Looking alone-ness straight in the eye

I accompanied my friend and her daughter to the park this evening. While they were at the rides, I walked to the other side of the park to jog.

It’s a Sunday night and the park was full. Everywhere you look, people are in groups or in pairs: families hanging out, kids running around, lovers occupying the benches, friends jogging and taking photos. Once in a while, you come across people walking or jogging alone.

At that moment, I was one of them but I didn’t care. I had my phone, my earphones. I jogged and walked until I got tired. I did get amused with the lights at the park and people watching while listening to dance music. These days were supposed to be busy ones for me. My old self would have been spinning from one task to another, wanting to get as much done within a short span of time. But that was me yesterday. Now, I can drop everything for a while and grab moments such as this just to have fun. And quietly, I prayed “Thank you,” for this moment and many others when I have finally learned to take care of myself.

I only became conscious that I was alone while I was waiting for my friend and her daughter. I roamed aimlessly for several minutes … well, not completely aimless since I was really looking for something to eat. But as I did, a strange feeling of alone-ness began cropping up. It was one of those very rare times when it scared me.

Anyway, I kept walking and decided to let myself feel that feeling for a while. And as I did, it began to melt away. And for some strange reason, I was more aware of what was going on around me and appreciative of everything. While buying mango from a lady at the park, I noticed how young she was and she was pregnant. She opened a can full of bills while she looked for coins for my change. Silently, I wished her well and admired that she seemed to be working hard for her family.

I sat by the fountain, happily chewing that mango I’ve been craving for for the past, uhm, several days. (And no, I’m not pregnant.) I watched a man who looked like he was in his 40s as he played with this colorful toy with a little bulb on top, which you shoot up above you and you watch it glide back to the ground. I had that toy too and wished I had brought it! The winds blew quite strong at times, and the toy would land far from its owner. And a few times, too, the winds sprayed water from the fountain to those of us standing or sitting near it. Some bystanders shrieked then just laughed.

My friend then called and I walked to meet them. We went home and had dinner.

After not posting for some time, I suddenly found the urge to write about tonight. Because I was truly grateful for those moments, for the companionship, for the capacity to face alone-ness and not run away from it. And the grace to see whatever blessings are already right in front of me. Here and now, it’s always full of surprises, and living in it lets you see something special and make this moment count. And it didn’t matter if people thought my life was incomplete. I had everything I needed. I got the life I asked for. And for now, I would not have it any other way.


Searching for answers, breaking away

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I have just watched an interview with Leah Vincent on her book “Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood.” I have not read the book. But I watched the entire interview, even if it was over 15 minutes long. (A confession: I tend to skip from one article to the next unless something really catches my attention.)

So what grabbed my attention? Two things: the host, the guest, and the topic. (Okay, make it three.)

Watch the video here

As a researcher, I sometimes find myself asking respondents sensitive questions. I would often ask myself: “Would they trust me? Would they tell the truth?” How I ask, how I phrase the question, the tone of my voice, my gestures–they all matter. I wanted them to know I will not judge, I will try my best to protect their identity, I am doing this for a good reason, you can help us make things better by telling us exactly what you’ve been through. Throughout the interview, I was observing how the host would swim her way through the sensitive topics. I felt like she delivered the probing questions in a very careful way: she can probe without being offensive or insensitive. And somehow, maybe because of the way the questions were delivered and how the guest answered them, the topics covered gave viewers a better idea of the difficult journey the author went through. And I admired how honest and open the author had been. I feel like, “Yes, this woman has no pretensions. She’s not preaching about something she’s never been through. She really went through it all and had to figure things out. And she knows herself better than to allow critics to put her down. I admire her strength.”

This is not to say I’m recommending her life path, or that I’m going to follow the same route. But I come from a conservative background too. I’ve asked questions. What pushed me to move away from my religion was a struggle to make sense of the chaos I had to live through. The difficulty in breaking away is you find yourself with limitless choices. You realize there was nothing to replace the structures, the “certainties”, the beliefs you had before. Now you are left to figure them out yourself. And when all that is “certain” begins to unravel, you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of nowhere. There is no tradition, no structure, to hang on to. It’s you trying to make sense of something so huge. The decision, the choices, now lie in your shoulders. And it is a burden, that eventually turns into a gift.

And just like Leah wanted to fit in, I too, tried to fit in. But I no longer could. I have questions I needed to ask. And somehow, I found myself with people who had a less judgmental view of the world. Who were free to ask. And who have made mistakes, some of them considered “immoral”. How do I judge these loving people whom I would still choose to be my friends if I am to live a thousand lifetimes more?

But nothing brings more pain than to be seen as sinful, as in need of fixing, and to be judged by the people you love. Because by their standards, you’re not worthy, you’re not following “proper behavior.” You’re just not like them.

Maybe the most important lesson I’d hope readers and viewers would take away is this: you can’t show a Higher Being’s love by judging those who are not like you, or share your worldviews. There is so much goodness in other people outside your world, if only you would choose to see that there’s a piece of God in everyone.

I have not figured things out yet. But I can tell you that I continue to try to live by the many values I learned during my conservative childhood such as simplicity and using one’s blessings to help others. Whereas most of my beliefs have been shaken up, I continue to hold on to these values, and two more truths I have believed more strongly after I broke away: love yourself and your neighbor, and there is a Higher Power you could trust in.

I wish you peace, and faith that a Higher Being continuous to look after you, even when everyone, including yourself, thinks you’re beyond the reach of grace.

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