The Endgame…nothing like you imagine it to be

Even as the last installment of the Avengers premier, one wonders what the Endgame means to different people. I hear the title and reflect what it might trigger for some. How mindful are we?

Far from the Marvels movie, ‘Endgame’ may really mean the end of things for some – the end of the game, the last stretch, the end of things, the final countdown. For how many does the title evoke a sense of an end? In the movie of their lives.

I have run the last race. I have fought the last battle. I have raised the last argument. I’ve reached the limit of my endurance. No more.

No more will I struggle. No more will I push the limits of time. No more will I seek to run yet another mile. No more.

Let others do what they will. Let them run their own race. Let them carve their own path. Let them chase the wind. Let them relish their joy.

I have no further role to play. I bow out of the play. It’s time to leave the stage. It’s curtain call.

I relinquish my last breath. Peace.

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Before time runs out…

Every breath I take, I move towards the end of time…

Every word I utter, more seconds tick away…

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Have you ever had the feeling that time is running out on you? I don’t mean the end of life though that too applies.

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Time and tide wait for no man. With every action, things move on. Even when we feel time is static, it is moving on.

In life, we never remain static. When we don’t actively do something, sometimes because we know not what to do, by not doing anything, we have already done something. We have already taken a decision. We let things drift and things progress.

We sometimes say we are not doing anything to speed a relationship up… then we are either letting it die or more often than not, we are just continuing to let the relationship run, and often, as the other party runs it. We become the mere passive participant, but we participate nonetheless. We continue to meet, we continue to respond. We continue to eat together. We continue to report in. We basically drift with the tide. And agree to let it take us where the water flows.

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Water flows by the path of least resistance. As long as there is no resistance, it will flow. It will carve its path out. Before you know it, there is a river. And you will say, but I did not dig the river. I did not create the river. Of cos.

And you may say, I did not want the river there. BUT friend, you did not want the river NOT to be there.

That is how it is with time. As with water, time will move on. Time will also carve a path in your life. With every inaction, there will be a consequence. As we are often reminded that with every action, there will be a reaction. We just often register actions, but not inactions.

You could stand by and let someone die. Because we did not take action to save him. But you say, but I did not want him to die. But you DID NOT want him NOT TO die either. Either way, the outcome is the same. The man will die if no one takes any action. And the time will move on, such that, when you suddenly should decide that you actually really did not intend for the man to die and you jump into action, it may be too late and he has crossed the barrier of the time line of possibly being saved.

The golden minute, the critical timeline.

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When the clock struck 12, the coach became a pumpkin. That is how it happens.

Things change but in a minute. Sometimes, there is no warning. Sometimes, you think you have all the time in the world.

Occasionally, there is a sliver of hope. Occasionally, the dying one hangs on for another minute because the loved one is not there. Occasionally, the string hangs on by a strand. Occasionally, we can sustain life. 

Even then, damage is done. The one who is resuscitated will never be the same again.

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At the end though, really….

When a crash happens, it happens. When a string breaks, it breaks. When a heart shatters, it shatters. When a life ends, it ends.

There is  no second chance. There is  no reversal.

And at the end, no matter what regrets, no matter how we wish it did not happen, the water has flowed where there is least resistance .

Where we want things to be purposeful, so that time does not run out on us, unknowingly, then we need to take action promptly. To make the difference, to make things count, to divert that river, to mean what we say, to keep the one we love, to give that hug… all can only be done before time runs out.

No matter what or how many flowers one can put at the end, it will never be the same. It will simply be too late.

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When friends walk away …

Friendship … usually a blessing … and sometimes a source of pain. Never joy without sorrow.

In life, we meet many people, some temporal and some eternal. Some you think would be eternal, but whom are really temporal. There can be that click and you absolutely gel; yet, over time, you realise paths diverge and people leave. Some you thought acquaintances, then you realise at the end of life, they have always been there.

When people leave, you may feel relieved for some. Those usually do not leave a scar. Then there are those who leave and that leaves you devastated. These leave a deep scar, often right to the core of one’s soul. They may leave by actually walking away. They may decide to leave because things fall apart. They may decide to leave because there are conflicts and issues that cannot be resolved. They may find that paths are diverging. They may find ideals changing. People may change.

What may often happen also is that people don’t even realize they are walking away till it’s too late. By their actions, the gap widens over time. You may try to tell them that it’s happening but they will deny it. They will say it so often that they even believe it themselves. There is betrayal even in that. The promises to care and love forever no longer mean what they used to. Then one day, they wake up and realize they are no longer there and have not been there for a long time. Though they thought they had remained.

Regrets will remain but things will be changed forever. Once it simmers into ashes, it will never be the same again.

And I wonder

I wonder how and I wonder why

I wonder about all the things in the Sky

I wonder what and I wonder where

I wonder about life and if it’s fair

I wonder about love and about pain

I wonder how one stays sane

I wonder about joy and about fears

I wonder how to smile amidst tears

So many things that I wonder about. Some without answers for I’ve wondered long and hard. Some will never have answers through the realm of time.

One lives by faith in the presence of doubt. Without doubt, there would no need for faith. To say there is no need for faith would be to be sure about everything that happens. And how many can say with honesty that they know exactly what will happen and when it will happen.

Many a time, on a lesser travelled path as I’ve taken, in many facets of life, the unknown looms ahead.

In my chosen vocation right from after A levels, I was thrown from my preferred options of being a psychologist and an author… towards being a teacher… into being enrolled into Medicine.

And there is no turning back from there. It took an irksome professor of surgery to push me into affirming that Medicine was what I wanted to do (even if it was just to prove him wrong that females should not become doctors because all they do is get married and have children!). He was determined to chase me out of that interview room into the Science stream. At that time, my stubborn nature refused to allow me to get up and go till the panel assured me that the interview had truly concluded. This was further after I had already eyed down the professor and agreed to sign a A&E contract, in order to convince him that hard work did not deter me and that I meant what I said about staying on to work upon graduation! Which of cos, the man couldn’t furnish and was merely challenging me. Phew.

So I told God that if He wanted me to be in medicine (and no, that had not been some great vocational call or whatsoever), he has to be the one to get me in. In those days, where would there have been money to go overseas and what not? Scholarships were also not an option for medicine. And into medicine I went.

And this was already deviant from an earlier option in the choice of stream in Jc1 where smart aleck me thought I was good enough to do double maths, so determined I was to leave the world of Biology I so hated. I conceded defeat after just one month and crawled back to triple science, only to be told by my Maths teacher that I had been doing fine actually! Oh well, in triple science I stayed.

The next milestone came when I had to attend the next interview for speciality training. I was challenged to then, as I had opted for Paediatrics, take on Neonatology when I passed my specialty exams. Here, I had to eat my words, as I had no intention of doing so though I agreed readily that I would consider that. Haha! God showed me the way most certainly there. Despite me hanging on for a non-neonatal job for 2 years after I passed my Paediatrics exam, He manoevred the situation into me abandoning a Paediatrics Medicine post (with a threat of an precedented and unfair payout if I stayed on there) to enter the world of newborn medicine… and into developmental medicine.

So from a swear-to-my-chem-teacher that I would never pursue medicine, to an eventual entry into one of the most challenging domains of medicine – Newborn Medicine with Neonatal Intensive Care, a world of 500g premature babies (fitting into the palm of my hand) and machines that beeped and vibrated endlessly. But it was through this world that I then entered the land of the special needs child.

That is another story, which I wrote about briefly in an earlier blog of My Walk in the Woods.

And so throughout my life, I wandered and I wondered.

And when I started running the Children Ministry in church (Jubilee Church Children Ministry), the little ones were named the Wonderers under my care. Likewise when I started the Early Intervention Programme for the children with special needs (www.theskiltcentre.com), here too the littlest ones were named the Wonderers. For it is in wondering that we learn. Without wondering, we do not find answers.

As an adult, this wondering continues to happen. One wonders all the time if our choices are right. And many times, only time can tell.

As a doctor, people think we should always know what to say to patients. That is not always the case. There are some clear things we need to say but there are also some uncertainties in each case that warrants individual decisions. And just as each one is different with different needs, different personalities, different families and different expectations, we must always be mindful not to make sweeping decisions and generalize things altogether. And sometimes I wonder, especially with special needs families, if I know what I’m saying, and whether I am ever able to really appreciate the difficulties they are going through. One must never presume to be able to walk in their shoes. One must think and wonder and then make the best plan possible for them, to the best of one’s abilities.

And so I continue to wonder and to ask.

When you just feel like curling up forever…

Depression is not so much a mental illness as a state of life. Though it is classified medically in medical literature under the Psychiatry branch of medicine, it exists so subtly and in so many forms, that it is often unrecognisable as a mental disorder. Many with depression, mild or otherwise, continue to perform in life, being big on the celebrity scene or experts in their field.

Look at Robin Williams. Look at Johnny Depp, Ellen DeGeneres, Harrison Ford, Angelina Jolie, Chester Bennington, Leslie Chung.. the list of celebrities go on. Then there is Michael Phelps, JK Rowlings, Agatha Christie,… even Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England and Barbara Bush, the First Lady of America are not spared. These form perhaps, just the tip of the iceberg.

I suppose these people come to notice because of who they are, because of their fame. Many draw sympathy because of their positions and the seemingly understandable stress they experience where they are.

What then of the common people? Who sees their stress and understand where they are?

Depression is a disorder that respects no boundaries and holds no forms. All triggers are possible. What is one man’s treasure is another man’s poison. What makes one overjoyed, makes another depressed. It hits the rich, it hits the poor.

It hits suddenly, it hits hard.. it can kill. It can grow subtly, creep into every aspect of your life…and suddenly, you are there, facing death and debating about it. It respects no man, no time and no conventions.

From whence does depression creep in? It starts right inside… a niggling sensation, that then grows… and then voom!! Its there before you know it. Mostly, Sometimes, one does know and is helpless against its growth.

You keep busy, surround yourself with activities, busy yourself with people… and it patiently waits. It eats into your self-worth, your self-esteem… regardless of how capable a person you actually are. Its like the devil intent on tearing your soul apart. And actually, that’s what it does…if you can’t keep it at bay and let it take hold of you.

It is well possible to apply logic, look at your achievements honestly, know you are capable.. and still feel overwhelmed. That is why it does not only strike those who are without skills or less able in life. In contrast, the ‘poor’ will snigger and question the rationale behind these supposedly more able and richer people succumbing – they had everything in the world – what reasons are there to be depressed – they ask? Look at me! I am the one who should be depressed. The rich, the poor, the ignoramus, the professor, all equally liable.

There is also the common man, the student, the office worker, the middle class… life can be rich, filled. We understand depression when results are poor, when grades suffer, when there is illness, when there is marital discord… and when there aren’t any of these? The popular student, the life of the party, the one surrounded by friends, the popular chap… where does depression get a hold?

Is it the personality? Are we born susceptible? Nature versus nurture? Approximately 40% will have a genetic link. A Depression gene has indeed been identified. The other 60% have environmental contributors. There are hormonal influences too. If your serotonin is low, then the tendency to fall into depression is higher. Serotonin is also the love hormone. It is no wonder that depression is so often linked to failed relationships. Hence again, which is the chicken and which is the egg?

The depressed tend to do poorer in relationships I’m sure. It is usually a vicious circle. Those who feel low will feel little drive. There is little motivation. You will feel like you don’t want to do anything. And with that, you sink deeper, lower. Serotonin plunges. The feel good drops further. And then soon you would be in the deep pit.

And for most people, you start out with putting up a front. How are you? I’m fine. I’m great. I’m ok.

You plaster on a smile. You go along with activities. You appear happy, even jovial. These are the dangerous ones cos no one sees any signs.

‘He was alright just the day before! He was laughing!’

‘She was even planning a holiday….’

How many of us are so close to all our friends that we can see immediately into them when they choose not to let us see what’s going on? Are we so in-tuned to the feelings of all the people around us? Or are we so busy going about our own business that we don’t even spare a second to ponder on the well being of the people around us?

Or, pause, perhaps, we are in the category that this article describes.

Are we in that rut ourselves? Have we been there? Did we get ourselves out? If we had, we should be able to recognize the signs and tune in more easily.

You know what it feels to reach the end, the bottom of the pit. But sometimes, you just feel it is helpless. When you are totally numb and you move like a zombie.

And people who haven’t been through it think it’s so straightforward. Snap out of it! Get up! Just tell yourself! Mind over matter!

But it’s is never so simple. Everyone also just wants to snap out of it. Who doesn’t wish to be the simple, happy person they were before the dark descended on them.

If only things were so simple … if only science had answers.

In the meanwhile, suffice perhaps that each of us should just open our eyes to see closely at the people closest to us. To pick each other up. To reach out into the dark to find their hands. To hope that if we ourselves are in the dark, that someone, just one, will be able to reach out to grab our hand. Then perhaps the world will just be a tad less dark, a little less rough. If we can just start with that, living with a bit of soul, then it might just suffice.

The importance of sisterhood

It’s one of those pensive moments that arise, as I find that I am more and more apt to fall into these days. Perchance it’s because I’m growing old. More likely though, it’s the frequency I fall into alone moments. Not necessarily lonely, but alone.

This time, it’s triggered by a photo shoot with this group of ladies whom I’ve essentially grown with over the last 20 years, sisters in everything but blood. As we support and push each other over the years, we’ve grown comfortable and natural. Even if we do not share the deepest thoughts and secrets all the time, when there is a need, someone will always be there to step in.

People say blood is thicker than water. Whilst we all each have our own siblings, yet somehow what we share in this group is different. All our silliness, our weird tendencies, our strange habits… all merely help us to accept each other and know that we are all unique and ‘same same but different’, as local culture tends to put it.

We’ve shared the tears and the joys of younger adult years, the difficulties of motherhood that no one else could teach us but ourselves, the exasperations with spouses, the pain of watching over wayward kids, the financial woes and worries over careers, the exhaustion of day to day menial tasks and the happiness and love that we imbibe ourselves with when we are together, negating negative energy and recharging ourselves with positive vibes. That’s what we’ve done for each other in a way no other group can do.

We’ve grown stronger and wiser… growing our own village and strengthening each other. In every way possible, we’ve tried to see each other through. We laughed, we cried, we bled… in more ways than one.

It’s been such a journey that the memories hold such treasures. And as we grow old together, let us continue to hold true. Let us continue to engage and gather. Let us continue to be silly. Let us continue not to judge but have no qualms to direct and criticize to help each other improve. Let us praise and hug and encourage each other. Towards better days.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess 5:11)

That when our voices soften, our abilities fade, our strength diminish that we will find strength in each other and know that we will live on through one another.

It’s been a fun ride. An enriching one. Thank you sisters.

My walk in the woods

I don’t know how many of you have actually walked in the woods. Or perhaps not necessarily even in the woods but say, in nature reserves or parks where the rainforest as we have in Singapore, is a little more dense. Where there are some well laid trails or boardwalks and there are some less well demarcated trails, where if one is not careful, one might miss a sign or a turn and end up in dense forest, unsure of how to join up with the trail again.

That is how I sometimes feel, in navigating the land of special needs, a land where I have tracked for the last 20 years and sometimes still feel lost in directing some families. Each family, each child, so different that no two individuals or set of circumstances are ever the same even tho there may be similarities.

The landscape has been changing in 20 years and continues to change. Where resources were dismal, they have become a little better though much more needs to be done.

I am constantly amazed by the resilience of some children and some families and absolutely salute them. Their tenacity, their natural buoyancy … all have a cost and they pay it willingly.

There are some not as fortunate, who flail and fail, to rally up to the need and the commitment to see their child through. These I feel sorry for and provide all the support that I can.

There are many stories to share, many lives to learn from … and that is why I write… some to share a vision with, some to impart some wisdom, some to highlight specifics… for there is no one child from whom we cannot learn. Whether you are a medical personnel, a teacher, a therapist, a special needs tutor, a special needs educator… from whatever walk of life, open your hearts and your minds to these special people. Every child is special and every child matters.

Oct 6