A Parable

As the semester comes to a close, I am beginning to watch programs that educate me, keep me informed, and urge me to think.  One such program is FRONTLINE on PBS

On the show’s online archive, I watched several minutes of an episode called the “Suicidal Tourist.”

It was about a man with an incurable disease that makes him excruciating ly fatigued so much so that he can’t move his fingers; the disease is projected to lead to paralysis and eventually to death.

The man has a loving wife who takes care of him; however he is frustrated with the pain and agony that the disease has caused him.  He wants to end his life.

He goes to a country in Europe (I think Switzerland if I remember clearly) where Physician-assisted suicide is legal. If he goes through with it, he will drink a thick liquid that will kill him.

As I watched full of emotion and with great sympathy for this man, I was struck by what he said that justified his reason to take his own life so that he will not become a vegetable when the disease progresses further.

He tells a story about a monk who is running away from a tiger.  As the monk runs, he finds himself at the edge of a cliff, while the tiger rushes towards him.  He begins to fall, but grabs onto a branch.  He looks down.  There is a tiger at the bottom of the cliff waiting to eat him if he falls down, and if he struggles back up, the tiger that chased him will surely eat him.  So in the face of adversity, the monk sees a piece of berry growing on a bush.  He plucks the berry and eats it.  He savours the delicious juice, still holding  the branch.

I hope I will never have to make this choice.  I hope nobody has to ever make this choice.  But what this parable has taught me is that even when life it at is worse, we could seek out what is good and sweet in this world, savour it and enjoy the moment because we do not know when we would have the chance to do it again.

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Church on Easter Vs. Chicago, Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about how I spent the days leading up to Easter Sunday and expressed my ambivalent feelings about not recognizing it for the holy day that it is–particularly since I watched Chicago on that day–a movie about promiscuity, murder, and fame.

As I have thought over it, I have decided that certain days are important because they are meant to be set apart for a certain purpose.  Easter is one of the holidays that is meant to be set apart for religious reasons.  However, the day in the life of any religious person is supposed to be religious.  In this case, how can any such religious person distinguish any ordinary day from a day that is as significant as Easter?

We set up traditions.  In my house anyone under the age of twenty gets new clothes and an Easter basket.  Also, usually, Easter entails something special for dinner; Ham is usually that something special.  And my mom brings out the fancy plates and silverware.  In earlier times, we invited friends and extended family. 

In all the churches I’ve gone to, communion is always served on Easter.  In my former church, every Easter the kids have an Easter egg hunt the day before Sunday’s service.  The church spends the week inviting people to service , and the sermon 99.9% of the time involves the Resurrection. 

The traditions we have, therefore, are meant to help us remember why we believe what we believe.  But aren’t we suppose to remember that regardless of whether it’s Easter or not?  Yes.  But we are also human.  Sometimes we allow our lives to get the most of us, and we need something to bring us back to the place where we can once again remember for whom and for what purpose we are living for.

I don’t think watching Chicago on Easter Sunday is bad or even sinful.  I think forgetting what is most important in this life is, and we need to recognize days like Easter to bring us back to what matters.  

I need to recognize days like Easter to bring me back to what matters.

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Church On Easter Vs. Chicago, Part 1

This is what I did with my time during the days leading up to Easter:

On Thursday I tried to finish a paper, but could not concentrate so I rushed to the room of my dormitory, packed my bags of clothes and some homework that I planned to do for the weekend that did not get done as planned, and took the 20 minute drive home.  I walked into a full house of kids playing the Wii.  My little brother, his friend, and the brother of his friend were home for Spring break; so was my niece.

My older cousin came home.  She told me that she got the Netflix app on the Wii.  We watched two apocalyptic movies.  One was tellingly titled 2012 and another was called Legions, an unconventional tale about the birth of a modern-day Messiah and an angel’s quest to make sure that he is alive and is not slain by other angels.

On Friday, not any other Friday.  On Good Friday, I discovered that Netflix had the entire first season of Glee and that my brother’s friend loved Glee.  I had seen only a few episodes after my friend told me only good things about it, so we watched from episode one to episode 22, which we finished late Saturday night pushing into early Sunday morning.

On Saturday, my cousin invited me to watch a movie that I would say that I don’t care for too much–that is  Madea’s Big Happy Family (she must never know this.)   The plot, the screenplay, and the characters were poorly developed like most Tyler Perry movies.  But I laughed throughout the movie and was entertained by the responsiveness of the audience.  Plus it was good to hang out with my cousin and her friend.  

On Sunday, not any other Sunday–Easter Sunday, I slept-in, missed church, did not care that I missed church, and took the kids to the park after they woke me up in the early afternoon, coming from church dressed in their Easter best.  It was the door bell, not them that actually woke me.  It was also the donuts they brought that kept me from returning to the couch for more snooze. 

It did not feel like Easter.  This year, there was no Easter dinner since my mother had to work.  No Easter communion to partake of.  I talked to a friend who took a sporadic trip to the midwest.  She asked me how my Easter was going.  I told her, “boring and filled with snotty, disrespectful kids.”  The kids started to annoy me.  They could not stop talking about how boring my life was, or how unkempt I was, or how they lamented getting older because it would mean that they would have a life similar to mine.  Nine and Twelve-year olds can be brutal without even realizing it; they don’t know what they are missing by not being 21.  My brother’s friend spend the week telling me that I desperately needed a comb and he finally found one and made it his business to comb my hair and talk about how my hair was full of peas.

I had to get away.  I snuck up to my parent’s room–when the Saturday evening was getting late–to watch Chicago.  I was watching a movie about promiscuity, murder, and fame on a very holy day.  It turned dark outside and began to pour and thunder.  I could see lightning as I looked up at the three sky lights.  All along I thought that I would get struck by lightning and it would be God’s punishment on me for not recognizing His Holy Day.  I started thinking  of the movie 2012 and about the end of the world.  I was going through my apocalypse, but could not seem to turn the movie off  to pray, read scripture, do something holy; the movie was that entertaining.  But what if God came at that moment and I was not prepared?

I began to ask myself, if Easter is not a good day to watch Chicago, when is it a good day to watch it?  If it is wrong to watch Chicago one day, what makes it okay to watch it on any other day?  How am I to treat certain holidays in comparison to regular days?  Are there any set rules?  In creating such rules, am I resorting to the bondage of legalism?

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Oblivious: Who are We Really?

A little girl from a far away place traveling to a foreign land is forgotten on a mysterious adventure.  She stands lost and confused in a strange place.  Strangers from every which way pass her by.

A woman walks towards her and smiles.  “Little girl,” she says.  “You are beautiful indeed…what’s your race?”

“Race?  I don’t know what that is.  I don’t know my race.  I’m not sure I have one.”

“Little girl, everyone has a race,” says the woman.  “How could you not know?”

“What is the point of knowing?” asks the little girl.

The woman is speechless, unaware of what to say without sounding like a racist.  “Where did you come from little girl?”

“A place where who I am or what I look like does not matter.  A place far, far away.  I have heard about this place where I stand now.  You call us aliens.  But we are–all of us–people.  I am of the human race.”

The woman knows what to say now.  “We need to know our race, little girl, so that we are not oblivious to whom it is that we are.”

“Sure,” says the little girl, looking the woman in the eyes.  “Then who are you?”

The woman stumbles over words.  “I am, I am…”

Oblivious.

*            *           *

Since I have not posted anything in a while, I decided that I will post a piece of short fiction (and by short, I mean really short as you can tell) that I wrote a couple of days ago and shared with my Facebook friends.  I’m taking time off from adding the finishing touches to my paper about the Six-Day War to do this.  The story has nothing to do with the war, just to let you know.

I wrote this story as a parable because I am very interested in that form of story telling.  I like taking concepts that are specific to a person’s life and augmenting them so that the subject could be relatable to a broader audience.  After deleting my Facebook account for about a year, I decided to reopen it so that I could share stories like these with my friends.

I was inspired to write this particular story as I remembered a certain epiphany I received in college.  As I’m learning, college is a place of epiphanies.  One day while eating dinner with about four or five people, I was asked, “What is your race?”  I looked at my dark skin and thought how can anyone look at me and ask such an obvious question?  I was caught off guard.  Later on, I learned that they were asking me this question because they had heard about tribal discord in Liberia and about a group of people they called “the élite” Americo-Liberians.

This question brought me back to third grade when I was asked by my teacher, “What’s your tribe?”  My tribe? I didn’t know.  Tribe was not something that was discussed in my home.  “Are you Congo?”  The teacher asked, staring into my eyes as if she was interrogating me.  “You sound like a Congo boy.”  I didn’t know.  What did Congo even mean?  Was it a good thing or a bad thing?  After school, I asked my aunt if it was a bad thing or good thing. She just looked at me as if to say, “what in the world was the teacher’s motive for asking such questions.”  She gave no answers to my inquiry.

This has me thinking.  In a country such as Liberia where people, for the most part, look the same, why does tribe matter so much?  Why did it matter to my teacher, who from her actions and words seemed to suggest that she viewed her identity with a certain superiority as compared with the identity of others?  It recently dawned on me that when I was asked about my race by people who saw that my race was extremely different from theirs, I was actually being asked: which race do you pledge loyalty to?  It is under these circumstances and with these thoughts that I wrote, Oblivious: Who are We Really?

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Solo Student

Solo.

It’s how I have lived most of my life in the recent months of my college experience.  Solo.

I walk from and to classes alone.  I eat  alone.  I sing to myself. 

I have no roommate so that makes living a solo life even easier.  I have not gotten to the stage yet where I am having conversations with myself, but it has come pretty close.

I’s not so much that I like being alone more than I like being with people (although I don’t mind it every once in a while).  It is more so that I have no choice.  It’s what happens when you transfer to a new school.  You have to form relationships all over again, and if you are like me, two semesters in a place where you can’t relate to much of the student body are not enough to do so;  you have decided to give residence life the cold shoulder.

I do not live life in complete isolation.  I visit my family often, call and message close friends from high school and the “ex-college” I attended, and strike up a few hi-bye-how are you? conversations with folks I have developed only superficial relationships with around campus.  When I talk to my friends, I tell them that I am starved of conversation and they usually get that from hearing how eager I am to talk about both the mundane and not-so-mundane.

Earlier, I wrote a post titled “Atmosphere of a College Library.”  I talked about the feeling of mutual trust that I have developed with other students in the library.  It is no surprise that the library is the place where I have developed a friendship with someone who although much older, is kind of like me in many ways and share the same love of conversation.  She has even invited me to her graduation party two semesters in advanced, and she’s definitely invited to mine.  But after we pass each other by and have finished our conversations, it’s back to being Solo Student for me.

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A Time to Work and a Time to Pause: Lessons Learned from Finals Week

If you are a college student, finals season is here and chances are the work has piled up in the recent weeks.  You have exams to study for.  Papers to write.  Presentations to deliver.  Projects to create. 

We all cope with the stress caused by sudden business in our own ways.  Some choose to “blow off steam,” party and then cram; others procrastinate; and if you are like me, chances are you have put your life on hold and have set yourself captive in the library, running away from your room which by now has become so filled with papers and other domestic and scholastic debris that you can’t stand living in it. 

This is the season when my excuse for not exercising, not blogging, and not doing other school-related activities is all justified on the basis that I have too much work to do.   Good excuse.  I figure that if, for two weeks, I devote all my energy to my studies I’ll be better off in the long run.  It’s only two weeks of not catching a repose, not watching the news, not taking a run around the track and such.  Plus I’ll have plenty of time for doing these things in the future.  But I’ll only have these two weeks to prove myself to my future employers; so that when they see my résumé they will see that I am a serious candidate.

But as much as I want to believe in this good-work-ethic-leads-to-good-results mentality, a part of me just want to go for a long walk and for the moment, forget about all the business and take in the beauty of the world.  To acknowledge that the life I’m living now is just a small fragment of the larger scope of things.  That it’s a terrific thing to strive for excellence, but it’s not a bad idea to pause for a moment and just embrace the world for all of its beauty and intricacies.

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When I was Eight: Why Sometimes it’s Better to Enjoy the Present than to be Concerned with the Future

I remember third grade.  I was doing poorly in school and life was like a fog.  On one particular day, I remember playing with my little brother, my two cousins and their dog, Princess.

We were running through the yard and around the house.  We would all line up, one person would take a rag and drag it, and we would all run as fast as we could so that Princess could chase us.  The dog was very attracted to the rag, and we had so much fun out of watching her run behind us and in some instances, jostle us to the ground by snatching the rag as if playing a tug of war match with us…and lick, lick, lick.  Princess was in love with the rag, the game, and with us.  And we were in love with her.

Because I was doing poorly in school, I needed a tutor and it so happened that on that day was my day to be tutored.  My uncle was my tutor and as much as I love him, he was strict.  When he came, all games were over and it was time to get on with work.

On this particular day I was having too much fun playing with my sibling, cousins, and Princess.  He could see it in my eyes, but he was not moved.  No, no.  He was not moved.

We went to the study table.  I brought out my books and notebooks.  I forget what we were studying, but I remember that I kept looking through the window outside at my brother, cousins and their dog, Princess–running, laughing, having so much fun.

My uncle looked at me in the eye and said, “Right now they are having fun, but you will thank me for this one day when you are successful.”  I looked at him angrily and thought, “We’ll see.”

I am a junior in college now.  As I look back on that day, I ask myself, was my uncle right?   Would it have made a difference if I had played with the other children that day?  Would an hour or two of my life away from homework to enjoy being a child in any way hurt me academically? I’m tempted to say no, not because I think sacrifice, study, and seriousness are bad–or not even because I am ungrateful of my uncle’s kind efforts to help me succeed academically.  Sometimes I have to pull a late-night a time or two to finish work which would lead to a good grade, and ultimately to a better future.  But sometimes these efforts can take away from enjoying the here and now.  And living in the moment can sometimes be beneficial and rewarding.

I still remember that sunny late afternoon turning into late evening, and I wish that I could bring that day back.  But I can’t.  It’s not everyday that an 8-year old can just be an 8-year old in Liberia.

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