Life is like a book

IT was a breeze travelling on the roads and highways in the Klang Valley this past week – a real pleasure for motorists who remained in the city when nearly everyone else had balik kampung.

It brings to mind one of Lat’s iconic cartoons showing rodents sunbathing on a street in Kuala Lumpur during the festive period.

Although my movements are somewhat limited these days for medical reasons, I took advantage of the low traffic conditions to venture further from my home to catch up with friends.

Besides dropping in briefly on a few Hari Raya open houses, I was able to explore the practically empty Lake Gardens located in the heart of KL city, officially known as Perdana Botanical Gardens.

Strolling along the spacious tree-lined pathways and beautifully manicured gardens brought back many pleasant memories of a time when I used to frequent the park.

I was even brave enough to attempt an outing to a popular mall – something I would not usually do on a public holiday to avoid the stress of looking for a parking lot – and had an enjoyable time.

In fact all my trips this past week went smoothly, without the usual jams. I’m rather sorry that that will soon come to an end as office workers and schoolchildren get back to the grind tomorrow.

At times like these, I cannot but realise how much stress we have to deal with during normal working days. We have learnt to live with the reality that travelling from Point A to Point B will stretch on to an hour or more.

But doing the same route in mere minutes during the festive break made me wonder what it all actually adds up to, not only in terms of fruitless time spent on the road, but in terms of our life choices.

As I travelled along clutter-free roads this past week, it made me wonder if for some of us there may be options which have not been fully explored to simplify our lives.

How many of us have cluttered up our days so much that we sometimes feel that we are stuck in a perpetual jam?

Our diaries are filled with back-to-back appointments. Every hour of the day demands something of us, and there seems to be no getting out of it.

Author and management consultant Manfred Ket De Vries wrote, “In today’s networked society we are at risk of becoming victims of interaction overload. Introspection and reflection have become lost arts as the temptation to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out that’ is often too great to resist.”

He contends that people associate “doing nothing” with wasting valuable time, and are constantly checking e-mails, Facebook and texting.

But the biggest danger, he says, is not so much losing connection with each other, but with ourselves.

De Vries notes that setting aside regular periods of “doing nothing” may be the best thing we can do to nurture our imagination and improve our mental health.

I have long subscribed to that wise counsel. As poet William Henry Davies put it so eloquently:

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Of late, I have found myself in a position where I am regularly forced to “stand and stare” – well sit and stare actually – for all the hours it takes to complete each chemotherapy session.

But in those hours, I have seized the opportunity to commune with friends who drop by, with myself and with my Creator. And I can honestly say I am so much richer for it. Indeed, “doing nothing” has done me a world of good.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 10 July 2016
'Doing nothing’ achieves a lot ;
In our fast-paced life, taking time off to stand and stare is critical for the well-being of the soul.
By Soo Ewe Jin

IT has been said that life is like a book. And there are many motivational quotations that revolve around this.

A friend recently posted on her Facebook one that goes, “Life is like a book. There are many chapters and (sometimes) many volumes. It can be sad (or scary) to end a chapter, but also exciting to see what the next chapter entails.”

She has just been given a new position with a different function and I can understand both the anxiety and the excitement over what lies ahead. But she will do well, that I know.

Among the books in my home library is the English version of the Chinese classic Romance of The Three Kingdoms which comes in two volumes. The chapters are short and always end with an interesting statement like,

“Read the next chapter and you will know the fate of Cao Cao.”

I remember in my growing up-years this classic tale being transmitted over Rediffusion and it just went on and on with a new episode every day. It kept us riveted by the speaker, wondering how the story was going to end.

Fast forward to today and the Three Kingdoms has spread far and wide through video games, TV series and hit movies like John Woo’s Red Cliff.

It’s the same with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings classic. The version I bought in the 1980s is a thick book in small print. The version I bought for my sons comes in a box set of three volumes, released after the movie trilogy hit the big screen.

I am glad they read the books from cover to cover, although I must confess I now prefer to watch the trilogy on my widescreen TV.

Life is indeed like a book. In a way, this column is like my life story as I also weave in aspects of my personal journey. It has its ups and downs.

There are many milestones to cross and whatever we may think, we really don’t know what the next chapter will unveil.

I write this on Friday, the morning after my chemotherapy session, which is still an ongoing process.

I have been asked when this will stop and I don’t know the answer. Even my oncologist cannot be sure when.

I have chosen not to focus on my ailment but to persevere in my journey of faith.

I know that if I choose only to see the medical side of things, I will cease to live life to the fullest.

So, as I have written in previous weeks, I am most joyful that milestones like my elder son’s wedding and my wedding anniversary can continue to be celebrated, albeit with some adjustments.

But it is not just happy moments like these that are being written into my journey of life. There have also been many sad moments, too, for instance when some co-sojourners have passed away.

Yet others fight on with hope. I was especially glad that the day before my chemo session, I was able to visit a friend in hospital and we mutually encouraged and prayed for each other.

Not so long ago, when I was up and about, I used to regularly visit the sick and the elderly. Now I find that though my circumstances may be different, I can still connect in different ways.

Like in a story book, the journey of our life will not be complete if it does not include the supporting characters like the heroes and the villains, the wins and the losses, the epic cliffhangers at the end of each chapter.

When I hear people complain about work, I remind them, “Life is more than just work. There is so much more to life and changing your focus will help you keep these problems in perspective.”

Some years back, during a group discussion, a friend was complaining about a strained finger due to playing tennis, not aware that I was going through a cancer journey then.

Another colleague chided him, “You complain about your finger. Our friend here has a bigger problem.” We all had a good laugh.

I have laughed much in my journeys, even in difficult times, for I believe that laughter is indeed good medicine. I have also cried, and I have had my anxious moments.

That’s what life is about, after all, and not just for those going through cancer or some other serious ailment. Whether the day brings sunshine or rain, live life to the fullest and treasure the gems you find along the way.

The Star, Published: Sunday, 3 July 2016
Live life to the fullest
By Soo Ewe Jin

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