Dedicated to the Blogfather, a friend and fellow Daddy whom I’ve the privilege of knowing through the realms of the ‘unseen’ world…in cyberspace.
I never thought I would write about this. Until I was inspired by the Blogfather’s recent post where he recalled a hair-raising experience as part of the October ‘Season’s Greetings’.
My father died when he was 44 and I was 13 (since we are on the topic, notice the ‘auspicious’ numbers – ‘4’ is never a good number for the Chinese and we all know about ’13.). He died from lung cancer contracted through passive smoking – he was in the construction line and dealt a lot with contractors who smoked though he himself never did. So yes, passive smoking kills. He was a typical hardworking businessman who worked hard for his young family. He was a good and loving Dad that often juggled work commitments by returning home for short spells in between client meetings and his regular overseas business trips. But from the time he was diagnosed to the time he passed on, it was all within a matter of months – too short for us to bid our meaningful goodbyes.
So at the cusp of my teenage life, I was confronted with my mortality…and it has shaped my life in more ways than one.
1. A Healthy Respect…for things unseen: While it didn’t quite stir up an interest in the occult (to my wife who is reading this: don’t worry). But from regular questions like ‘Where is Papa now?’ ‘Can he see us?’, ‘Can he hear us?’, it has made me more aware of the spiritual world. I also realised that whether we believe it or not, this ‘3rd realm’ can be very real to some individuals. My mother used to tell me, ‘don’t be afraid of things you can see but of those you can’t’.
In the tangible world, it made me respect other non-tangible qualities such as personal space, personal beliefs and values.
2. A Healthy ‘Escape’: My curiosity of the ‘unseen’ world has led me to delve into the world of mysteries and paranormal. I nurtured an insatiable appetite for literature and documentaries about them: from the Bermuda Triangle to the Lady in Gray, from UFOs to Alien Abductions, from Air crash Investigations to Murder Mysteries. These would eventually draw me into political thrillers and CSIs. My world went from Enid Blyton and Franklin W. Dixon (of Hardy Boys’ fame…a name deplume for the many ghost writers) to those of Stephen King, Tom Clancy and yes, Robert Ludlum.
In the tumultuous teenaged years where I was confronted with the death of my father these books helped me ‘escape’ the untold pressures, angst and uncertainties…Even till this day: a good book, an intriguing documentary and a thought-provoking movie are my ways of ‘escaping’ from the daily grind of the stressful real world to a world of fantasy, mystique and paranormal…It is my coping mechanisms of sorts.
In a strange twist, these have also made me keenly aware and interested in the weird and wonderful facts of our real and natural world. From dinosaurs to ancient civilizations, it has shaped the decisions of where we travel and what I expose my children to.
3. A Healthy Perspective: The awareness of the certainty of death helps us to truly live. Confronted with death at an early age, I am keenly aware that we are all living on borrowed time. What truly counts is our precious family and leaving a legacy.
In the tangible world, it gave me the courage to make a mid-career switch: from one that ‘counts money for others’, to one that ‘make lives count’.
While my daily routines are quite predictable (it’s either work or home mostly), my travels with my family are not – from Stonehenge (the oldest place we’ve been!) to Auschwitz, Borobudur to Angkor Wat, I try to make trips meaningful and educational. My maxim to Angie when planning for trips is that, ‘what can we learn, what can we experience’. So no pure shopping trips and as much as we can, the kids come along. It doesn’t make us richer financially but I would like to believe that it has made our lives richer.
4. A Stronger Faith: We can’t consider death without considering our faith. I grew up in a Christian home, immersed in the world of Sunday school songs and Bible stories. Cognitively, it all didn’t made sense until…my father’s death.
Death came to my face the day my father died and God seemed ‘powerless’ to stop it. Questions assaulted me fast and furious but it was when I couldn’t find an answer that sent me on a personal quest to find out who I truly believe in.
God did eventually answer me in His own way and time (He is after all God and He calls the shots, not us). The answers came, not to my questions but from the quest, the journey that built my faith and prepared me for adulthood with more uncertainties and more untimely personal departures – from close friends, to grandparents and most heartrendingly, our premature babies.
My quest has not ended and probably never will but it has taken on an added dimension since the day I became a Dad – that is to guide my children to know their God personally. “For faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). The reality is that it is these ‘unseen forces’ like Faith, Love, Hope, Patience, Gentleness, Kindness and Self-control would hold us together as a person, a family and a society in this scary and unpredictable world.
Death and Taxes, as hailed by Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin, are two certainties we can expect in life. While we plan carefully to pay lesser taxes, how carefully do we number the days of our lives so as to spend it more meaningfully with those whom we love and live for?
Like the Blogfather, there’s a part of my life that I have not told anyone.
During a Sunday in my later teen years, I was introduced to the idea of ‘angels’ and how they are sent as messengers of God to protect us. I remembered one night I went to bed a bit later than usual but had to wake up early for an important event the next day (I think it was my school’s annual sports day) and as President of the School Band, I had to be there early to ready the band.
As luck had it, my alarm clock died and there was no fresh battery in sight. As a rebellious teen, I wasn’t close to my family so troubling them to wake me up was not an option. Before I slept, I prayed and asked God for an angel to wake me up.
The next morning, between 6 to 6:30 am, I was woken up by what felt like something brushing against the side of my face followed by a waft of wind. I was annoyed and thought my younger brother had dared to disturb my sleep by blowing into my face! I turned and was about to confront him when, in the predawn light, I saw the silhouette of an adult, in a long white cloak (or was it a pair of wings) walk past me, out of my bedroom into the corridor of my Penang home.
In my semi-awake state, I didn’t think dwell much on it. I barely had time to leap out of my bed, freshen up and dash to school.
It wasn’t until later that evening that I recalled my early morning supernatural encounter. Interestingly, it struck me that none of my family members knew I had to be at school early that Saturday morning..and when I left the home, all of them were sound asleep…