Tag Archives: Friends

Just What I Needed

I threw a mini temper tantrum in the humanities office on Friday when news broke about new restrictions here in Singapore due to new Covid cases. It was not entirely unexpected, but still hugely disappointing, when a return to home-based learning was announced Sunday night. When I walked into work Monday morning, a colleague asked if I needed a hug.

Yes, I really did need a hug.

Earlier today, another colleague and I were joking about the persistent negative voices in the back of our minds, but it’s not really a joke. We have all, at some time or another, experienced lying awake at night due to thoughts that skip, hop, and jump, unbidden. Most of us have very little control over this, which I have recognized acutely through years of regular mediation practice. I find that it helps to know what’s happening in my head, even at those times when regular meditation practice is of little use.

Through my exploration of my own brain, I have also learned that I can easily occupy two minds at one time, a bit like cartoon shoulder angels having a conversation. About ten years ago, I started writing what I was grateful for at the end of my daily journal entry. Three things, every single day. This means that I try to go to bed focused on what is actually part of my world rather than dwelling on the past or living in the daydream of the future. It is not difficult for me to find the beautiful place of being fully present in the world as it is, and I cherish this very much.

Enter: The other shoulder angel.

Alongside the beauty that I seek out and always find, I also find it very easy to spiral into the dark place that is home to rather persistent demons. Nightly journalling isn’t always that helpful, and meditation doesn’t always do the trick, either. I understand why people turn to all sorts of maladaptive coping methods. It is not hard to go there, not at all.

Going through this pandemic alone, as well as trying to make arrangements for the future alone, has made me keenly aware of something I already knew: The things that upset me, upset me to my core. When I find myself in a bad place, it takes a heck of a lot of work to pull myself out of it. And there’s no one to turn to for help right now because there’s no one there.

People who love me would argue differently. They would say, likely correctly, that they are “there” at all times. But that is not the kind of “there” I mean.

This is why the hug mentioned above was so important. Sometimes, we need the physical presence of other people. And sometimes, they need us. So reach out. There are people right there who need you, even if they’ll never ask.

An admirably resilient tree – Green Corridor, Singapore – May 2021

Meet Me Halfway

It’s a conversation better left un-had and it goes something like this:

“We missed you at the party last night.”
“Yeah, I would have liked to have been there.”
“You could have come.”
“I wasn’t invited.”
“Well, it wasn’t at a time that was really convenient for you anyway.”
“I could have moved things around, or you could have moved the party an hour.”
“We didn’t think you’d want to, and someone else was in charge of organizing. But you should have said something when you found about it.”
“But I wasn’t invited.”
“Don’t worry, it really wasn’t that much fun anyway.”
“Okay.”

The point is not that the party wasn’t fun or that I couldn’t be there. The point is that nobody thought to ask. Nobody in the group of nearly two dozen people in two countries thought that the person farthest away, completely separated from everyone else due to the pandemic, might have wanted to be involved. And even if there was a momentary glimmer of thought, nobody spoke up and nobody asked.

It’s a little bit like the time several years ago when I heard through a friend that another friend was mad at me for not attending her wedding. My response was one of genuine amazement for I hadn’t been invited. Likely, I hadn’t been invited because I live overseas and the wedding was at a time when I could not have feasibly gone. But to be mad at me? If she wanted me to be there, she could have gotten married a month earlier when I was there, just like another friend did. Or she could have invited me and let me work it out. If you’re going to make a choice, at least own the choice.

And likewise, give me the chance to do the same.

A different example: Last November, a friend planned a birthday party over Zoom. She sent me the invitation and wrote, “I know you can’t be there but I wanted to invite you anyway.” I called as she was setting up and wished her a happy birthday and fun party. It really can be that simple to do the good thing.

The issue weighing on my mind is that people don’t think. They don’t think beyond what is immediately in front of them. And I don’t know why.

As a friend said over tea yesterday when I was agonizing over this for the second day in a row, “Just because we think about them all the time doesn’t mean they’re as focused on us.” This seems accurate. Having not seen my family in nearly two years because of the pandemic, and with the need to make decisions about my next move far too soon with so many variables in flux, I think about my family all the time. They are not together in the same place or even the same country, but they have time in common and I do not. This is why I make phone calls before work. This is why I watch the calendar and count hours to get everyone’s birthdays right in their time zone. This is why I send emails just to say hello.

When I first moved overseas, a friend had her watch set for the time in Glasgow, seven hours behind us in Malaysia. I asked why and she said that even after four years of living away, she had never stopped thinking about what her family were doing.

I have never been an adherent of “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and I fully understand the power of the contrary. However, I know a little bit about the power of shared experiences. People who spend time together deepen the connections they have with one another. This is among the reasons experiential education brings people together. This is why a late-night conversation is so often a turning point in a friendship or romantic relationship. When we no longer have things in common, it is easier drift apart. Our conversations remain superficial and it is easy to grow disinterested or disengaged. It is already difficult to maintain a sense of connection through text messages, email, and too-short phone calls. It is impossible when we are so used to others not being there that we neglect to include them at all.

It seems fitting here to mention the exceptions. I am very lucky to have friends with whom I can pick up after months of no contact, and it will feel like we last saw each other the day before. This is possible because our relationship was forged through years of shared experiences. In that sense, we have a reserve of togetherness that allows us to maintain close ties. We have done the hard work of becoming and staying friends, and this is significant. The bonds exist because we took the time and energy to build them. Exclusion does not allow for this, and so the cycle continues.

I wonder where this leaves us as humans. Are we so fixated on the present that we are unable to ask questions that look beyond? Are we too focused on feeling good about ourselves to remember that our choices impact others? How is it that we are so certain of our own wants and needs that we fail to consider that the wants and needs of others might differ? And do we make choices along the way that take away others’ ability to make choices of their own?

By no means do I need anyone to make allowances for the fact that I live on a different continent in a very different time zone from all family and many friends. This is an unreasonable onus and I understand that. But is it really so hard to meet me halfway? Is it really so hard to hold out your hand and ask?

Leoben, Austria – January 2020

Like Night and Day

I like to know how people live their everyday lives. I like to know the locations of schools, banks, post offices. When in new places, I visit grocery stores and take as many forms of public transportation as I can. In the places where I’ve lived, I’ve always really enjoyed visiting parts of time at the wrong of day – not night but day. When I lived in downtown Rochester, NY in my early twenties, it was not uncommon to visit the bar district on a Saturday morning run. Completely different place in every way – colours, lights, sounds, smells, people. Completely different place and often disarmingly so.

That’s what I really enjoyed about walking through Clarke Quay in Singapore on a recent weekday morning. Colours, lights, sounds, smells, people. Completely different place.

Because we usually see them in their glory, we sometimes forget that bars have to close up, too. Work continues after last call and begins far earlier than you or I would ever be there.

It’s eerie, in a way, ghostlike and still when it’s “supposed to” be loud and awake. Who was here last night? I wonder. Who went home laughing and who in tears? What stories were told in this spot mere hours earlier?

But at the same time, all is fresh and new. Waiting for new people, a new night, new stories.

We forget, sometimes, to look around. Out at night, immersed in all there is, we find our friends, enjoy food and drink, walk in the direction of the best music.

In the pulse of distraction, sometimes we forget to look around. But when we do, there’s vivid colour.