution. I cannot understand how we as a technologically advanced human race, wherein we have learnt to land on planets and study them, fail to appreciate human life. For me the only way forward is together but these cultural silos that we have created have now bifurcated even further into smaller isolated mobs of common goals, view points etc.

It is getting increasingly hard to have a discussion with anyone with a different point of view. All statements are emotional coupled with a myopic view that only they are right, reason and logic has been abandoned, compassion and empathy buried deep in the sands of self-preservation and personal comfort. I have never been more scared of voicing my opinions or of expressing them passionately for fear of being labeled a zealot. The world is getting increasingly corroded with hate and fear.

The words of Thomas Paine ring true today more than they ever did, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals.”

I am dumbfounded when I discover the need to argue the case of saving human lives, with a history of slavery, genocide, oppression, tsunami, hurricanes, natural disasters and a nuclear bomb, we should know better. In the year 2017 we should not have prejudices based on religion, race, cast, gender, disability, or background, we should not have prejudices period. Before we plot a path to the stars and raise our flags on alien soil let us first nurture tolerance, justice and mercy.

There are a few statements that Bryan Stevenson makes that strike a chord in me that I cannot help but resound.

Our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.

You judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated.

My journey of Faith

faithPresently in my life I have been engaged in a constant discussion about faith, my father’s insights often touch my soul. I am blessed that I am considered a good friend by people of different faiths and those without. My own personal journey has been quite colourful, born a catholic, turned atheist, then joined a Hindu cult, then a protestant group and now finally a Catholic.

I still cherish the sound teachings that had first attracted me to each faith and the lack of it. As an atheist I thoroughly enjoyed the responsibility aspect, we are in charge of our own lives and most importantly our choices. Unless someone puts a gun on your head and makes you do something, it’s a choice no matter how hard you disliked it. Accountability, I really liked that part.

In the Hindu cult, I enjoyed the concept of deriving meaning from mythological stories. Somehow it touched a chord; it triggered an ancient evolutionary process. The story itself was colourful and mesmerising and then the art of deriving hidden messages that gave you the ‘Aha moment!” was just splendid. The religion itself is steeped in ancient customs that somehow still managed to energise the chakras, and left you feeling exhilarated.

The Protestants on the other hand were an energetic bunch, so dedicated and passionate about their faith that I couldn’t help getting attracted to a life filled with purpose. Every morning was a new day; a new discovery to be made, a constant goal that kept evolving and I loved the whole momentum. The fact that we could feed off each other’s energy whilst generating our own and seeding others was just brilliant.

I decided to finally follow the catholic faith after researching other faiths, Buddhism, Islam, etc. I must admit that my research wasn’t extensive but enough to help me finally make up my mind. I realized that faith is a gift from God, providing you are willing to receive and nurture it, but religion is man made and highly dependent on your family, friend circle, society, culture and upbringing.

Let me elaborate using my own journey as an example, It was easy for me to be an atheist as I was a young science student and filled with questions that no one could answer. The concept that there was a God that allowed misery and we the blind sheep were supposed to entreat this unfeeling God with prayerful supplications basically defied common sense.

As a college student who was going through a rough patch at the hands of educated peers purely out of spite, I found refuge in the welcoming embrace of a new age Hindu cult group that spoke of tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness. Their love for life and every living being was such a welcoming change to the snooty cruel self-absorbed attitude I was accustomed to at my hostel. My disdain for money and those who valued it more than anything took root during this phase of my life.

As a young woman setting out to make my career I returned to live with my parents in Dubai, U.A.E. Muslim colleagues soon bombarded me with literature to facilitate my conversion. As an advanced member of my cult group I entered the organizational committee and soon discovered that money was indeed the core of everything. The love speech halted and turned into strategy and financial planning, albeit very transparent and honorable. I saw the stark reality of the romantic picture I had painted in my mind’s eye.

People were told exactly what they wanted to hear in order to lure them into a group that generated income by selling meditation, camaraderie, yoga lessons and supposedly enlightenment. All in all it is a good business, nothing wrong with teaching people to let go, live, sing and dance albeit for a reasonable fee that supported a community. Life coaches do the same thing on a smaller scale and charge astronomical amounts and benefit only themselves with the income. However, it wasn’t for me as I was looking for the truth, the path to self-evolution, not a song and dance distraction to help me live out my years on planet earth.

I spoke to a few Islamic friends and heard what they had to say about their religion and whilst I developed a deep respect for them, it didn’t take me home. That’s when I met a protestant evangelist, a powerful psychic who could read minds, see the past and foretell the future, gifts from the Holy Spirit he assured me. I was intrigued and more importantly lured by the promise that perhaps if found worthy I too could be blessed with such graces.

Sad to say money too was at the heart of his propaganda, and he literally thrived off the ‘donations’ made by generous followers. My tenure with him taught me a startling fact about the future, it is not set in stone. A person’s ability to choose brings about the biggest uncertainty to the possible time lines. I began to understand the question that drove me to atheism, why does God not interfere and stop the suffering? God’s gift of choice to mankind binds him and restricts him in making any changes or supernatural effects that could override mankind’s right to choose.

Suddenly the Lord’s Prayer made perfect sense, Our Father, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. We need to choose God’s will over our own, collectively to allow God to enact his miracles. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with love and respect for this unseen God, what a sense of justice, to stop oneself from interfering just because you have given your word not to.

For a split second I was transported to a world where honor, integrity, justice, and love was valued so highly. My head bowed with the realization that this unfeeling God was an honorable, ever-loving God of justice and suddenly I felt so worthless and regretted ever daring to question his righteousness. The verse from the bible resounded in my head, ‘Can the pot ask the potter what have you made?’

Long story short, I turned catholic after a brief experimentation with another protestant group that was more like a Christian rock concert, once again money being the central theme of everything. As I entered the Catholic Church after a sabbatical of five years, I felt as if I had come home. It felt familiar even though I had stepped into it for the very first time. That’s when I understood that everyone has a home, for some it’s a temple, to another it’s a mosque, to some a synagogue, but to me it’s a catholic church.

I felt my burdens lift away, I felt comfortable like I was returning home after a long trip. In many ways I had.