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A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really… “Do the stars gaze back?” Now *that’s* a question.

from Stardust (2007)

Great opening statement. Do humans see beauty in  their surroundings because they are capable of rational thought and irrational emotions, because it is an unchangeable fact that they made humans first before they became humane? or is it just anatomy,  because evolution has permitted humans the ability to enjoy and contemplate on their being?

What’s there after the race?

This week, I’ve been too caught up on encouraging messages of “YOU CAN!”. It’s almost the start of semester, and with all the lively new students and orientation events going on, I thought everything is possible.
Being excited about life is never a bad thing…

“I did it all
I owned every second that this world can give
I saw so many places and things that I did
With every broken bone
I swear I lived” -One Republic, “I lived”

…but tonight as I surfed the internet, I came across the public suicide note of Martin Manley.
Martin Manley is a 60 yr old sports statistician who CHOSE death logically. He created a website and prepaid yahoo to put it up for 5 years (the site was nevertheless put down 2 days after his death because apparently it contained elements that could convince others to do the same).
After reading through it for some time, I was reminded of a similar inner conflict I kept revisiting through the years.
Humans all want to live life to the fullest because that is what we are meant to do.
We all wish we have found and done OUR PURPOSE of living while we are on this fleeting mortal world.
But what is waiting for us at the end of the line?
When we realize we are already successful (whatever success means to you), when there is nothing left to do, what do we do?
Should we wait for everyone else to catch up? Spend our days looking back and reminiscing those times when we truly lived?
The sad truth is, early on we all want to live life… at some point we do get to do that… but there comes a time when we must leave it all behind. It is not death I’m talking about, it’s the decline and the stagnancy of life after “life”.

Martin Manley touched onto this a few times in his suicide note:

“Michael Jordan has talked about the “joy” of his first championship, but by the third championship, it had become more “relief”. Happiness had become the absence of misery – the misery of losing. And, so for me…
“Happiness is the absence of misery.”” – Martin Manley

When you receive your first trophies, you are filled with overwhelming happiness, vigor, and life. But when you repeat it again and again, eventually the trophies lose their luster. It’s a negative relationship. The more happiness you have, the less you actually appreciate it. The less happy you are initially, the more appreciative you will be.
Also, they say that when you reach the bottom, there’s no way to go but up. I will argue that the same can happen for the opposite. When you are at the top, there is no way to go but down (or stay there).  Either way, there’s no more improvement.

This man, Martin Manley, reminded me of one of the things I fear the most: success.
Sure, I want it.. but I’m afraid to see what’s after it. Because if I’m supposed to be at my happiest point, only a decline can follow after it, right?

On Roads and Diverging Paths

I was browsing through an online comic blog (http://zenpencils.com), and found this cartoon about roads and life. The original writer of the poem was Robert Frost. It’s tells the story of a man who, while travelling in the woods, came across two roads: one is a paved and usually trodden path to college, job, marriage, and old age. The other is “grassy and wanted wear”. It leads to adventure, falling in love, finding a meager means to live by, and finally settling in at old age. The poem ends with this:

“Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the road less traveled by

… and that has made all the difference”

After reading this, some would probably say, “Meh! Not another one of those road less traveled stuff! To be honest, that sounds great and all, but I have responsibilities and I want security. I can’t risk everything for some uncertain future.” People who say this have a point.

There’s also those who’d stop and think, “You know, maybe adventure and uncertainty isn’t such a bad thing… after all isn’t that what life is all about? Besides, a routine and factory-like life is not the same as truly being alive!” People who say this have a point too.

But I think what the author is trying to get at is different from the two above. At the end of the poem, both paths seem to converge as the traveler approached old age… soon he will die and take all of his experiences with him. No matter what his choices had been, he will look back on what has been his life. Whatever he chose, he would have experienced moments of anguish, defeat, happiness, and victory. Life is not just about one thing, or one choice. It’s the cumulative value of all the things he did, all the decisions he made. Had he chosen the more secure road, he probably wouldn’t have experienced a lot of heart racing adventures. Had he chosen the road less traveled, who knows how his life might have turned out. He could’ve ended up a homeless beggar. And what about the people he met along the way? The children he would have had? The friendships he fostered?

At the end of the day, we should remember that JUST BEING ALIVE in this complex and baffling world is a privilege. Our choices may not always be right, but we have lived… no matter how, we still lived.



Finding Forever in the Passage of Moments

O.K. So I finally got around to writing about this.
Have you ever experienced running into an event or a moment, and know for sure it will be a permanent turning point in your life?
Like there is a continuous clockwork going “tick, tock, tick, tock” ever since you can remember… then something happens and the gears suddenly stop. A blink of an eye passes but it seems like an eternity… then gradually the gears turn again, only this time it runs in the opposite direction. And you know for certain that forever can happen, but you will always look back on that moment as as if it is a focal point, or that gravity has somehow shifted around it, or your forever has been defined.
I have NEVER experienced that.ginen shounen quote But if you have, then you know what this means:

“An instant or an eternity. Both are the same.
In the passing of an instant lies the beauty of eternity.”

– Ginen Shounen, manga, Gotou Junpei

That is why I’m reminded of this particular intellectual dilemma when I read the opening pages of Ginen Shounen.
It’s not a popular manga. The author has only written that one series. Most people who come across it wouldn’t think too much about the statement.
But for me, it’s a haunting notion.
I’ve always been thinking of life; whether it is better to live a short but eventful life, or a long and modestly peaceful one.
Til now I do not know the answer. Both seem equally noble.
But one thought disturbs me even more: Some people seem to live the rest of their long lives reliving a point in time or even a momentous incident.
Is time, or rather the passage of time, just an illusion then?
Sometimes an hour flies by like nothing, and a second stretched into eternity.
Years of your life can pass by and you can barely desribe what it was about.
Yet, a week of vacation with your loved ones, or a single day full of laughter with an interesting stranger, or even a few minutes witnessing a glorious sunrise…
these will stay with us until we cannot help but think about it in randomly unassuming times.
So, what is life really made of?
Do we spend our whole lives waiting for these moments?
If this is true, then our existence as humans is perpetually a sad one.

We are given the luxury of living in Earth, where the land and sea and skies are adjusted to suit our needs.
Where our choices matter, and experiences are abundant.
We will come from different races, backgrounds, environment, and lifestyles.
We will have unique persinalities, talents, and philosophies.
Yet, we will ask for more… we will end up confused and lacking direction.
Ultimately, we will wish for something that can define us.
A centrality that gives testament to our lives, and a mark to leave for the ones who will come after us.
We want to have that because without it… we will have lived our fleetingly temporary lives on earth like everyone else… an existence easily forgotten, while time and people move on..
I know people rarely admit or openly announce this desire, but the truth is that at some point everyone will be chasing for their life’s purpose or dreaming of chasing it.
People will say, “I hope I did something in my life”, as if there is only that one thing that mattered.
As if all their other experiences pale in comparison and are not even worth mentioning.
They will unconsciously look for meaning so that when their time’s up, they will leave the earth with the knowledge that they have done what needs be.
So we will patiently wait, wait, and wait to come across that opportunity.
In the meantime, we will indulge ourselves in the trivialties and standards of the world.
Until we lose hope of ever finding our purpose, or die without acheiving it.

But we are mistaken if we think that we should wait for those moments to happen:

“For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

The thing is, we know we can wait for tomorrow, so we tend to do that exactly.
But the reason we are given “free will” is for us to exercise it.
The questions I wrote above are still questions.
I do not claim to know full answers. So far, this is the only one I got.
It is NOT impossible to create those moments on your own.
Our lives MUST HAVE PURPOSE, yes…
but it should not be the only thing we are doing.
Life is too short to spend waiting… but even if you find your purpose, life is too long to spend on one thing alone.
There is too much to discover and to know in such a short span of time.
It should not be that we keep waiting for shining moments, rather we should make every moment shine.

“In the external scheme of things, shining moments are as brief as the twinkling of an eye,
yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of –
moments when we human beings can say “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I forgive you,” “I’m grateful for you.”
That’s what eternity is made of: invisible imperishable good stuff.”
― Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things To Remember

A note on human nature

I believe that in every person lies a potential for good and an endless capacity for evil; most of the time the evil in us prevails. This is the nature of human beings. People always feel more inclined to do something wrong than the opposite. And even if they are being kind, one cannot know if the kindness comes from the bottom of their heart or they have some hidden agenda behind it. Mostly, the only time humans perform an act of kindness is when it benefits them. They have already weighed the alternatives, and made a logical conclusion that helping somebody now would be a better investment than being passive for the moment. Presently, I can think of a couple examples highlighting this:

1. the international community being passive on the 1994 Rwandan genocide just because they could find no advantage in stopping the conflict, the lobbyists, interest groups, and the government officials who give only think of themselves.

2. My sister who thinks giving in to my request now would earn her advantage for when she borrows my things later, and my friend who adds past favors done when another refuses to lend her money.

ethics-good-vs-evil-300x232I know these are isolated cases, especially my last example. But let’s face it, these are real and on-going in every part of the world. Just think about it, what do we first think of when somebody asks us for something really important? Something we could possibly benefit from? I admit I find my thoughts lingering on what I can do with this in the future, then I regret it and feel the guilt. The thing is, if we do not have the weapons and knowledge… the right defenses… it is all too easy to fall in the trap. The challenge human beings must face everyday is a continuous battle of good against the evil residing in them.