Category

Reflections & Theism

68 minutes

It has taken me a long time to summon the courage to write this post. Out of all of the things that I have written, this has been the most difficult. It’s been six weeks since I first hoped to put pen to paper, yet I ‘m still struggling with the first few lines.

Grief is a funny thing. It’s like the last 30 seconds of the snooze on your alarm. You feel like you are just drifting off, just getting back to normal and then that ringing starts again, gradually getting louder and louder. Then you have got a decision to make, to turn off the alarm or hit the snooze button again. I feel like it is finally time to get up.

It took 68 minutes from the house to the edge of the marina. It was a private dock, and a beautiful day, so the mast poles of the various boats were glistening in union in the noonday sun. But it didn’t feel like a beautiful day, it just felt fitting. We waited on a bench overlooking the pier, as the occasional first mate would saunter up the wooden beams towards us, flashing a smile and a wave. All we could manage was a nod of acknowledgement. It was time to get up.

The boat was very well furnished, the husband and wife were extremely pleasant, asking us politely to remove our shoes before setting foot on their rugged carpet. We sat down around the pull out table, waiting patiently for the motors beneath our feet to start whirring and humming. They eventually did. All the while, my eyes never left the blue rectangular box that stood in isolation on the desk in front of us. Mother decided it would be good to start the prayers and we sung them vigorously, if nothing to kill the deafening silence.

The wife came down asking which of us were looking to climb onto the deck. We shakily volunteered as she tied the rope around our waist, and we made our way to the edge of the water. We opened the box and bit by bit, we poured the ashes of my grandmother into the deep waters. They slowly floated and then sunk out of sight. As was the custom, we then placed the petals of several baby pink blooms onto the surface and watched as they bobbed slowly, further and further towards the point of horizon. It was a pretty sight, but we took no pictures.

The pier came back into view and we made the necessary small talk before moving back towards home. The serenity of the pier was as we had left it. The waves did not stop moving and the boats stayed still. The 68 minute journey home was one of relief, but poignant. I didn’t say much. I brought a book that I had no heart to read. If anything, I was busy writing this post in my head over and over again. Except 68 minutes was not enough. It was no way near enough. But now the clock can finally stop.

Closet Prayer

There has been a lot of controversy, as of last week, which I have already commented on. However before that event even took place, I had been thinking about this post and about writing it. It seems a lot more potent now. After having various discussions with the more politically aware members of my peer group, it has become clear to me that atheist one-upmanship has become more and more prevalent in civilised debate. It has also become clear that anyone who has any leniencies towards organised religion is ignorant, stupid, easily-led or all of the above. So that led me onto a different thought process. Are moderately religious people in the closet in fear of being ridiculed?

With the amount of “religious” fanatics in the news recently, using their religion as an excuse to peddle their own bloodthirsty motives, can we blame moderates for keeping their beliefs to themselves? When they wrongly use a higher power as justification for their idiocy, it undermines a perfectly reasonable person who tries to discuss how spirituality can go hand in hand with rationalism given half the chance. The atheist argument stems down to the ideal that a deity or God cannot be empirically proved, and therefore does not exist. Without getting too bogged down in this, it is safe to say that gravity existed before Sir Isaac Newton thought about dropping any apples. Nevertheless, it seems that even the most intellectual individuals are being discredited purely because they seem to dabble in prayer.

Einstein, born into a Jewish family, disagreed. His combination of spirituality and scientific rationality, he claims, made him into the visionary that he wanted to be, because his belief system gave him a sense of place. In the same way, not all belief stems from religion and not all religion stems from God. It is true that religion itself has become a dirty word. It has connotations of rigidity, restriction and regression – but people have misunderstood it. When you use a word that has to be as all encompassing as religion needs to be, it is never going to be perfect and it will be abused. As civilised human beings we need to look past that.

So those of you that don’t want to admit that you disguise a cross underneath that jumper or that you wear a kara underneath your sleeve, be brave. Just because you believe in a God, or even if you don’t, but believe in a tradition or way of life…it doesn’t mean that you are not allowed an opinion. Although mind you, ‘because God say so’ is not a valid line of argument. You are open to a culture that has been cultivated over hundreds, over thousands of years – don’t denounce it because you can be deemed ‘irrational.’ Rationality is fickle and facts change every day – just because something is empirical doesn’t mean it is necessarily going to be right forever.

Don’t keep your spirituality in the closet. Don’t neglect your prayers if you are in a crowd of people. Don’t be ashamed – be proud. But most of all, do things with understanding, so if someone asks, you can respond and enlighten them with discussion. Denunciation occurs when there is general ignorance, for the party that does and doesn’t believe. So come out of your closet, and don’t be afraid to shut the door – because even if people don’t understand what you believe, for the most part they will respect your conviction.

First Signs Of Madness

In the last few weeks, I have noticed that I have been talking to myself a lot more. Before you get excited, it doesn’t consist of me rambling under my breath in public with people glancing over and furiously walking in the other direction – it is more subtle than that. It is my inside voice trying to find its way out. I believe that everyone encounters it from time to time, whether it is in the middle of the night staring at the ceiling or standing alone in a bustling crowd.

Considering my life has curtailed due to the introduction of my final set of school exams, I have had a lot of time to myself and a lot of silence to bask in. At first, it was completely unnerving to be surrounded by the same four walls for hours on end, but as my mind inevitably started to wander, it became clear that this was a form of positive procrastination. For the past few months, burying my head in the sand has been the key to fuelling my determination to work. Putting all of my issues to one side, I have been able to keep my eye firmly focused on the future and where I want to be at in the next few years. But this isn’t healthy. It is easy for us to look at the road ahead with rose-tinted glasses, and neglect the fact that we can’t take a step towards it because we are wearing concrete shoes. What became abundantly clear was the fact that the obstacles that I am facing in the short term, will inevitably hinder that long term vision. And so unless I deal with what is going wrong now, I can’t hope to enjoy what goes right in the next few months.

But is this the first sign of madness? When I was playing badminton competitively, my coach used to constantly talk about ‘paralysis by over-analysis’ – what he meant by this was, a player could lose a match without their opponent hitting a shuttlecock, they could psyche themselves out. That is the dilemma that I feel like I am facing. Being cooped up in that room, and so far into my own mind, am I making mountains out of molehills? I was speaking to someone yesterday, and they told me that I had achieved a lot for someone my age. That the future was going to be easy, because the foundation had already been built. But it just didn’t make sense to me.

I look at other people and I feel inadequate compared to them. They have achieved things that I only hope to get to, but I don’t see this as a bad thing – I see this as another finish line to run towards. The only downside to this is that contentment is always a stone’s throw away. In the same way, that I find it difficult to sit still, I feel it is unproductive that to stand still when it comes to moving forward with my life. So maybe being unhappy now is part of being happy in the future? But what if the future doesn’t come? I am still trying to work it out.

The Leavers’ Look

As I sat in my English class this morning, staring down at a paper I had written, I came to the realisation that I’d reached the point of no return. It was littered with comments and critiques in the hope that I could possibly move one more place up in the alphabet. Staring outside at the overcast sky, with one eye on my teacher as he paced around the room, it was clear that all five of us were in a state of trance. He desperately moved from his desk, to our table, to leaning on the back of a chair…just to get us to ‘focus’. The truth was that we were focusing. Just not on English. And most certainly not on him.

Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea what the others were thinking about, but they had that knowing look of stress, tinged with a hint of fatigue. It was the same look that I had been feeling for the past few months. Talking to different people, it was not an uncommon look. It was the look that presides with someone who is frustrated with where they are, stuck in a place where they cannot move on, knowing that where they want to be is just out of their reach. It is commonly associated with young adults, at the precipice of their formal education, looking beyond the pale to see freedom beckoning them in the distance. I call it the leavers’ look.

I think it hits you sometime after you realise you have barely any time left of formal education or ‘school.’ You look at all the people that you have come to recognise over the years and see how much they have changed and how much you have been through. You look at your teachers and realise that they are frustrated by the same system you are frustrated by and irritated by the same younger kids that you are irritated by. You look at your lessons, your textbooks and even your own work and realise the futility of it all. You realise that you have been mesmerized by an institution that has always only been a means to an end.

And everyone can see it. After a certain point, you are less and less obliged to be a part of the school environment, becoming enveloped in your own world of studying and developing yourself for the next steps. You come to the terms with the fact that you will not set foot in those doors again as a student…your relationship with the building, the people and everything will be irrevocably changed. Your friends will move on to new people and you hope to see them once again, possibly more if you are lucky, but it is clear that you are not going to bump into them in the corridor anymore. It is the end of your coming of age, and the start of your new journey into the real world. No more mollycoddling.

And that leads you to look out of the window in a haze of your own contemplation. Looking at your surroundings and knowing that that moment could be, might be, will be one of those moments that you look back on in twenty years, back in your teenage body, and smile boyishly…knowing that these were some of the best years of your life, with memories that will linger in yours and the minds of the other hundred boys that made the journey with you.

Then you catch your breath and stop looking. What a view, ey?

Blue-Soled Slippers

Grief is a very difficult thing to manage. It is not like other emotions, which take control of your body for 10 minutes and then subside. If you stub your toe, you curse in pain, nurse it and move on. However when someone passes away, it is a long and arduous journey as feelings jerk you from side to side, moving between painful memories and welcome distractions. And there is no way of knowing whether you are actually moving forward at all, or simply sinking in the sand around your feet.

A teacher recommended the model created by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross called the “5 Stages of Grief” which discusses stages of how human beings deal with loss. The five stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. However it stresses that people may not feel these stages in that order or may miss some out completely. All they do is serve as an indication of what you may or may not feel, at some point in time, although you might not, but then again you might. Grief is confusing isn’t it?

I guess if I had to pin myself down, I would be somewhere between the stage of anger and depression. Anger is the easiest emotion for the body to express physically, such as a red face, gritted teeth and shouting; so the body chooses this to channel and express the whirlwind of emotions you are feeling. Linked with this physical emotion, depression encroaches on the mind and leads to loss of focus and concentration, a lack of hope or faith and a constant frustration to be content. As you can tell, I have done a little bit of my own research. It has helped me to understand exactly what I am going through and how I can get out the other side.

The answer lies in a pair of blue-soled slippers. It seems extremely innocuous, but I will explain. My Ba (Grandmother) has always worn a pair of blue-soled slippers around the house and they were generally seen at the top of the stairs. Whenever I left my bedroom, I would be able to see them across the landing and as I descended the stairs – they acted as a reminder that she was just in the next room and I could reach her. I hated seeing them during the first few days after she died. So much so that I would physically close my eyes as I walked past them as I couldn’t bear the thought of them being vacant.

Then it occurred to me. Those slippers are a reminder of comfort, not grief. They tell me that she is just in the next room, safe and secure, and I can find her. It tells me that all is not lost and that even if I cannot see her anymore, I can feel her presence by the memories that we created together. It means that she is there. And that is one step towards some sort of acceptance. I am not saying that I am anyway near the last stage, but by remembering small things like a pair of slippers, I am getting ready to face it.

My brother’s favourite movie is “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise in a fetching beard, and he has seen it about 64,906,789 times. There is a line at the end of the film where Tom is asked to describe how the last of the samurai and in particular the leader, Katsumoto, dies. He says, “I will not tell you how he died, but I will tell you how he lived.” The same principle works here. Rather than focusing on the last ten minutes of her life, which would be fruitless, it is more important that we celebrate the previous 83 years.

So that when my kids ask about the magic of Ba, it will not be a story about a pair of old slippers, but about the incredible woman that walked in them.

Ba

I have written this a thousand ways in my head. And a thousand times I have shaken my head and started afresh. The truth is, at times like this, there are no words. It has been almost a month that I have felt the pain of silence. It has been almost a month since I have slept soundly. It has been almost a month since I have smiled properly. Because it has been 26 days since my Ba drew her last breath. And it is the longest month I have ever faced. Ba is an affectionate term for grandmother. A one syllable word that encapsulates the entirety of one influential woman’s effect on my life – it isn’t enough, is it?

Time is supposed to be a healer. I have heard this numerous times over the past few weeks. But this is a wound that can never be healed. She is not going to walk through the door again; nor am I going to be able to hear her laugh or see her smile. These are all the things that it will take some getting used to, but they will not heal. Time can only act as a storm in a desert, to rearrange the sand so that the new covers the old and the landscape looks different. At the moment, I am just walking among the dunes, staring at the scorched horizon, hoping to find an oasis.

In the first two weeks, we were surrounded by lots of people and so there was no time to think about the repercussions about what had just happened. New faces everyday to tell the same story over and over again, the telephone ringing off the hook wanting to know when was a good time to come over. A good time? There hasn’t been any good times over the past month that I am aware of. But I don’t blame them. It is one of those situations where anything you say is going to do absolutely nothing to help, but you have to say something otherwise it looks like you don’t care. People do care, but the burden of grief is not on their shoulders, but weighted upon ours.

I am coping as best as I can. Work is proving a good distraction. That is just it though…it is purely a distraction. To give myself more ‘time to heal’ hoping that these measured clichés will suddenly start to take effect like bitter medicine. Though, as human beings do, we lift our heads and our feet and we trudge forward maintaining the smile on our faces. We push our true feelings down as far as we possibly can in the hope that they just don’t resurface, and we can carry on living. We eventually lose the anger and the regret as the hurdles in our path preoccupy our emotions. And every day becomes easier, as our minds harden to the reality of the deafening quiet.

We call out in the dark, hoping that the light can hear us. We wait for a sign. No more words.

Hanging By A Thread

I have always been a man with a very vague plan. Regardless of what I am doing, I always needed to have something to work towards or some notion of what I want to achieve. That was the engine that drove my life forward, usually the motivation that I needed to get through the very long days and extremely short nights. But recently, a lot of that motivation has been sapped by the realization that my plan was thrown out the window at the end of last year. It is like losing your compass when steering a ship – there is only one place that you will find yourself. In No Man’s Land.

In some ways I am grateful that everything was thrown overboard. It made me try to find the right direction again. It made me stop and reconsider my plan. But it’s an extremely lonely place to be. We are always so busy putting our fingers in numerous pies that we barely get the chance to eat three square meals a day, let alone contemplate where we want to be in the future.

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. If anything we should make the time to move to the path that is the best for us, however painful it is. Having a month off has forced me to sit down and actually think about what the hell is going to happen over the next few years. And for the first time in my life I am struggling to put the pieces of the jigsaw together – the reality is that I don’t actually know what to expect anymore.

It can’t be a coincidence that I have a fear of the unknown either. I am all for taking risks, but not knowing how high the mountain is, makes me apprehensive about climbing it. I don’t think I am frightened of falling flat on my face, but maybe of dragging down those around me and upsetting those that have put their faith in me. I am so grateful for all the things that I have been able to do, but at the same time I can feel the pressure of my shadow as it trails behind me. Can I live up to my potential? Can I be the person that I was destined be?

The only way to describe it is like hanging by my very last thread. In the hope that my arm is strong enough to hold on for as long as I possibly can. Sometimes, it is always easier to contemplate letting go and falling wherever I am supposed to land. However I don’t know whether I am resilient enough to face my fears just yet. At this point in time, I guess I am just content with holding onto those last few fibres praying that something will get my engine running again soon.

My Year (In Pictures)

“For some moments in life there are no words” D.M.

After a year of writing words, I thought it would be good to sum up with something else. This year was my year. The year when everything clicked…which I will look back and say, this is where my journey began. So on this final day of the 366 (leap year), I will share my 20 pictures for 2012. And thanking my stars that it didn’t end a week ago like the Mayans predicted…

1. “You’re a wizard Harry!” – I started the year with my cousins, from Texas, who came down for New Years for a particularly hilarious Harry Potter bus tour.

2. On my birthday, I was lucky enough to speak to Eddie Nestor on BBC Radio London 94.9FM about fairer press for young people. Look at ‘The Revolution Begins…with the BBC!

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3. Then we went to the Royal Courts of Justice and we pleaded our case at the home of the Leveson Enquiry the next day.

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4. Meeting Sir David Jason was a highlight. Especially at the House of Lords, as part of the Wings of Hope Achievement Award, raising money for charity.

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5. And then the big one! Meeting possibly the most important monarch ever to have lived…even if it was only for 3 or 4 minutes. The Queen of England. See it in ‘The Day That I Met The Queen – Part 2’.

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6. Wearing a chicken suit to Wembley is not something that I could do everyday. But I did in April, for the WOHAA finals. Got pretty hot in that suit (I am the one on the right – the fluffy one)

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7. The launch of my company in March was an emotional experience. We Do Ideas was officially launched in March in HAMLEYS TOY STORE IN REGENT STREET. And it was bloody brilliant.

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8. I was invited to judge the Lloyds Money for Life Challenge Grand Final 2012 which was at BAFTA. It was a huge honour and I got to meet a famous face. Ellie Crissell of the news!

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9. The Diamond Jubilee was a massive event for us. Going to the flotilla and the parade really made headway for the start of the summer. “Jubes“.

"A fair amount of flag waving"
“A fair amount of flag waving”

10. The Youth Media Agency has been the other organization that I have working with this year and being a part of the YMA family is very important. This is me at the launch.

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11. As a volunteer, I was invited to see the Opening Ceremony before everyone else. I will never forget the magical atmosphere from that day is July. “SPOILERS…

Danny Boyle on Stage
Danny Boyle on Stage

12. Seeing the Olympic Badminton event at Wembley was a dream come true after 4 years of waiting. Lee Chong-Wei, world number 1, was a happy bonus.

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13. I never thought that I would ever get the chance to hold that golden torch in my hands. When I got the chance to, it was a beautiful moment. I will never get the chance again.

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14. I loved every second of my week as a London Ambassador. It rekindled my pride for volunteering and for volunteers. They made the Games. And Eddie Izzard made my day.

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15. October 11th was a year since I started my blog. This will be my 41st blog post and it is still going strong. “A Year Yesterday

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16. I was freshly pressed by WordPress for my Diwali post “Shed Light” which brought a whole host of new people to the site. And 1,000 views in a day.

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17. Going to Downing Street was a fantastic achievement – it really capped off my year going to the Spirit of London reception to see David Cameron. The Queen and the PM in the same year.

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18.I was part of the team that won the Bank of England 2.0 Challenge in our area. It bodes well for my progress with Economics in the future. And the prize was chocolate. Win-Win.

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19. Seeing my favourite band, performing at the 02 in front of a sell-out crowd was definitely one of the highlights. Mumford and Sons came home.

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20. Finally, as a bit of a surprise, I was invited to a UNICEF debate on the rights of a child in the UK. It was great to finish the year on another high. Finally starting to make headway it seems. “This Is Our Chance

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WHAT A YEAR! BRING ON 2013…

In All Honesty

The response to my last blog (‘Rejection – Building Castles‘) was overwhelming. Some people have personally approached me and said that it was some of my best work like The Economic Problem (deserved a name check) and that it has helped them in their own way to deal with rejection. To those people I say a deep and heartfelt thank you for just getting to the end of the post; it was difficult enough for me to write it! However, a close friend of mine was angry with me for writing that post.

They said that I was opening myself up for ridicule, and that I was being insensitive for bringing up how I got rejected by Oxford, when others may not have been able to strive so high. It really made me think about this blog and my motivations for writing these posts. I completely take what they were saying, because in the end they were just trying to protect me from what other people could get out of it and what they would say.

But in all honesty, I don’t care what people say. For years I have obsessed with what people think of me, and these insecurities I think I share with a lot of people. But then what is the point of making such a personal chest a public commodity; by posting and advertising this blog? That is a valid point. Is this just an exercise in vanity? Of course not. Like I said, when I first wanted to write this blog, I wanted to use my experiences to provoke thought in others, and I guess this has turned into an expressive outlet with people getting more out of it than I originally thought.

What I wanted to clarify was that despite what some of you may think, this blog is 100% authentic. There is nothing staged, nor is anything dramatized for effect. These are my words, plainly said, with a few of my own crap jokes thrown in. I know sometimes it may seem that some things are too good to be true or they may not be true at all, but they are. Every single word. This page on this address on this internet is my chance to share what I think and I don’t take that for granted.

In all honesty, all of these words are honest. I don’t expect you to believe me, but I expect you to trust me. This is my journey through life, the rises and the recent falls and I am asking you to take my hand and ride it with me. I can’t always promise you that it is going to be interesting, or that it is even going to make sense. But I can tell you without hesitating that it comes from a deep place within my soul and it is one of the most important things in my life.

So here I am, holding out an outstretched hand, won’t you please take it?