Preventable Tragedy.

Since the unexpected and shocking death of Anthony Bourdain, I’ve begun seeing articles about depression and suicide. Among these articles, the phrase “preventable tragedy” has been coming up on more than one occasion, and I’ve begun giving it some thought. The following is just a reflection on how I’ve engaged with depression and a period of going through suicidal thoughts earlier on in life—I recommend speaking with a friend, a pastor, or a medical professional if you’re finding yourself in this season currently; there is no shame in needing help because there is richness in seeking it out, and it can become a deeply meaningful experience for the one who is able to care for and sit with you through it.

After passing through a period of depression in high school, I heard something during college about how people who go through depression never really leave it behind (though they do get to a place where it is completely under control apart from moments here and there). I think this has been true of my own experience; many times, I blog to manage the oncoming waves of depression, but other than that, I rarely notice it. However, it is exactly these waves that betray the nature of depression’s influence on a person’s life. As far as it’s a “preventable tragedy,” I think it takes a strong community and faith, hope, and love to truly prevent victims from taking their own lives. But many times, the suicides we see in our communities are “surprising” or “unexpected,” and the victim is described as “cheerful,” “friendly,” and “caring.” In my experience, when the wave of depression hits, it begins a process of going down a dark and lonely rabbit trail. No matter how objectively well things are going, it is as if I am being led down a path of my own failures, shortcomings, and weaknesses, and instead of rejecting these images of myself, I become more and more enamored of them. I desire to see myself as coming up short. I want to explore why I am the worst. I can’t help but agree that I am worthless. I begin to shut myself up at home, I talk myself out of relying on friendships because 1) they never reach out to me (which is likely false), 2) I don’t want to burden them, 3) if they can’t even notice, then they probably aren’t going to care much if I do open up to them. The terrifying thing is that these thoughts can be compacted within a short span of fifteen minutes (or even less). Within fifteen minutes, a lifetime of relationship, friendship, and trust can evaporate. There is no way to prevent this kind of thing, and depression sequesters its victims as a quiet assassin. It crushes any hope of rescue, convinces me that resistance is futile, and controls my perspective. Someone with depression might be doing well for a season, but depression, like the wave you never quite anticipate at the beach, could wipe him out in an instant.

This is not to say that there isn’t hope for all my friends out there who are in the long, trench warfare with depression—I stand with you and will always be willing to pray for you. However, the only thing that I can confidently say has helped manage my depression (to the point where I have a healthy enough relationship with it) is slow, consistent, and meaningful relationship with God and with those around me. God has provided me the works of journaling and writing to turn depression into an advantage; the poems and blog posts that have healed me the most are the ones written in pursuit of exorcising depression from my life, deepening my appreciation for how God works even in the small, dark details of my life. With regards to my friends, I have a handful who are my safeguard and my resistance to the three thoughts that depression plants in me, and I show them off proudly as proof to depression that it’s not true—people do care, and I just need to be brave enough to admit that I need help. But above all, it’s life with God that grounds victory against depression, and I think this poem by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is perfect:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

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Processing.

[Disclaimer: I’m just writing to write at this point; ‘*’ denotes when I can’t quite keep track of chronological events I’m writing about.]

This morning, my grandmother passed away.

*

Since she was in the hospital (and eventually the nursing home), it’s been pretty hard to keep track of time. I posted earlier about how I felt guided by duty, and that has taken shape during this season through me constantly wondering about my next task. As a result, my ability to differentiate days has gone down the drain as my mind is filled with thoughts about how my dad is actually doing, how I can better support my mom, and when I should disobey my dad’s instructions to not visit my grandma because he didn’t want me to be distracted from my schoolwork.

As soon as I finished my New Testament exam, I went into duty-fulfillment mode, making sure any idle time I had was spent at the nursing home so that my parents could take a break. At first, I’d bring a book (The Faith of Christopher Hitchens) with me to read, but a few days after I began visiting my grandma during my available hours, her condition seemed to worsen. She would moan in pain and she would look at me with eyes that no longer recognized me—adjusting her head and putting the travel pillow under her neck for support felt almost like an intrusion of space. So, the hours would pass, and I would be caught in an internal struggle: do I keep attending to her every time she groans, or do I learn to just be there and sit through it all? I was never able to quite come up with a system, and I’d find myself holding her hand at times and needing to leave her room at others just to find silence.

*

My mom said that the previous day, she sang a hymn while sitting at my grandma’s bedside, and miraculously, she sang along. Despite not recognizing any of us anymore, she still knew the hymns she sang in church. “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 11:18 ESV). The day after she told me that, I visited her and she was moaning consistently. The patient next to her said, “I think she’s in pain; she’s been moaning all morning.” I think about the plaque that read “Rapid Recovery” in sans serif, all-caps, and it seemed like a cruel joke. I kept talking to her, asking her if anything hurt, but I never got anything coherent from her. As a last ditch effort, I opened Spotify on my cell phone, searched “hymns,” and began playing them. Immediately, she settled down. She began to nod slowly and nearly imperceptibly, given her weak physical condition. When “Rock of Ages” began to play, she even tried to sing along—I remembered how much she loved to sing, and I saw how she no longer could. It broke my heart, and singing along with her, even for her, I wept.

*

I could feel the toll the stress was taking on my physical health. Bowel movements were irregular and often frustrating. How were Mom and Dad doing all this? I needed to do more for them. I wanted the process to be as easy as it could be for them. My mom would talk about how she was sorry that when her time comes, it’ll be just as difficult for me because I have no siblings to rely on. Still, I made plans with friends knowing that anything could happen with my grandma at any time. I had to cancel a few plans because I decided the dutiful thing to do would be to go to the nursing home. My parents never forced me to go, but I felt compelled to go; sometimes, I would be compelled against my will. There were moments when I wanted nothing more than to be with my friends and leave the world of suffering behind. I couldn’t bear the load like I thought I could. I would hear her moans in the silence of my home. I began wondering how I could even begin to share about this with the new church community I’ve begun trying to be a part of. Who would want to hear such a depressing story when benignly asking about how my week was? I felt isolated in my experience, knowing that I would just be a conversational dark hole and ruin the mood for whoever was unlucky enough to ask how I was doing. It felt like no one ever asked. It felt like I was selfish for wanting them to.

*

I woke up this morning to vibration that shouldn’t have been what I woke up to. “Dad.” I pressed the green talk button and got the news. I got up, took my retainers out, washed my face, put on deodorant, and told my grandpa what had happened. Mom came home right after; she had been crying. I drove us to the nursing home, and I braced for impact. When I saw my dad, I knew it was real for him. She was there, silent and still. I felt peace, and I felt relief. The guilt of that initial reaction is still weighing on me. Why didn’t I cry? Why couldn’t I? I’d like to say that it was because I sat through hours of her groans, and her quietness was bereft of pain. Maybe that’s an excuse for how callous I appear to myself. Nevertheless, she was resting with the Lord. Maybe it’s the result of having been suicidal in the past. You come to envy the people who die before you do; as a Christian, there’s a strange limbo between hoping for death and embracing the gift of life.

She had paid her dues, as they say; she lived a life full of hardship from her youth until the very end, but never once did she express a thought of injustice. She loved to sing, to paint, to measure my height against hers every time she saw me. She knew and loved the beauty that she saw in the world her Father created. To think that a life filled with that many trials could still be a life filled with love for the Lord made me realize that if there really was nothing next for her, she was to be most pitied out of all of us. She was dealt a bad hand. If there was no comfort in life with Him, there certainly wasn’t going to be any comfort here. As I write this, tears are starting to come. Have I just been suppressing my sadness about her death?

*

This morning, my grandmother died. The body that caused her all the pain in her life was left in the bed for us to look at, to remember her by, to whisper to, to stand with, to let tears fall on. But she wasn’t there anymore. We’re left here with a body to lower into the earth, but we do so knowing that she has gone to be with Him. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Selfish.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been compartmentalizing my life more than I’ve had in a while. My grandma was admitted to a hospital a few weeks back on account of some internal colon bleeding, and she’s recently been spending her time in a nursing home. Because of finals, I’ve been compressing the situation down to a manageable size because I know if I let it get to me, I won’t be able to do the work that I’m supposed to do. But in the midst of that, I’ve also been wondering about how selfish it is to do something like compartmentalize. My grandma is looking at the tail end of her time on Earth, and all I can do is worry about getting my grades in order? The thought of it made me concerned about the patterns of prioritization I was setting.

Now that finals are over, I thought I would be able to relax. But on the very night of finals, I was asked to rush home and move my bed downstairs because my grandma was coming home from the nursing home. With a head full of steam, I stomped up the stairs and violently began lifting my bed up and taking it downstairs by myself, feeling annoyed that what I thought was going to be a breather turned into more work. As I was getting more frustrated by my grandpa making suggestions without being able to really help, I lost focus and my foot came down awkwardly on one of the steps, causing me to tweak my ankle and fall down the stairs with the bed in hot pursuit. It’s been a long time since that kind of language has left my lips. Nursing my ankle, I was furious with the situation, frustrated by my grandpa living in the past and trying to exert some kind of influence at the nursing home, and exhausted from all the emotional suppression I had been doing for the sake of stress management. Life felt like Murphy’s Law on steroids – everything I touched seemed to just turn out poorly. I felt the apathy of depression stalking me, reminding me what it was like to feel completely helpless.

As I picked myself up and finished the job running on pure adrenaline, I realized that my whole attitude towards my grandma’s health circumstances was entirely selfish. I realized how an ethics of duty is bereft of the tender compassion that characterizes virtuous living – the kind of life that flows from manifesting the life of Christ. I lived by duty, grudgingly doing the right things and following the rules of what ought to be done, yet all the while, I bemoaned my circumstance and staged numerous pity parties for myself. I didn’t consider the fact that my parents have been attending to my grandma while working full-time jobs. I didn’t consider that my grandpa was doing all he knew to try and cope with the situation of his wife dying. I have been utterly self-absorbed these past few weeks, and I now see an ugly reflection staring back at me.

As my temper cooled from spraining my ankle and finishing up the tasks I needed to do, I found myself reflecting and seeing that I didn’t even deserve the situation I was in. My ankle sprain could have been so much worse, but God had mercy on me. I could have lost my grandmother during finals, but instead, I’ve been given an opportunity to serve her and love her well. I had the opportunity to stay up really late and sit in sympathy with one of my best friends who has also hit a bit of a rough patch. The season I have been going through is no less vibrant than before—I just put on selfish glasses along the way, and I forgot to consider the mercies of God and His deliverance in the past, present, and future. Thank You, Jesus, that You live in me (even when it doesn’t seem like it from the outside) and that You love me.

Remembering.

As he looked around the room, he saw faces. Unsure of how familiar they were, he tried to scan through the names he knew, but found he knew none. He felt his heart start to race, but what was it to race? Was it to erase? Was it to regain pace? Was it to replace? In a daze, he sat down, only to find he was laying on his stomach. He blinked. The room went black-white, and he squirmed right, throwing himself at anything solid; he needed to hold onto something, but he just kept falling in place. Losing composure, he tried to yell, but quickly bent over, ashamed at the thought of his own voice. What did he sound like? Could he speak? Should he speak? Becoming more and more disturbed by his own existence, he felt he did not belong to a world such as this. Everything went right so long as he remained a shadow. He detracted from the world, a negative, a minus, a subtraction, a distraction, a destruction, a reduction. The opposite of light, he hardly knew what light was besides the blinding he encountered now. What was it to live well? Well, live first, then worry about living well. Could he live? Should he live? His sight was a thousand mirrors, each bending the light until his sense of self was reflected a thousand times over, facing right, left, and up. If he looked down, he would drown in recognition. He hated what he knew and who he knew, but all he knew was to appear cheerful and the only person he knew was himself. He thought about jumping, but talking himself down from the ledge was followed by visions of the suffering he still had to endure because that’s all he could see ahead of him. The paper stacks, silver coins, moving metal objects, spaces filled with linen rectangles and wool sheets exhausted him. He was tired of what he desired. Loathing hate, his joy rang hollow as he found himself empty of substance, content, and content; he was substantially discontent with the moving parts of his consciousness. In a soft whisper, he echoed the sound of a still night, seeing stars for the first time as understanding. He didn’t know what to say to make things right, didn’t know if things had gone wrong, but he still felt the wave of apologies washing him, bathing him, caressing him. Shame and embarrassment were his solace; joy and delight were his guilt-ridden tribulation.

He remembered the smiles, the miles, the trials, the styles of living, of giving himself to another. Sunny nights and still days created canvases of nostalgia for paint to artfully express the colors in memories. Sense was lost as sensing remained; emotions warped as motion reigned. A flower, a card, the ocean, a tree, a road, the lake, the fulfilling silence of comfort and enough. He had lost it all before him, but before him now, he used to take it for granite, etching fondness into stone to carry him through the rest of the way home. At night when one pair of eyes reflected blue light back into the dark, he would remember. He would sigh, then he would sleep, a smile tracing itself upon the memories that his heart would keep.

Moving Along.

Of the people we meet, the friends whom we greet

how many do we see still remain?

The memories sweet, our hearts feel complete,

yet there is occasion for pain.

When tears are our shower, we see the last hour

of bonding that we’ll recognize.

It’s not in our power, this thing that’s gone sour –

it’s too late for us to realize.

So we try to forget, we stuff down regret,

shake off all the dust of what’s gone.

We’re sorry we met; our eyes aren’t wet.

We move along but never on.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

She came home that day uncertain,

seventeen years removed.

The furniture had changed

in the kitchen,

in the living room,

in the guest room.

The quietness was welcome but unfamiliar.

She walked, she walked, she walked

until she reached the oft-abused doorknob.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she remembered

what it was like to be a little girl again.

She is nineteen now,

and his ghost – it remains.

Farewell to the Scottage.

The past four days, I’ve had the pleasure of being in Colorado with some close friends. Though it’s been a while since I’ve actively seen patterns in my life, the theme of this trip was a resounding “learn.”  Being in Estes Park at the Scottage – a wonder in its own right – was as close to being in a different world as I could be, and I realized that there was learning to be done as soon as I got off the airplane.

  • The elevation will snatch your breath away from you as soon as you try to try, leaving you breathlessly in awe of the majesty surrounding you.
  • Hummingbirds will land on your finger if you are situated where they usually perch to drink greedily from hummingbird feeders.
  • Male hummingbirds make obnoxious noises (as do grasshoppers when they fly).
  • Aspen leaves sound cool when the wind blows through them.
  • You can actually see stars at night (and if you’re lucky, lightning striking far-off mountains).
  • A wide variety of mushrooms grow everywhere; you can eat the puff-balls, but avoid the other stuff.
  • Wearing a rain jacket over bare skin is surprisingly helpful for staying cheery despite tumbles into a frigid river.
  • Tubing is awesome, even if you fall in the river.
  • Sunscreen is no jodan.
  • Putting band-aids on and then duct-taping over it will help you ignore popped blisters over the course of the nine-and-a-half mile hike (according to Apple Health) to the top of Mount Ida.
  • You can actually hike to the literal top of mountains.
  • The continental divide is the place where if water falls on one side, it goes out to the Pacific; if it falls on the other side, it goes out to the Atlantic.
  • Puzzles are sometimes necessarily group efforts.
  • It can actually hail on you near the top of mountains.
  • Rocks provide great cover from wind, if you can find them in just the right configuration.
  • Pika are amazing.
  • Nice-u and nice-u janai.
  • Maple syrup is somehow better warm.
  • “Warm” can be pronounced like “arm” with a “w,” or “war” with an “m.”
  • Hammock World grows on you.
  • Never try to re-make the Chosen One; once you throw it across the river, leave its memory behind to become a legacy lest you be pierced by a false prophet – huh?

The list goes on and on; I’m far too tired to record the rest of the factual knowledge I learned.  However, beyond the random facts here and there that I learned, I learned a bit more about myself.  During the hike up Mount Ida, I spent quite a bit of time slowly making my way up the mountain.  Having never been exposed to such biting wind and dry, cold, oxygen-deprived conditions, I found myself switching between being able to socialize and enjoy the hike and mechanically putting one foot in front of the other until the temporary goals that I set were reached, agonizing at each moment about holding back the rest of the group.  The times I found myself alone were spent deep in earnest, complaining prayer with pushback from myself regarding the fortune of my circumstances.  I went through the joy of being in creation and being humbled by God’s creation to despising the many stones that had made the ascent up the mountain possible in the first place.  Having nearly destroyed my ankles at least fifteen times, the only anchor I had was that at the end, I would look back on it as blessing.  And I do now consider it a blessing!  I realized how fickle I was in relating to God on that hike, and at the end of the day, all I could say was that God has provided just enough strength for each step, bringing companions to me when the morale was low.  It was quite a bit more soul-baring than I expected to encounter on the mountaintop.  The best part about all this was that I had read Psalm 61:1-3 the night before the hike, which reads:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Thank You, Lord, for Your infinite wisdom in drawing my soul closer to You.

However, the lesson that I count myself most blessed to learn was encouragement, patience, and hospitality.  During the hikes that I went on, I encountered an abundance of encouragement in the subtlest of ways; sometimes it would be a direct, “you’re doing great!” but other times, it would just be a welcome into casual conversation that forgot the rigor of the hike.  The provision of home-cooked meals day in and day out was coupled with a joy to serve that I had rarely seen in my life, and it made the mealtimes that much more life-giving.  When mushroom-hunting, it was always a pleasure being guided to a large mushroom waiting to be discovered despite never finding many on my own.  The list, once again, goes on and on, but who can complain about such an abundance of God’s nature being manifested in part within men and women?  The people I met and spent time with at the Scottage were all tremendous in spirit and gentle in nature, and I’m sorry to have left so early.  Nevertheless, being at the Scottage was, is, and will forever be one of my fondest memories.

“Oh, the Lord is good to me

and so I thank the Lord

For giving me the mountain trails,

the parents help that never fails

The Lord is good to me.”

Immediate Thoughts on Dunkirk.

If you haven’t watched Dunkirk yet, I’d suggest watching before reading on. (If you can spare the coin, watch it in IMAX – it’ll make you feel that much more.)

*spoilers incoming*

Continue reading “Immediate Thoughts on Dunkirk.”

June 27, 2017 – Oreo O’s.

STORY TIME: As some of you know, Oreo O’s had their re-release June 23rd, and ever since then, I’ve been hitting up a Walmart each day in hot pursuit of my childhood memories. Tonight, I decided to put my education to use and put on my researching hat, utilizing walmart.com’s handy product finder to search the nearby Walmart’s for my beloved O’s. Lo and behold, it said “In Stock” at the store closest to me. HOWEVER, when I clicked it, all that came up was a grey OUT OF STOCK message. Retreating to the search bar, I clicked on the Walmart near Biola and the Walmart that was second-closest to me in the opposite direction. Aisle A-16. Aisle A-14. THEY GAVE AISLES. I told my fellow Oreo O’s enthusiast Jason Huang and the OG finder of Oreo O’s at his local Walmart Terrance T Chang that I was embarking on my quest. Godspeed, they said. Godspeed indeed. I ran down the stairs, prompting a question from my mom about what was happening. DESTINY IS HAPPENING, MOTHER. I pushed my trusty MPV to its limit racing out of the garage. Which Walmart do I choose? It’s getting close to closing time, after all. Then, it hit me. BIOLA. There was a measure of providence at play this evening. I raced towards Alondra, turned, raced towards Valley View, turned, and pressed on ahead. It was within reach. Would I be disappointed, or would it be complete fulfillment of my June 23rd desires? Chris Yuen, in his famous “Question of the Week” during Sunday school, came to mind as I answered “Oreo O’s” in response to “What is your favorite cereal?” Thank you, Chris. I looked at the Walmart that lay before me – Neighborhood Market. I’ve got a good feeling about this. I rush to park, parking in a spot with some words on the ground. As I left, I saw that the words were, “Clean Air Vehicle Only.” I grappled for two seconds with just going in and rushing out only to trust that the O’s would be waiting for me, wanting me to play it safe and not get into trouble with the law. I rushed into another parking space, outwalking a couple ahead of me. Aisle A-16. There are no A’s here. But there is an aisle 16. And there is cereal in that aisle. I began to smile but realized it and tried to avoid smiling in a Walmart, as I am told that Walmarts are not the best places to be (to those people, I say HA! Walmart is the safe haven of cereal delights…I hope). My head is literally pounding now as I fight back disappointment and the anxious squealing of the kid inside. I scan the cereal aisle, walking to the very end. Nothing. Maybe I missed it? I walk back the other way. Nothing. A group of people start talking about which cereal to get, and that’s when I spot them. Hiding next to Pops and Cocoa Pebbles (decent cereals in their own right) were my GOAL, my FULFILLMENT. I could hardly believe that these people were talking about Cinnamon Toast Crunch – haven’t you had that available to you for the past ten years?! WHAT ABOUT OREO O’S?!? I reach deep into the shadows that tried to forbid our long overdue love, and pulled out a box. And then another. And then another, for remembrance’s sake. And then I snagged some whole milk because it’s the most flavorful and I saw that Hilary Duff drank whole milk, and she looked wonderful. I want to look wonderful too. My journey was over. I finally secured my O’s. Thank you, Manager David White, for stocking Oreo O’s in your Walmart – you have delivered precious childhood memories unto me. If you’re in the area, 14865 Telegraph Rd., La Mirada, CA 90638 is the store to hit. I would keep them all to myself, but, like the Gospel, it ought not be held in but shared with everyone around me. Thanks for being a part of my journey.