Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
Most people believe that the life, work, and legacy of Mother Teresa needs no introduction. But, like so much about Mother, that is both entirely true – and entirely wrong, as Come Be My Light reveals. Written by Brian Kolokiejchuk, her postulator for canonisation, this is a comprehensive compendium of private correspondence between Mother and her numerous spiritual advisors.
There have been strong supporters and critics of Mother Teresa; his book provides ample material for either side. The author divides her private writings into two parts: the first, her struggle to gain acceptance of the idea from the priests and bishops in her diocese, as well as formal recognition from the Vatican; and the second, the later spiritual emptiness that enveloped her barely a year after she began Missionaries of Charity (M.C., her organisation), and that lasted – unknown to everyone except her spiritual fathers – till her death.
Begging to do good
Critics, including those of Christianity, will delight in how hypocritical the Church is, putting barriers of “prayerful meditation” to stop her from starting MC. They will also say how perfectly naïve this saint can be, believing the will of some old men, enriched by their positions of power, say about her mission is indeed the will of God. Mother Teresa waited for an incredibly long time before permission was granted her by the Church to start her mission in Calcutta for the poorest of the poor.
Her letters are testament to this travesty: it is incredulous that this organisation, claiming to uphold everything Christ was and did, should take years to approve the work of a nun just because her priests and bishops aren’t sure her work is divinely inspired. And they have the nerve to suggest that it was because she was impatient. She writes very appropriately to the archbishop of her diocese: “Delay no longer. Keep me not back.”
The author adopts an unapologetic bias toward Mother, describing her as quite the saint with every sentence possible: she is said to possess a sense of humour for deeply unfunny remarks, and her informal writing style is described as “expressive of the dynamism and vivacity of her personality”. These are merely cosmetic habits – throughout the book, the author takes liberty to ascribe every letter she writes to variations of a theme of holiness, reminiscent of how some literature teachers suggest the author is saying something with this sentence or that phrase – when he is clearly not. For this genre of private writings, the author should try to remain silent, and let the Mother do the talking – especially if he does not have any particularly penetrating analysis. This detracts severely from the credulity a reader has toward Mother, even if the fault is not with her letters.
A profound humanity
The second half of the book, dealing with her internal struggle, contains the letters that lay out, in excruciating detail, how Mother feels as if Christ has left her, and all her decades-long desperation begins. She earnestly wants to feel Christ beside her, but all that is left is emptiness. This theme repeats itself in almost all her later letters, evidence that these issues were significant, persistent, and very real to her. Come Be is perhaps the most heartfelt, most desperate emptiness ever lived out, and then put on paper. Nevermind the author’s incessant (and increasingly irritating) reminders, Mother’s own letters portray a selflessness and complete disregard for the overwhelming world recognition and acclaim for her work.
To some, this may instead suggest that she was being a hypocrite: “to take what he gives, and give what he takes with a smile” (her famous phrase) while remaining so spiritually dry. Yet this is exactly the author’s point: she was experiencing the loneliness of Christ at Calvary, sharing with him his passion, and so in fact was living out the most profound faith possible. This logical arm-bending will understandably invite scepticism in equally profound quantities. The harshest critic may not agree with what she believes in, or what she does, but he must surely be moved at how completely she believes, and how earnestly she does.
Perhaps Mother Teresa has lived one of the most important life stories of our time: hers is of persistence to do what she was called in a conservative religious hierarchy, of calm in the dire situations without food, yet of happiness in poverty, of trust in God’s calling, and of faith when this same God that hid his face from her. Her life is a story of “nevertheless”. Even if any of these were misplaced – perhaps she worked in the wrong church, with wrong people in a wrong country, even believed wrong God – her humanity was nevertheless a truly outstanding one.
Today I ran my personal best for the 4.8k SAFSA cross-country event. Yay!
At the start, and especially at the start point, everyone seemed so menacing. A few familiar faces – and less-familiar faces but incredibly lean/fit/runner bodies – told me already that this was more a congregation of national/regional ex-trackers, than a genuinely SAF event. I was running in the company of over 150 of the best runners from the various formations in SAF, including commandos, NDU, and other units.
I ran a timing of 18-flat (or maybe a little less). Finally a sub-9 for 2.4k! So when I passed the finishing line and someone shouted “48th!”, I was quite happy -
but obviously, hardly satisfied. Actually, deeply unsatisfied. I think I could have run better today in the second half which was along Lornie road, I know I could have finished much stronger at the last lap. The middle part wasn’t great either, and this was the result of a slight over-exertion in the first half. The timing was my best; the running itself was not. I didn’t completely enjoy the run: I thoroughly enjoyed my earlier next-fastest run a few days back, which was barely half a minute more. That time, I was running with a smile. I was thoroughly unglam today.
Before the race, I told myself, I’d run my own race. I wasn’t doing this to beat the next guy, although that was precisely the premise of this event – teams are ranked by the sum of members’ position only, and not timing. Along the second half, it was a little discouraging to see a couple of runners behind start catching up. So I’m a little glad that I finally used this philosophy toward the end: whereas I failed to do this in the first half, and that likely explains why I miscalculated my speed inside the Macritchie mud track. Maybe it’s the constant pressure to run faster, and faster, and faster: in front are the runners to beat, behind you are those who will beat you if you stop.
The whole idea of most races is to run it faster than your opponent: the higher your speed, the faster you finish, the better it is. And you just need to look in front and behind to see that the competition is relentless: in fact, turning your head to look would really mean slowing for a single second, and that means you’re now a few positions back. It is like stepping aside on a high-speed conveyor belt; the belt will keep moving, and the queue of people behind you will not stop advancing. It’s unforgiving. When running competitively, it’s that living, breathing feeling of unforgiveness that refuses to apologise.
So running your own race is a very deliberate choice. It’s always easier to benchmark yourself against the next fastest and slowest runner, and ultimately, among the whole body of runners. But is that the point? I mean, it’s nice to win, to be in the top 10 – all that is genuinely good and in keeping with the spirit of this competition. All I’m asking myself is if the concept of being in a race, purely for the competition, is genuinely important to me. The feeling of unforgiving competition is a strong motivator, but is it necessarily my main one?
I think life deals it quite differently. For a start, the sense of competition is generally more abstract. It is usually not as tangible and obvious as a runner wearing the singlet from another Army division beside you, gathering enough breath (you hear his breath now – in, out, in, out) to overtake you. But the competition can be much fiercer, and far more nuanced, in other respects. What strikes me most about this comparison is how everyone is running a different race. You might be overtaking this sweaty, near-limping guy – but what makes you think he isn’t doing his last km in his first marathon, and you merely a 5k?
The paths of our fellow humanity join here and separate there, they intertwine at some points and detach at others – sometimes abruptly and unexpectedly, other times gradually and obviously. A runner could be outpacing you rapidly – but don’t you realise he’s running on a track with studded shoes, and you on inhospitable, hilly terrain with worn shoes? Or maybe she’s on sea level, and you’re breathing rarefied oxygen in the Himalayas (simply because running there is divine). She could be debilitated, running with ovarian cancer – but no you won’t know, because you can’t see, can you? Or you’re running – and running away the pain of an abusive relationship – and he, toward a career promotion? Perhaps it’s her second time running in a long while, and she’s nervous, and she’s worried about what the doctor told her about her high blood pressure, and embarrassed at the love handles bulging from her singlet. And now you’re both running on China’s Great Wall (because running there is also heavenly) – she’s about to faint, and you take five steps for each one she takes – but you’ve run for the school team since Grade 1.
So I’m convinced that we simply cannot contrast our running with others in life, and perhaps in races too – and stay honest about that comparison. As much in salary and grades, as in a tiny 5km race or an overnight 100km ultra-marathon, we might remember that we merely lie to ourselves when we say “I ran faster than you today.”, or “You are unbeatable.” We often compare our unedited recording footage to others’ highlight reel.
In reality, everyone runs their own race - each one his/her different track, place, time, gradient – as life has uniquely assigned to each person. Each track has its own traits – a sharp bend here, a gentle gradient there, a treadmill going nowhere, an incredibly pleasant meadow run to the sunset – and so each life its own journeys.
Do we then make excuses for the 47 runners in front? Or boast that you overtook a hundred runners today? This is where self-discipline comes in. What’s my purpose in running? I value speed in some races, and stamina in others; sometimes I just want the pure joy of running, but in others I want to do the distance. And in some others it could mean not sleeping, or straining something, and yet others a never-ending barefoot track on broken glass, but those are so I can proudly say to myself “I’ve completed this.” – and maybe even “so if you’d like, let me help you”.
And if life lets us choose our races and tracks, then we alone discern the journeys we want to take. For those that life makes us complete, we alone decide for ourselves how we want to run them.
I must run my own race, I must stay myself.
The Filipino cast of this year’s Avenue Q in Singapore delivered mostly strong vocals. But having listened so many times to the 2003 soundtrack by its original Broadway cast that I practically tied the plot strings together, this production fell short. Perhaps I had set myself up for this, rooting expectations in its music, but what makes a musical if not for its music? So while the cast had quite good performances, they were mostly uneven in delivery, intensity and style. Some were certainly better than others – “Fantasies Come True” and “Fine Line” were perhaps the only two that exceeded expectations, the rest were either average or underwhelming. Perhaps, despite a weak start, “Everyone’s a Little Racist” stood out for being quirky in its delivery, and in a good way. “If You Were Gay” seemed almost as if they were rushing through it, and “There Is Life Outside Your Apartment” happened so fast, it didn’t seem very convincing.
And while it is unfair to base judgement purely on its music, even on presentation, the production itself fell short: the use of mostly static backdrops and already minimalistic props were unimaginative. This was possibly excusable given the small number of shows here, this inadequacy certainly detracted from the dramatic impact throughout the numbers. The puppets mouths didn’t always sync to the actors’, although you could tell the puppeteers were commendably expressive.
I probably will go check out the Broadway version of it if/when I get there, I can’t bear to be disappointed. Avenue Q’s music has been an indispensable part of my music library, and a source of encouragement and laughter and fun in the most unlikely of sad times.
Writing this on a 96km bus ride toward Tianjin, I am reminded again how immense this country is.
In many respects besides size, Beijing is different from Singapore. Most visibly, everything – its roads and highways, government buildings and private apartments, three-wheel rickshaws and modern cars – speak of an aspiring modernity wrapped in the grey dust of inevitable history. The city of Beijing has converted most of its cultural history into a veritable ambush for the tourist dollar. Its people are pragmatic, straight-talking, shrewd, and one might say, crude.
None of these characteristics are intrinsically bad. The style of Beijing’s government, the character of its people, the pervasiveness of its social norms, are perhaps just as normal and necessary to the people here as those in Singapore. And I’m sure these might make sense when viewed in the context of its significant, turbulent history and expansive, varied geography.
I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words,
how wonderful life is, now you’re in the world.
I deeply respect Bill Clinton. What particularly strikes me about him, is his earnestness in things he believes in, his candour for things that he does not, and his ability to say the uncomfortable which needs saying. This video, part 2 of a confrontation between Fox News and Bill Clinton, shows exactly the kind of guy he is: doggedly pursuing the truth, unabashed about it – even if it means having a polite but ugly confrontation with a speechless news anchor from a hostile network. Instead of the agreed half-time to speak about his own initiative (Clinton Global Initiative), he collapses Fox’s paper flannel of deceit and misconception. That’s real man of him.
When watching these videos on conflict I find I surf Facebook or read something else, instead of watching him for who he is. I shouldn’t, really. These show the moments he goes beyond being a President or an orator, but to becoming a man who really stands up for what he knows is right – and heck, delivers it brilliantly while at it. I want to be this sort of man.
(And here’s his DNC 2012 speech that has been crazily raved about – and for good reason. You be the judge:
Clementi – Holland Rd – Rifle Range – Upper Bukit Timah – Dairy Farm – Woodlands – Stagmont – Immigration & Checkpoints Authority – Marsiling MRT (route)
So I slept early for the first time this week – that is to say, before midnight – and woke at 7.30 (okay, 7.45) to make sure I made the morning sun. Entering the railway track at 8+, I thought, as I always do, how far I should run today. But I realised soon after, as I always do as well, that I didn’t really care. I wanted to finish my trip to the causeway, half-finished last Friday because I made a turn into a park connector, instead of continuing on the railway track.
And I ran. The humidity got to me fastest; the morning sun only set in later at 9.30. Took off my singlet. Continued running. Throughout the track, there was always the faint sound of vehicles – light cars at the start in residential areas, and heavier, louder, deeper sounds for the heavy cargo vehicles toward Kranji. It seems pretty obvious that the main North-South roads were built almost parallel to the older rail track, all the way into the city where the latter ends.
But this company of roads faded toward the end, approaching the border; there was one point where I realised I could only hear crickets and birds, and then I realised I was quite alone – no one for a hundred metres. That feeling came as a mild shock – how often do us urbanites meet that uninhabited type of silence?
I joined the main road, and saw lots of “FINE: $500″ for running on a tank lower than half full. That was enough motivation to reach Immigration, where I ran across a long bridge just to check if I was indeed at the border. I was there, and I was happy. Malaysians travelling back to their country at 10 am today would have seen a young man in a Specialist singlet raising his hands and smiling very broadly.
It was quite a perfect run, especially on a Saturday morning with low traffic. It would have been an unmitigated delight if the sandy terrain wasn’t wet, or the lallang grass not so intent on invading the path, or the mimosa shrubs not growing up to knee length, but these things give the track its unique and challenging characteristics. There are many other sites and sights less common in the Singapore we think we know: Bangladeshi workers waiting at a bus rest-stop with their luggage bag, uncertain at the sight of a shirtless Chinese runner, and probably waiting to start work; smiling short middle-aged ladies who actually say “good morning” on the narrow path; maids finding the perfect secluded stop, “walking their dogs” and sitting down at the same time, texting whoever it is they text; an unused munitions depot in Kranji and an immense water processing plant soon after.
I ran to a mall near the ICA, probably an entrance rest-stop for the Malaysians I saw there. I went to McDonalds, asking the old counter lady if I could pay by EZ link. She gave a genuinely welcoming smile when I walked in, which threw me a little off, and even when she told me I couldn’t buy anything without cash, directed me to Marsiling MRT. Her warmth was a great finish.