A few days ago, I found myself sitting on some rocks high up the hill, in a place called Meteora, in Greece. Meteora is a place famous for its monasteries perched high on top of rock pillars, isolated from the world. The monasteries were built by hermit monks during the height of the Turkish occupation of Greece, in hopes that they will be unbothered there.
During sunset these rock pillars stood high, looming long shadows wrapped by the rays of the setting orange sun. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement. I sat there, across these monasteries facing the sunset, thousands of miles away from home, and I was in place where I didn’t know anyone and no one knew me.
Did I know I was going to be in Greece? Not until two months ago. In fact, I had no plans to even go to Greece anytime soon. But FlyScoot (which is an Airline, previously known as Tiger Airways) gifted me with free tickets and so there I was, perched on a mountaintop somewhere North of the Greek lands on a Tuesday evening. Talk about random.
But then again, this year has been all about random. I made a pledge during the New Year (which you can read here) to dedicate 2018 to just being spontaneous with minimal plans. Anything is possible, I told myself. And just like that, it seemed like everything around me began to conspire to make this resolution possible – I got free tickets to go anywhere I would like (which I will forever be thankful for!). If that’s not some kind of miracle, I don’t know what is, sugar.
Now, back to me sitting on top of the mountain at the monasteries.
During the hours of just sitting there watching the sun go down, I began to think about how I had no idea I was ever going to end up there. If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be there, in that specific circumstance of my life and in that exact state of mind. Some things were going well, and some things weren’t. And yet, despite the lack of idealistic perfection most of us like to dream our lives could be, I was happy.
I think one of my bigger struggles in life is to understand that life is a journey, and not a permanent residential stop. I mean, I understand it conceptually, but applying it is different altogether. This is why it gets hard for me to let go of people even when they have passed their dues, and why I get really melancholic when I reflect on passing time I’ll never get back. On moments like those on the mountain I would think about how sad it was that some things in my life are gone and only the memories will remain. And this will happen in the future too – our health, parents, beauty, friends, spouses… nothing lasts forever.
But I suppose what has changed is my acceptance of it. One of the biggest blessings of growing older is that you begin to understand that nothing is permanent in this life, and that the only change to the whole situation is how you embrace it.
Maybe happiness isn’t really about having things forever. Maybe happiness is about knowing what is there when you have it, and never taking advantage of these wonderful things, people, chances and experiences, while they last, before they are gone.
On the second day of my little weekend getaway, I was finally doing what I had been daydreaming of doing for weeks now – I sat in my comfy knitwear for hours to read a book, enjoy a pretty view and gorgeous weather, drink some tea and stab a voodoo doll (okay kidding). It was the best, serene feeling of doing nothing, and my mind was now free to revisit some of the things I had thought of reflecting on, but had no time to do so. I have an imaginary shelf in my head where I would store thoughts ‘to be revisited’ when the time and space allows me to. So far the top 3 things are; ‘do babies cry in the womb?’, ‘foreign exchange policies’(snore fest) and ‘forgiveness’.
Forgiveness is an even more daunting task than apologizing. Apologizing requires surpassing one’s ego to do it, but forgiveness requires surpassing one’s ego to do it AND choosing to see a person in a positive light AND giving others the benefit of the doubt. But newsflash; it is made even harder when the person you are trying to forgive is yourself.
Like a lot of other people, I am perhaps my own worst critic. When something does not happen the way I had hoped or planned, I am quick to turn the blame on myself first. Perhaps it is due to the opinion that although I can’t control situations, I can certainly control me. Why did I act out of anger? Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Why would I make that bad decision? Sometimes there are words I expressed that I wished I had not said, circumstances I wished I had handled better, or even things I wished I had fought harder for. It is true that the heart is the mind’s braver sibling, but sometimes it deludes us to make hasty emotional decisions and reactions we later regret.
In circumstances such as these, it is helpful to perpetually remember this – there is always a reason for why people are the way they are. Understanding this makes anger more irrelevant and forgiveness more prominent. Perhaps a person did that because they have fears, just like we all do sometimes. Perhaps we ourselves acted a certain way fuelled by our disappointments of an expectation, and isn’t that natural? I realised that the twenties is a crucial time to experiment with the concept of empathy, and the balance between heart and head (in between the raging hormones, the self-searching and the quarter-life crisis. How exciting.).
As a conclusion, I once came across a beautiful saying, which have evidently helped me through countless times. It says, “How many times should you forgive yourself and others? As many times as you would like God to forgive you”. I find that it speeds up my own forgiving process, even that one time a mean boy came up to me when I was 15 and called my face ugly. I still despise you, you punk.
Here’s my biggest accomplishment for 2016; I learned how to replace my toilet seats.
Yes I did other things too. I learned how to do a yoga headstand unassisted, I climbed bloody Mount Rinjani (photograph), I lost all my ‘baby’ fat (my Mom lied, I was not cute at all and looked like blubber. But thanks Mom), I got a work promotion, I learned to make curry and I now know five extra Mandarin phrases (which includes “I’m tired”, and that is seriously important). But for more reasons than one, learning how to change toilet seats tops the list.
I learned how to change toilet seats because a guy taught me. And so of course it was no longer about just learning how to change toilet seats, and my 2016 becomes admittedly, undoubtedly and thematically about another person. And before you deduce this as a pining write up about what used to be, I will tell you why it is not and why this is important.
It is no secret that whether we like it or not, our lives are highly impacted by the people we meet along the way. I had always been a believer that you meet specific people at a specific time of your life to teach you specific lessons, and this one was no exception. And because most of my year had revolved around another singular person, I can’t possibly dissociate my personal development of 2016 from this story.
It was somewhat a chance meeting and the minute it happened I knew it was going to only get bigger. Each of us would probably have had that experience at least once in a lifetime, meeting someone that was rather unconventional than the usual but the gut feeling stayed and comfort kicks in anyway. It was the timing, too – I had just came out of a long exhausting dwindling road of a complicated relationship, and 2015 was mostly focused on my Dad being sick. In many ways I was bruised and battered, and in came a new being who turned my life around.
Through this relationship I had learned the big milestones. I had been so used to taking care of myself, and the aforementioned past relationship had given me severe trust and reliance issues. I slowly again learned that it was okay to let someone else take care of your sometimes, that it was not shameful to expose your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and to let others into your life even if you don’t think it is all that pretty to share. Most importantly, it is the self-elevation you get from the other person that must be truly valued. I did so many things I thought I was not able to do from sheer encouragement alone – from changing toilet seats to climbing Mount Rinjani and so many other things in between.
As I sat by myself in this last leg of 2016 with the empty slots that used to be his space, I measured the things I have learned this year and realised that I have all but forgotten to be grateful. People come and people leave, but while they were there I must have gratitude. A man can be sincere and kind and expect no return, and although I had trouble believing this before, I do now. I remember a distinct moment when I was watching him cook me a meal in the kitchen and I was wondering if that would last, if he would stay and if I was doomed. Alas, here we are.
2016 has been gracious. It was both happy and sad, but as always I learned most about myself in the presence of others. I achieved a lot of physical milestones but more importantly were the spiritual ones – I was brought to life again in many ways and believed a lot more. Knowing another soul will teach you more than any book will ever do, and this person who came from a different culture and background had opened my eyes to so much more, whether it was intentional or not. It is easy to be comfortable in life as you know it, but to step into something new, something different than what you had ever known will always be one of life’s greatest adventures.
So perhaps it is rather shameful to say that a year was mostly about a man. Perhaps. But perhaps the real shame lies in not recognising this gift, the lessons a person brings when they come along into our lives, adding values to change the way we see this life and the world even for just a little. And that for me is the biggest lesson 2016 has taught me.
It really doesn’t matter who dumped who, but the truth is, it’s not easy forgetting an ex.
Especially when there’s Facebook to stalk them with. Or if you suddenly meet them again (usually by accident) after all this time. The feelings come up again. You miss them. You miss time spent with them. You miss the things you went through together, the good times, the shit times. The thing is, once you know someone in your life, there is no chance in hell that you can un-know them. And so no matter how much you tell yourself, other people, your therapist and your ego that you don’t give a rat’s ass about them, the sad truth is, you still do. Even just a little bit. Even if it’s just such a tiny bit. The way to discover how tiny this is will be to wait until something huge has happened to them – marriage, death, achievement. When that news feed on Facebook comes out and you find yourself looking at their notification twice, that’s when you know that in fact, you still do care a little bit.
Since there is no such thing as ‘un-know’, people usually resume to ‘hate’. I find this hard to do because, well, I don't know how to do it. I don't know how to convert love into hate. And a relationship that doesn’t work out takes two to tango, so you can’t hate the other if it’s partly your fault also. And so since I refuse to hate, I am left with the curse of remembering things. When I see an ex, I would immediately remember. This is the part when I will then get myself confused. Am I missing, or am I regretting? Missing something does not mean you want it back. You just feel sad that it’s gone. You know, like missing childhood. You miss the moments but will probably never go back. But regretting means if you have a chance, you would do it differently.
So when I see an ex, especially ones that I left on good terms with, I am clouded by the misery of whether I am missing or regretting. Suddenly I forget why it didn’t work out in the first place. Suddenly I remember all the things done and all the great stuff that happened that will never be the same with other people (because honey, no two persons are the same). He feels familiar, and familiar is always great, isn’t it?
A great anecdote to remind ourselves when seeing an ex is that it was never a waste of time. Every single moment in your life is a learning curve, and this includes your failed relationships. Understanding that it was not a waste, that it was meant to be, that it was there to teach you a lesson allows one to let go. The bad news is it ain’t easy, and some of us will never forget, ever. But hey, like the wise man said; everybody you meet in this world, you meet for a reason. Find that reason and you shall be free. Well, at least free of Facebook-stalking, that is.
How would you feel if your ex-boyfriend gets married?
I've heard of this one a million times before. I had girlfriends talking about it for hours during lunch, and while I would nod and say 'I understand, honey' the truth is I really didn't. So what if your ex gets married? It's not like you'll ever get together again. And it's not like you still have feelings for them.
Then one fine day I went through my Facebook account, looked through the news feed and there it was.
"John Doe (my ex) has changed his status from 'single' to 'engaged ' ."
Four things happened to me at once.
First, I was shocked. So much so that I ended up staring at that bloody page for more than two minutes.
Second, I thought to myself, wait a minute, but he loved me first and didn't he use to take me out to nice romantic dinners and flew cross country to see me?
Third, I frantically used all search engines to find this other girl. I hoped she has only one good eye. Or maybe a strangely large nose. Or maybe she's as boring as a stick. But I couldn't find even a piece of information of her (yes, even after I asked my girls to stalk him and I went searching on Facebook for hours).
Fourth, I sat back and stared at the 'no results found' on Facebook. Why am I doing this? What kind of satisfaction will this ever give me? Then I recalled myself saying to a friend a few months back when she was faced with the same ordeal. So what if your ex gets married?
What do you mean, so what? He used to be with me. It was me first. I know it's unlikely we'll get back together, but the thought of him finally getting married, walking off to the sunset with the girl of his dreams, it drives me crazy up the wall. I can't quite explain why.
Oh wait a minute. This is exactly what they were talking about during those long lunch hours. I said I didnt understand, so maybe now fate is just slapping my face with a big trout to finally make me get it.
"Honey, don't be that girl," Hana, my close friend, said over the phone.
But the truth is, there is that girl in all of us. So the next time you want to judge another person for being silly over it, think twice.
Once upon a time I graduated from college and got myself a job. I have left everything behind at college. It was fun but I felt it was time for something new. A new job at a new city seemed like… the perfect opportunity to start over.
One night I was walking around in a shopping mall and I fell down the escalator. In the most non-elegant way possible, I might add. My knees were bruised blue and a lot of people saw me fall flat on my face. I thought that was the only Big Event that would happen that night. Nope. Another Big Event occurred. I found a new pair of shoes.
Now there are many kinds of shoes. Some are comfortable but never fits you well. Some are super stylish but you know they’re just not for you. Some come way too cheap. Some way too pricey. But this one pair was different. I thought I wouldn’t like it at first. I tried it on. Hmm, not too bad. The shoes are not ugly like Hush Puppies flats, nor is it too tall and ankle-murdering like Jimmy Choo stilettos. Maybe I’ll let the shoes stick around and see if they’re worth having.
When I first met the shoes I thought they were too boring for me. The shoes thought I was too much of a clown to be wearing them either. But it turned out the shoes fit me pretty well. They made me smile a lot than I already was. I think I made the shoes pretty happy too. They were reliable. They kept my feet on the ground whenever I floated too far. We walked through a lot of laughs, good times, even the horribly depressing times.
Then one day something happened. I’m not sure if it was me who scratched the shoes’ soles or it was the shoes that hurt my ankle, but they needed to be given away. It made me sad. The thing about a good pair of shoes is that they’re not easy to find. And when you do, it’s not easy to forget about them when they’re gone. You think they’ll always be waiting by the door for you but they’re not. You think they’ll make you smile on your bad days like they always do but they wont. And as you go through life you look for something to replace them, and you probably will, but you know you’ll never quite find the same pair. You hope you get to wear the shoes again but if you don't, you hope that the next person who finds the shoes will appreciate them as much as you do. Because although it seems as you can easily find thousands of shoes in this world, it's unlikely you would want to walk with most of them.
And no, I wasn’t talking about shoes at all.