November showers | NaNoWriMo Day 1

tamaki
Art by : Tamaki

Where I live, November marks the beginning of a long, humid summer. All day long, the atmosphere hangs on your back like the sky has fallen on its head and cracked open all its contents on you, fragile human that you are. November makes you feel like you’re always wearing too many clothes and that your face can only be seen through a layer of sweat and grime.

Things are no better at night until, that is, it begins to rain. It feels like a sea spray, all salty and fresh and shiver-inducingly cold on your face after a day spent in a boiler room. It’s also inevitable that it should rain. What with all the humidity the sky has been holding in the whole day, like a balloon gradually being filled with air until it is about to burst. It’s inevitable, truly. Rain is a result, a consequence, a logical follow-up. If it is humid, it will rain.

In that sense, I have been seeing the ends in all things lately.

This rain that I catch with my outstretched hand will evaporate or will be had by the Earth. Ultimately, it will go back up to the sky and fall again. It will rise and fall, rise and fall. Like the chest of someone who is sleeping, like a heartbeat. As people do : we live, we die. Then we are reborn in some way or other. Our bodies become food for the earth and the earth uses it to grow beautiful things. (I wish some part of me could help grow a forest one day). Our lives never end though, it is an infinite loop of life and death and life and death. Rise and falls, ups and downs, ebbs and flows, even the sea churns the same waters over and over again.

But somehow, this feels special.

This feels like I’ve stepped just the littlest bit off-course, outside the loop. As though I’ve just derailed infinitesimally from the endless circle. I fear I may have broken the cycle but I also think this is the culmination of all the lives that came before me, all the energy that was cultivated over light years so that I could be as I am now, on this earth. I could be a star in the sky right now, grazing one of Saturn’s rings. But here I am.

How wonderful that I can be. That now I can be aware of more than nameless survival. I can now point to what I am doing, to what I am—my hands, my face, my heart, my lungs— and breathe I live. I am.

When I was younger and had stumbled unprepared on this, the door that led to the end of all things, I had been horrified. Sick to my stomach. Utterly refusing to even consider, let alone believe. That things are so simple, that death comes as swiftly (no, much more swiftly, much easier) than life. Because death is bad. Death is wrong. How can it be so easy?  I’ve embraced it over the years, unconsciously. I have assimilated it deep inside of me, or rather I’ve finally let it expand from where it was all along. “Survival” is “not dying” after all, so we do have a notion of the concept—our fear of death just makes us ignore it altogether, hoping it is an illness that will pass.

I’ve been learning about it, because fear leads to ignorance. I’ve learned so far that all of me will turn into dirt one day : not just my body, but all my ideas and thoughts too, will be reduced to dirt.

But I’m telling you, this feels special.

We are all born and will all meet our ends, timely or untimely as they may be, but the difference now is we get to choose what happens in between. We get to write stories, and be more.


Note : This is Day 1 of my take on NaNoWriMo : one blog post a day every day of November ! There have been known to be cheerier themes to start such challenges with though lol.

Subterranean Lights

“You and all your subterranean lights — may they make the world shine, even as they dim and fade. May they light up the world from the inside, like the earth has swallowed a star that won’t burn out.”

hajinbae2
Art by : Hajin Bae

When people die, we light candles to remember them.

To bring a light to the darkness now that they are no longer able to. When someone dies, I wonder how many more lights go out, how many unknown worlds living under their skin are submerged in an eternal darkness, extinguished. Mourning, grief, they feel like a power cut all throughout the city. Like the spark of electricity has stopped flowing, no longer sizzling with life, leaving us individually in our own rooms, our own houses, stranded in the dark. Reaching out in the dark, hands closing around emptiness.

Because when even one light goes out, all of our collective lights shine the dimmer. It may not be apparent all across the complex networks, the bundles of lights that can be seen from space, but there is always a gap. Which is why night rides always make me so wistful, you know. Looking at the city lights, at what every single one of them represents. Life, rising above the night. Light, when even the sun does not shine.

In grief, what comes to my mind first is somehow, always, always, this : “Where is all that light that used to animate your body? Where are the stars in your eyes?” And the thoughts that were like pulsating lights under your skin? How many more worlds slumber now in the darkness, how many more worlds were there that I will never explore? You and all your subterranean lights — may they make the world shine, even as they dim and fade. May they light up the world from the inside, like the earth has swallowed a star that won’t burn out.

But good things can come from the darkness. Sometimes, when we reach out, we find another hand is reaching out, too. And we can hold on to each other until the light arrives, again. It makes us talk, pop our heads out of the window and ask the neighbours if the light has gone out at their place, too. 

“Do you have candles we can light ? I have matches.”  

We can light them together, and share stories until the light arrives, until the light arrives. We do not have to be alone, lonely in the dark.

And I wonder, when we kindle all these candles for the dead, to light up the darkness — do we, do we look like stars to the stars ?

From space, where we are only networks of light, constellations ( This one here is China, and this one is Australia, this is…) does it look, to the stars that came before us, that we did not change so much after all ? And, did you notice ? Much like stars, our individual lights blaze long after we’ve died, because others carry it with them, like a torch, a light of remembrance.

And when one light goes out, how beautiful it is that we pour in our own strength, like a red candle held in one hand lighting another, and say that no matter how overwhelming the darkness, no matter how deep the grief, this star won’t go out ?


Note : Life has its own ways. This was something I wrote on Thursday, a week back, as a general reflection on grief, death and mourning. On Friday, however, I received some news. Saturday, I went to a funeral. And this became too relevant. So now, here it is.

End of the Road

“But dying’s not so bad, you know? It means you got to live in the first place.”

anwitacitriya
Art by: Anwita Citriya

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

It happens whenever it’s time for new beginnings. On the upside, it means that I think about beginnings every time a journey comes to an end, every time a relationship fades. It mustn’t have helped that I watched a movie about a sick boy with a heart condition . And I saw some news online about a man from the other side of the world who died alone and had no funeral.

It occurred to me that one day, that would be me.

That my time of dying would come.

As a twentysomething, I’m not sure that is something I’m meant to consider so gravely. But I did it back when I was 16, thought about what dying felt like at 12 and even younger. I think it’s natural. It’s natural to want to know what happens to you throughout life, although maybe I was a bit precocious.

People make death out to be this frightening, foreign thing, but I’m not afraid to say I’m dying. We all are. Saying it, acknowledging it will not speed up the process.

But dying’s not so bad, you know? It means you got to live in the first place.

I’d be more ashamed to admit that I wasn’t living. That my heart beat fine, and my lungs breathed just right, but I never truly felt alive. Which is what prompted me to watch the movie with the dying boy, actually. I tend to save up moments sometimes— books, art, movies, experiences— to enjoy in tough times, because those always do come around.

This time though, I didn’t want to have regrets. At least not the kind of regrets I could have done something about. I didn’t want to wait until I was ready because I would never really be. I didn’t want to live in fear of time running out, or of things turning sour again.

Still, I’m a little sad thinking I will die one day, no matter how much I’ve accepted it. All beliefs aside, I am sad that I’ll never see the sky again. That ever-changing sky that has become home. I’ll probably miss the time of day when the sun slowly rises, when you witness the birth of a whole new day and it gives you a feeling that makes you think anything is possible, that yesterday can’t hold you back.

But I don’t want to spend time missing something I haven’t lost yet. So after writing this, I’ll be going outside and looking at the sky for a long while. Hopefully, I’ll wake up early tomorrow and watch the sun rise, too.

 

Mother

Warm, slow breaths that come and go, as soothing as the tide that washes the shore to-and-fro.

It is ancestral, this rhythm. One I have been hearing ever since I was born—no, even before. It is a rhythm the soul remembers all too well but the body cannot recall.

Her soft, slow breaths. Calming, soothing.

They are no different than they were when my body was so much smaller than hers, so small and fragile that she could cradle me in one arm.  Even her heart, it beats the same rhythm in spite of the years, in spite of the tragedies that broke it and the losses that shaped it.

Her gentle, comforting breaths.

And yet, when I look at her, I can see that everything has changed. Because now, I look down to see her face, now she looks small. The hair that once was black is now grey, the skin that once was firm is now soft and delicately wrinkled. My body is so big now that it could cover hers like a blanket.

Before, she never was anything but herself. But now, she is tired. She is worn, her weary eyes telling the tales of Life. These eyes, they contain such untold depths. In them, I could see the joy, the pain, the sacrifices and the pride, even the hint of dreams yet to fully grow wings. I could see a life, a soul painted in eyes that have been looking at me since before I was even born.

She saw me, when no one else could.

And even now, she sees me in ways no one else can.

But I am scared of how the years are passing her by. Scared of how she grows smaller even though she stays the same, as though she were a flower that was slowly wilting, folding into itself before rejoining the earth.

But flowers are not eternal…Flowers—are not eternal.

Yet I choose to gaze at the flower, thinking it to be as beautiful in the glow of spring as it is in the cold of winter. I choose to gaze at the flower in both bloom and gloom.

I choose to look at her.

But now, I also want to see more. I want to see more of Life etched into the specks of her eyes. I want to see more wrinkles on her face, more grey hair on her head. I don’t like watching her get old, but if that is what she must do, then I will not look away.