[Trigger warning: this post mentions death and suicide.]
What is your relationship to time?
Some of us are horrible at keeping time. We are constantly late. Some of us pack too much into a day, and we fail to understand how much time is needed for most of living. Some of us just work away - giving ourselves to whatever it is that demanded our attention at the present. Some of us live in a kind of diseased nostalgia, unhappy with our present and not seeing much of a future. And some of us are always making plans. And if we are not making plans, we are dreaming, constantly dreaming of something that is not yet here, may never be.
I received a call from the police at about 12noon. I had finished a meeting and was about to settle some work before going for lunch, and in fact, was just about to call J to ask whether his lunch plans were firmed up.
That was an unreal moment. A moment you never imagine yourself to be ever caught in. A moment perhaps you have seen dramatised and externalised on stage, on tele, on cinema, on a page. But it was someone else. It was imagined.
I asked several questions which the police on the other end did not want to answer. Of course I thought the worse. And I hoped, but didn't dare hope. So I called several people. My brother. My mother. The pastor's wife - she had called a couple of days ago. And I called my good friend WW, who stayed on the phone with me all throughout that Grab journey home.
Basically, I did what I needed to. Responded to whatever it was that needed response, action. Maybe I was even in a "CEO mode", as WW would say. Step out of yourself, step out of the situation, and try to figure what to do next That is best for the situation and everyone involved. In this case, I knew that I should just do either exactly what I was told, or I should ask someone else to help, which thankfully, I had my brother, one of the church pastors, and WW around for.
The day itself was bright and breezy. I was in a white shirt. It was surprisingly peaceful. The light was crisp. Everything was in focus.
I reflect on this now because I thought if I do so I can pack it away. And because it feels like, from that moment on, I had a past, a discrete past, a past that didn't have a future attached to it. Someone died, and because that someone was so much a part of me, all that time that was connected to that someone (past, present, future) died with him. That past is embodied in the objects of that life with him, which in my case, is almost every object I own. I now have a past that could be stored, archived, thrown away, narrated, distorted, forgotten, made discrete, and in my retelling here, made indiscreet.
This disruption and truncation of a linear narrative has thrown things largely off balance. I am still trying to find my time-travel footing on a daily basis.
COVID-19 did pretty much the same for most people. It threw the rhythm of their "regular" day and routine into a bit of disarray. It compressed and stretched time and locked time up in your apartment with you. For some, they felt a sense of loss - as if someone or some part of them did die when COVID-19 and its effects struck.
Most mornings, I still wake up in the past. Until the demands of work in the present (i.e. a morning meeting) can no longer be ignored, on most mornings I give myself just the first few minutes of the day to curl up with that past. Then I tell myself to get a grip on things and to get up - which leads to work and meetings and colleagues, friends, hunger, thirst, a house that needs cleaning, the delivery at the door.
When that becomes boring, I create. Outside of my job, I make new work for myself, writing and comic projects, design projects, stuff that people ask me to do that I always say yes to, conversations I have with whoever because "you asked" and because "why not". I think, perhaps God intended for this - stay open to this present, do not say "no". These projects keep coming. I keep finishing them off.
By the end of this year, there would be hopefully two published projects completed, and another two still in the making. I am extremely productive. All the energy I had that went to being with J, all of the creativity and attention and mad nonsensical sweet nothings we shared, all of that energy just needed to be expended.
With COVID-19, there have been no evening performances and work events that I have to attend as yet. So when the work day now ends at 7 in the evening, I try to keep going. I should get back to running as part of the routine. I know. But up my spine to my head, this strange sensation of something burning and tightening. So let's get dinner instead.
By 9pm, if I am not out with friends and whoever who asks, I go for a walk. I walk for half an hour, an hour. Mostly slowly, a stroll with music and just looking around the neighbourhood, poking my nose and camera into this and that.
By midnight or past, my body will reach a point when it must sleep. So I know I will stop moving. Even now, the clicking and clacking on the laptop is part of that need for constant motion, constant activity, the conversation with J that cannot be had. When I finally stop for the day, I pray I am so tired I do not lie down into the past.
In this way, it feels as if I live quite intensely in this present. Some of you do that too. Because of your work, the need to juggle one more job, the children you have (each with their particular needs, and some, exceptional needs), caring for a sick parent or partner or pet,,,But doesn't it feel like running on the spot? Nevermind, you may tell yourself, it is better to still keep moving. For me, if I stop, I know the sweet romanticised, falsely perfect past would beckon. And if I don’t turn consciously away from that past, I risk falling off into a future it no longer promises.
The last 2 weeks I decided to not only keep moving, but to literally move out of this flat, this home I had with J. It is perhaps a desperate but necessary move, a culmination of the past 18 months' incessant motion. I was thinking perhaps moving out was a way to stop this endless but unsustainable "fidgeting".
Then this weekend, I saw the words "Be still" in an old IG post by J.
"Be Still" is the title for this drawing that we made, of a man sitting and smiling in a boat amidst a storm.
God calls for us to be still before him, not so much to be in the present (as "mindfulness" experts may preach), but to be in the presence of God.
When we are still, we can better hear and discern God's voice. For one, we may be drawn to read the bible. Or to pray. For some of us, God ask that we give up a past. For others, it is to accept a present. And for most of us, it is recognise our will for the future - to acknowledge that constant motion as a will, to acknowledge that will, and perhaps to surrender that will, or at least to allow that will to be shepherded, led, stretched in a direction that is not driven simply by life's momentum or one's own rage, anxiety and desires.
I am not entirely sure what happens when we remain "still" amidst time moving and passing. It certainly goes beyond not wearing a watch. I am starting to think maybe it is simply to rest.