Sunday, February 27, 2011

Beside me at church this morning

“You moved here from Malaysia? That was very brave of you. I always think people who change countries are very brave. Although my own father was one of those people. He came over from Scotland...

“When I wanted to get married, he told me, 'Not without you going to Scotland first.' In those days you had to sail. It took six weeks each way. In the time that I was away, my husband built a house on the orchard and ordered flowers for the wedding and all that sort of thing. Later on, he asked me, 'Do you think that was Dad's way of testing the relationship to see if it would last?'

“My husband died suddenly 22 years ago. I was sixty-two then- yes, I'm eighty-four now. Are you sure you still want to come and have tea with such an old lady? No, he wasn't ill. The evening before, we took a walk by the river near where we live. We rested on a bench and he looked at me and said, 'You're perfect.' Which wasn't true, but it was very nice, and the next morning he- the other thing he said right then was, 'You're better looking today than when I first met you,' and both those things weren't true, but they were lovely because he was saying how he felt. The next morning, at about three o'clock, because he had to get up very early for work – he worked in the Flemington markets supplying fresh fruit and veg – well, the next morning he was gone. And I always think that was a special gift of God's grace, to hear him say those things just before.”

We talked a little more, she repeated her invitation for tea at her home sometime, she impulsively gave me a hug. For one timeless moment the gap between eighty-four and thirty, Scotland and Malaysia, the 1960s newlywed grower couple and the white-haired woman sitting alone beside me, faded into the briefest of trivialities.

And then we walked out of the sanctuary into life as normal – if ever it is – to the foyer where a friend asked for a ride home, where people were drinking coffee out of non-biodegradable foam cups, carrying conversations in defiance to the humming, high-pitched energy field that always seems to emanate from kids' church downstairs.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

By your side

Tenth Avenue North "By Your Side" from Provident Label Group on Vimeo.

I love everything about this song. The truthful lyrics; the unhurried metering; the rise-and-fall simplicity of the melody. I could listen to it over and over again.

It's the video and its added sound bites that I'm not so keen on, because it seems to send the subtle message that God is "by your side" only if you've lost your home to a hurricane, fire or similar catastrophe.

Which, I will never dispute, he is. And I am not disputing that the crisis relief organisation that produced this video does fine work.

It's only that the video doesn't do justice to the wide sweep of grace the song refers to. Because it doesn't take your being caught in a state-wide flood to get the Almighty's attention. The point is, wherever you are, he's there. Even in the situations that don't make for so much dramatic camera footage.

Like being stuck for eight years in what seems to be a career dead zone, and feeling too old -- and too scared of making your wife and kid suffer even more -- to make any change drastic enough to get you out.

Or finding yourself back in the very same section, and physical location, of the rat race you'd put all of your resources into escaping.

Or facing the end of a relationship that took up the second half of your 20s, blinking in disbelief and trying to navigate this new, lonely landscape.

Or waking up in a life that's got all the right boxes ticked, having all that you ever asked for and yet feeling that it's not what you wanted.

He's by your side there, too.

Wherever "there" is for you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

If you needed to book roses for tomorrow and you haven't, it's too late, so read this instead

I've never really "got" Valentine's Day. Where I grew up, it was a foreign celebration that opportunistic capitalists quickly picked up as a very easy way to get rich, at least one day a year. It wasn't a part of my family's tradition, or of the faith I eventually came to have. So I have little of my own to say about it.

But hopefully this will provoke some activity in your head this sleepy Sunday.

A picture from my archives that would be wholly unrelated to this post,
if not for the one heart-shaped cake tin I own. That heart-shaped cake,
with some accompaniments, eventually became my cousins' first anniversary gift from me, on the occasion of their first visit to Sydney as husband and wife. That, and the pedestrian everyday sparks of
my life and my friends', is the type of occasion I'd rather commemorate. Who wants to wait for that once a year?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

While waiting

I'm waiting for the ice to melt into my soba dipping sauce and form the ideal 1:1 proportion that the sauce bottle recommended, so that I can have cold noodles on an already cold evening.

While waiting, I've been doing what comes quite naturally to me: searching the Internet for names, phrases and concepts that come to mind, things I wonder about, places to revisit, questions I'd like to get answers to. Today I found myself keying in, "z-a-c-s-m-i..."

I first heard about Zac Smith halfway through last year. This video was being posted on a few of the blogs I followed then. I got the message, but I didn't know what to make of the video itself, of Smith's shockingly smooth delivery and seeming expressionlessness. We share the same beliefs; I agree with everything he says about purpose and eternity and the inevitable mortality of material existence; but still, I wondered that he never once choked up.

I heard a few months later that he'd died. Now, another few months later, I thought of him again, while waiting for the ice to melt in my soba sauce. No apparent reason; his name just came to mind. I found a lesser-known video of him in which he addresses the 17-year-old Zac Smith.

Just as deadpan, yet still thought-provoking.

What do you think your future self would tell you?

Mine, I hope, has more to say than "the ice has melted".

Which, soon, it will have.

From Zac Smith, I went on to search for Jeromy Deibler, another guy diagnosed young with a serious illness (chronic, not terminal -- sometimes it takes us a bit too long to realise it's life that's terminal), and from there was led to this song by his band, FFH.

In the waiting, indeed.

The ice has melted.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"It's a process": Making peace with raw meat

I still struggle with preparing raw meat.

It's slippery. It's cold. It has this inability to spring back when touched that reminds me I am handling part of a dead body.

But sometimes I bite the bullet and buy it. And because I'm not in the habit of feeding edible food to the worms in the council composting programme, that means resolving to cook it.

I learnt how little protein we can survive on when I began to cook meat.

Yesterday was the appointed day of courage. I cut boneless chicken thigh fillets into strips and worked into them a mixture of softened butter, lime juice and coarsely chopped garlic.

Left the chicken and coating to get acquainted while I pulsed the ends of my current loaf of bread (rye, no seeds) in my blender until they were coarse crumbs, adding 1.5 tablespoons of shredded Parmesan towards the end.

Tossed the chicken in the crumbs softly, so that the garlic wouldn't fall off.

Baked at 175 degrees for half an hour.

Newly whisked from the oven, it was garlicky fragrant, with the homely smell of toasted rye bread. I popped one, marvelled yet again that I can cook, and wondered why people eat popcorn chicken purchased from chicken fast food megachains.

(I know why. It's because they don't like handling dead bodies, either. Or trimming raw fat, or any of the other things I don't enjoy about the whole process. But without the process, you don't get these. These.)

The next day, today, I had them straight from the fridge, slivered, in a big bowl of rocket leaves and diced egg tomato. The cashews were a last-minute extravagance, but they brought their own side of fun to the party.

There are other things at present that need to be faced, with courage or not at all. I'm hoping the chicken has fortified me, at least a little.

Monday, February 07, 2011

'American Dream' translates anywhere...

I've listened to this song for years without knowing that Casting Crowns made an official video of it. Much less that it was the first video they ever made. I appreciate the Crowns' work mainly for their lyrical excellence and musical proficiency, the way they make typically "classical" instruments rock. And the story-lover in me is drawn to how most of their songs are modern-day ballads, narrative set to music.

Yessss, so the fashion, cars and technology do date this video rather strikingly. Hello, 2003! Antennae on cell phones! Floppy man hair! etc...

But the message is pretty timeless. You know, having survived 2,000 years and more an' all.

It's hard to find a song of theirs that I don't love, but here's another favourite among the favourites.

If you like it, go buy it. I don't make any money off this link; I just believe artists deserve to be paid for their work.
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