home is a vacuum

Home sucks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

 

I can’t breathe here.

Like literally… I can’t.

I think I might have bronchitis. That might just explain a lot of things.

That might explain
not being able to sing for the past three weeks or so,
not being able to sleep on my back without choking,
not being able to talk

to them,

makes me feel far away and distant

in outer space,

just floating

with bad communication and hairline fractures

gasping for air.

 

I don’t know.

Just my best guess,
which is the best I ever get
nowadays.

 

deep space – journal snippets

This past year, I started journaling differently. Less bullet pointy. More fluid. Less note-taking, more storytelling. Aside from the fact that it makes the task of reflection way more exciting, I’ve come to see that God is much like a storyteller Himself.

As the semester comes to its close, I get to indulge in my favorite part: re-reading everything I’ve written. The adventures. The movie scenes. The poetry. I decided to transcribe some excerpts and quotes from my journal and compile them into a timeline of sorts. Just as a fun experiment. Enjoy!(?)

 

“Blood. Sweat. Tears.
All fine choices for ink in a time like this.” – the last entry [December 19th, 2016]

August 22nd, 2016 [Day One of school] – I didn’t know I could turn into a robot

“When the pace of life is too fast for the soul to keep up, it rips out through its fleshly cage, leaving the body soul-less, life-less, color-less. Cold like metal. I can smell the rust. […] Is it happening again? Are the darkest chapters of my story repeating themselves? Am I facing my biggest fears once again? Jesus, I’m scared. I feel alone.”

August 24th, 2016 – Midweek Nothingness

“But then again, no matter how long you stay in Thailand, your body never really gets used to the humidity. I pray the same over my soul, lest it gets used to feeling pain.”

September 4th, 2016 – the wind blows eastward

“My body has lost too much blood. Each day, I wake up with soreness and exhaustion weighing on my body. The phone has been charging all night and by dawn, it is still at 11%. Did I even sleep? But it doesn’t matter. The relentless tempo of time stops for none. […]

I’m sick and tired of being tired. I’m tired of fighting pain.”

September 5th, 2016 – “fight fire with fire” published on the reverie.

“I’m dyin’ out here, Jesus. And I’m tired of it. Was this not my prayer in Thailand?”

September 6th, 2016 – In the Mourning, When I Fall…

“The lament has begun. […]

Why am I running? Because I’m scared. That no one will get it. […]

The Lord rests in the shadow of the moon.

‘Your pain is all you’ve ever known.'”

September 12th, 2016 – “grip strength” published on the reverie.

September 18th, 2016 – Oh look, nothing

“I’m still nervous to draw near to Jesus because recently, I’ve associated that with pain. It’s like hanging with a surgeon. Damn.”

September 21st, 2016 – pockets of Joy

“Go play, Justin. That is your mission. That is why I created you… I want to show you how to fly.”

September 25th, 2016 – Just tryna savor this, but everything’s flavorless…

“I think my soul’s nerves are in shock… In a similar fashion to how my leg’s nerves were shot after the centipede bit me. My bruise felt numb for a good month or so afterwards. Damn centipede.

The things that usually give me life and joy don’t do quite the same anymore…

Damn. Who am I?”

October 2nd, 2016 – “stone the prophet” published on the reverie.

October 2nd, 2016 – “pain, revisited…”

“Yet an invitation was extended to me to make their pain, my pain. Will you take it? […]

If not now, then never. And so I dive in. My nerves re-awaken from their slumber of numbness and welcome the sting and rush of fiery pain.

It is almost ‘refreshing’ to feel something, even pain, after your nerves have been shut off and in shock for so long.”

October 5th, 2016 – so WHAT THE FUCK HAPPEN

“I fell into a whirlpool monday night. […]

I am alone. No one is here for me. They’re busy. It’s late. They’re tired. It’s so draining to go to them. It won’t help. I’m by myself. I am alone. Lonely. All alone.

Jesus, where are You??  …Hello? God, it hurts. I don’t know what’s happening. I cannot hear you. Please help me. Rescue me.

No answer.”

October 8th, 2016 – “the crescent’s edge” published on the reverie.

October 9th, 2016 – Storms coming…

“The force of the gravity was so powerful and overwhelming… I could not escape from it. I just got sucked into its gravitational pull and it was over at that point. No matter how hard I tried, I could not escape.

Space travel is an incredible thing but doing it alone can be terrifying at times.”

October 17th, 2016 – so that was my last FallCon… I guess??

“I don’t understand. Did I do something wrong? […]

I return home with no story to tell. not even kayaking. […]

I’m getting more sad, more often. Episodes upon episodes like a netflix binge.

I need a fucking massage. and alcohol.”

October 18th, 2016 – [untitled]

“Hi. I really need more of you in my life. I’m navigating through a thick jungle of black holes. If I am not careful, I might step on a trap. […]

When I go to bed each night, the world becomes still enough for me to feel everything again, especially the things that hurt.”

October 19th, 2016 – “the return” published on the reverie.

October 21st, 2016 – MORE STINKY SHITS, YAY

“I have nothing. everything in my life is falling apart.”

October 23rd, 2016 – Week of Stinky Shits

“He listens to me, absorbs and feels everything that I feel. Com Paseo.

He looks at me tenderly.

He wants to take it all in. The pain I feel. He wants to receive it and hold it with me, for me.

He looks at me tenderly.

He is so so in love with me. He is mad for me. He is eager and always waiting to talk with me.

He looks at me tenderly.

His gentleness, His listening heart, His deep care disarms me. I surrender.

He looks at me tenderly.

October 30th, 2016 – ⌘Q

“I feel like there’s no one person that I can fully depend on. I want there to be a friend who can always be there for me, all through the day. Through the depressing waking moments, through the anti-social meal times in the dining hall, through the daydreams while I sit inattentively during lectures, through the YouTube binges, through the moments in the middle of the week when there’s nothing I want more than to fly kites at the beach, through the times of stillness when I stare off into blank space, through the nights when the loneliness is unbearable, through the pain, through the wonder.

Who will slow down their lives from the busyness of the world? Who will press pause the mad game we call life? Who will care enough to have their days be interrupted and stopped? Who will slow down for me?

Only they will find the Kid.

Jesus: I wanna be that person for you. Will you let me?”

October 31, 2016 – Today, I let go of the rose

“The petals lay wrinkled and dampened, pigmented by beauty and bloodstains. I don’t even know what my fingerprints look like anymore.”

November 1st, 2016 – “bare minimum” published on the reverie.

November 7th, 2016 – Day of Adventure

“Treasures everywhere. Today was a gift. One of my favorite days in this semester, hands down.

I got back home and almost instantly found myself driving into a black hole.

Oh SHIT. what’s happening. the pain. grounding. how do i do this thing. don’t get sucked in. external world. where am i. what are your surroundings. describe it to me.

breathe.

oh god.”

November 9th, 2016 – OH GOD. SARAH SAID A LOT OF THINGS.

“Will people have the time for me? Will people have the patience for me? Will people want to sit with me?

Jesus: I will. I have all the time in the universe and I will lavishly spend it all on you. I wanna be your best friend.”

November 13th, 2016 – turning point?

“We love moments of nonetheless. We like big buts. […]

Sometimes, we don’t want to hear nonetheless… Sometimes, it just sucks. […]

Trapped in the limbo of hating where I am, yet immobilized by the pain and unable to move forward.

Sometimes, pain is inconsolable.”

November 15th, 2016 – “homesickness” published on the reverie.

“I can’t stand being apart from them. I just want to be with them. That’s all I really want.

Old friends. New friends.”

November 22nd, 2016 – a respite for the soul

“Man. I don’t wanna be sad anymore.”

November 23rd, 2016 – “homelessness” published on the reverie.

November 25th, 2016 – black friday 2016

“thursday was already black. […]

is emptiness better than pain? i don’t know. idk if one is inherently better than the other but in a time like this, i need a break. my soul is tired. i need rest.

and if nothingness will give me that rest, i’ll take it.”

December 4th, 2016 – New Wineskins

“He cries. We both close our eyes.
The God that wants to be my friend, He is a little something like this. Gentle. Tender. Soothing. Affectionate.”

December 6th, 2016 – “writer’s block” published on the reverie.

December 11th, 2016 – of finish lines and end times

“‘blisters on my feet, i crawl back home / frozen from the sleet burned sand and stones / nourished back to life by life alone / with one shake of the mane, regain the throne’ – Matt Thiessen […]

Seems like I’m always off-time. Bad timing. I experience time differently than most people. Never really recovered from jetlag or something. […]

Fill me, Jesus.
Come and show me that you’re everything I’ve ever wanted and some.”

December 13th, 2016 – “metamorphosis” published on the reverie.

December 19th, 2016 – so that just happened

“‘I did it. It’s over at last.’ –text message to Paul [thursday dec 15, 2016, 3:54PM]

I cried on the bus ride home.
With my forehead pressed against the icy window, I watched two streams racing across the glass, one of winter rain, one of warm tears.

I pulled off my helmet. I can breathe. My soul heaved a heavy sigh, expanding far wider than my lungs ever could. […]

A forest of black holes.
Kid Wonder’s most dangerous mission yet.

No man has ever ventured this far into the cosmos. And I’m confident that no man ever will.

This deep into space, man can only dream of traveling to. Many may seek, but only few will find.

Only children.”

metamorphosis – a reflection on my last Fall Semester

“Who am I?”

The loudest question echoing in my mind of late – the tension of my heart. A fun question when you know the answers, a haunting one when you don’t.

I wonder if caterpillars have midlife, existential crises like humans do.

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not recognized the person standing in it? Has even your own reflection become a stranger?

It is so routine, so habitual, that we overlook the slightest of changes in appearance. The nuances in color. The subtlety of texture. We glance over the minutia of change.

One day, it hits us. We stop in our tracks, frozen by unfamiliarity and cold air.

There is a change in the wind. The canvas of the woods shine a different hue. It seems so sudden that the leaves put on their yearly red-ish, golden outfit. Without invitation.

For us Southern Californians, we are reminded that Autumn is a thing. A sigh of relief. We sigh again because we can see it in the air for once.

This past semester was a season of shedding leaves.

I have occasionally toyed the thought of plants being able to feel pain and emotions. You know, human things and such. If they could, I think I now have an idea of how shitty of a time of year Autumn and Winter must be for them.

It is a time of death and release. It is a time of amputation. Imagine having to amputate your body parts a couple times a day for a few months. Imagine doing it every year, like some twisted family tradition. SoCal has it good.

It is time of acknowledging the outlets and instruments we use to receive sustenance and life from the world around us, only to saw them off.

It is a time in which we must face the reality that our leaves do not work anymore. No matter how hard we try to cling onto them, they will eventually fail us and leave us as unsatisfied and lifeless as they are. They will brown and die. And we will have to let them go. We will watch little children play with them and trample on them with their size-three rain boots.

Maybe it would be better if trees didn’t feel things.
Maybe I should just be a plant.

The recent months of my life have been bitterly cold. I have watched, often in horror, my leaves slowly change color, wither, and die. They’re not working anymore. It seemed like every week brought a harsh gust that would blow through my branches. My leaves – the things and people I depended on for love – would be lost in the wind.

I have been stripped bare. I’m almost naked, save a couple leaves. Wintertime is here and it’s not as holly jolly as I remember it to be.

To confront the truth that the devices we depend on for love no longer serve us anymore is terrifying, to say the least. Those places are now off the map. A coffee smudge. Be it money, status, family, significant others, self-image, knowledge, busyness, or what have you, our fears are eventually realized when we discover that those things will never quench our thirst.

For me, it was friendship.

I have wanted to run away countless times this semester. I don’t know where, but just far away. I didn’t want to face the reality that my friends could not love me in the way they have so faithfully in the past. I was afraid no one could ever understand me anymore. And the people who could were not there. I didn’t want to confront the prospect that I just might be as alone as my fears told me I was.

When the memories you’ve tried your hardest to bury begin to surface, you run. The places we run to may differ but we all run somewhere. Human nature, I suspect.

Who am I?

When your soul is being tortured, you start to see parts of yourself that you didn’t think could live inside of you.

Amidst the darkness of loneliness and depression, I must confess there is still something strangely beautiful in death. In seeing the autumn leaves adorn our city walkways like ornaments. In the crisp, icy winter wind. In the letting go.

Even as I release the thorny rose from my grip, I see beauty and bloodstains. I can’t always tell which is which but there is something oddly remarkable in that.

There is pain, there is promise. There is heartbreak, there is hope.

Jesus once met a woman who was thirsty for relationship, a little like how I am myself. He invited her into a season of Autumn. Her leaves happened to be lovers.

“Give me this living water you speak of”, she begged Jesus, her desperation now more real than ever.

To which He responded, “Then give me your thirst.”

Here’s to new wineskins, autumn leaves, and hungry caterpillars.

Here’s to springtime.

writer’s block

Of fresh starts, running away, and good storytelling.

“So you told her your story of betrayal. The truth.”

“Yeah. And she asks me, ‘What would you wanna say to them?'”

“Like in a hypothetical conversation?”

“Yeah, exactly. And I kinda freak out.”

“And then you broke up with her..?”

“No no, that’s not why I broke up with her. But it gave me an idea. An idea that would develop into something that would change the rest of my life.”

“That would lead you here.”

“Eventually.”

“I see. So what does that have to do with your um.. career crisis and stuff?”

“Slow down, man. I’ll get there.”

“Alright, alright. So how did you answer her question? Tell me about this hypothetical conversation.”

“Well the thing is, I already knew what I would say. I’ve already transcribed this…  ‘dialogue’ onto paper so many times, like drafts of a screenplay.
‘Which draft will be used?’, I often wondered. I kept writing and writing.”

“Did you ever use any of them?”

“Never.”

“Why not?”

“It was too painful.”

What is it, that I already know the words, but it still burns to say them?
I practice my lines for months, in some desperate attempt to be cast for the role. Yet the stage-fright still has its conniving way of sneaking under my skin.

I stand paralyzed in a lonely stage in front of a dark, empty audience, save a couple silhouettes. My shaky breath is too loud. Who decided that my microphone should be on. Now my fears are amplified for the world to hear.

“So you just.. didn’t ever talk to them.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t do it.”

“So what was this revolutionary, life-changing idea of your’s?”

“It was this thought that.. perhaps, we live in a world of cruel bloopers. I figured that conversations never play out the way we plan them. The characters always go off-script.”

“I mean, that’s one way to see it.”

“The scripts that I write in my head are always more preferable than what actually happens on-screen. Even if the scenes are hard and painful, I’d write them in an exaggerated, overly-dramatized fashion, which I prefer for some reason.”

“It feels better than the real thing.”

“Yes. So I obsessed over this concept and I found myself at a crossroads, which I often do. It seemed like there were only two paths that I could take: to live in a world of fiction or to lose my fantasy and live in the reality of the present.”

“Is that why you moved to the East Coast?”

“I’m afraid it was. That was how my new life as a recluse began. I immersed myself in this new, unfamiliar world, where I could start a new life. I could write my own story with new characters, new narratives, new plot twists. I even considered changing my name.”

“Damn. I had no idea. And how did that go for you?”

“It was exciting at first. Euphoric, almost. I was drunk on this idea that no one else could write my story for me anymore. The pen was in my hand and no one else’s. I reveled in this idea.”

“And the people back at home?”

“Well… I cut them off. I kind of just disappeared from their lives.”

His brow tenses ever so slightly. I look at the icy waters below us but I feel his concerned eyes pressing on my face. I don’t know if I like this feeling.

“What happened, then?”

“I started writing. I indulged in my newfound freedom. I had a fresh canvas to work with and I took advantage of that.”

“Fiction, I presume.”

I nod.

“Mostly short stories and what not. If you recall, I shared some of them with you a while ago.”

“Ah yes. They were pretty good. I hafta admit, I was quite impressed.”

“Yeah? Cool thanks, I guess replying four years late is better than never.”

“Sorry, man.”

“It’s whatever”, I mutter through my smirk. I knew he liked my writing.

“Wipe that stupid grin off your face.”

“No.”

“I’m gonna throw you off this bridge.”

“Hm. That would make an excellent opening scene. I’m gonna use that. Thanks, man.”

He rolls his eyes.

“You’re welcome. You were saying?”

“You crashed my train of thought.”

“You were writing short stories and…?”

“Ah yes. I was on a writing spree. My mind was overflowing with inspiration, it was almost too much. I could barely keep up. It had been a while since I created art that I was proud of.”

“Hm. Seems like Brooklyn did a lot of good for you.”

“Yeah. Everyday, the city had something new to offer me. New tools, new paints, new brushes to work with. It was a wellspring of creativity and innovation.”

“I wish more people thought of us that way.”

“That’s another thing. I had fallen so in love with this town that I almost felt this need to show it off to the world. I wanted people to realize its hidden beauty.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I suppose. It was complicated – wanting to show off my new home while covering my footprints so people in my previous life wouldn’t discover my whereabouts.”

“Did they ever find you?”

“A few did. They tried to get in contact.”

“What did you do?”

“I did what I knew how to do best.”

“…Write fiction?”

I nod again, slowly this time.

“You lied to them.”

“Well in fiction, you take the truth and you sort of… bend it. Twist it to your liking. Paint it with different colors.”

“I see.”

I can feel his skepticism. It is sharp.

“Do you regret that?”

“Sometimes. At the time, I had become so infatuated with the city that I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. My scars were still fresh. This was my new life and I had no intentions of going back.”

“That’s fair. Do you feel that your new self is incompatible with your old city?”

“Very much so.”

“I think I can understand that.
You mentioned previously that you had become a recluse?”

“Yes.”

“How so? As far as I could tell, you were still interacting with human beings when I met you.”

“Haha well, maybe not a real recluse.”

“Then what? A fictional recluse?”

“I figured I could have people in my life, so long as I didn’t have to get too close and personal with them.”

“And what did that achieve you?”

“Safety.”

“From what?”

“Robbery. I was scared that if I shared too much of my story, if I had let someone in too much, they would steal my pen. Because that’s what tends to happen. I didn’t want someone else writing my story again. It’s too painful.”

“Don’t you already share your stories though?”

“Yes, but only the fictional ones.”

“Hm.”

“For a while, people were nothing more than free ideas for characters I could build and write about. I would have a meaningful conversation or two with a new ‘friend’ and leave the rest to my imagination.”

“That is… fascinating.”

“That was the scariest part though. I needed to know them enough to have something to write about but that usually meant sharing myself with them as well. So once I had enough ‘content’ to work with, I would draw the line and keep the friendship from going anywhere further.”

“So… people were just creative fodder for your short stories.”

I look back down at the waters.

“Yeah, basically.”

“You’re a sick man. A genius, but… sick.”

“I know.”

“Was that all I was to you? A resource you could exploit for your writing career?”

“I may have used you for a few of my characters…”

“Fuck you. I want them back.”

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“You know, you’re so scared of having your story stolen from people… but isn’t that what you’re doing to everyone else? You earn your friends’ trust, they share their story with you, then you take it and run away without ever returning the favor.”

It made too much sense. Maybe I should jump the bridge now.
We sat in the silence together.

“You know, it’s okay. You can use my story if you want. I don’t mind.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, man. I’ve shared so much of it anyways. I trust you. You’re still an asshole, though.”

“Wow. I’m… baffled.”

“You know, as good of a writer as you are, your scars still sometimes show. I could always tell you were in pain.”

“Hm. I suppose fiction can’t hide everything.”

“There is a fine line between writing fiction and writing lies.”

Wow. I think I almost throw up.

“You know… you were always the most inspiring and the most difficult character I’ve had to work with.”

“What do you mean?”

“You always give out your story so freely… It confused me, yet it amazed me. I was always afraid I’d have to respond in kind. At the same time, it gave me plenty of content to work with. Maybe even too much. Too much truth. I was scared of it. So I decided to stop using it after a while.”

“How long has it been?”

“Years. I looked to other people for stories instead.”

“I bet my story was far more exciting.”

“Well… actually, yes. Remember what I said about how fiction is written?”

“Bending the truth?”

“Yeah. Well, I eventually ran out of truth to bend. If I could only get so close to my friends, there was only so much material I could use. I could always find new friends but I grew tired. I was meeting new people, only getting to surface level, and running away.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

“Especially if you’re trying to be a recluse. I ran out of juice. And that would drive me into the deepest pit of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I guess I’m still in it. And I never figured out how to escape.

My stories became stale and colorless.”

Another moment of shared silence. The sun had set for a good while now and the city slowly ignited its nightly skyline glow.

“You know what. I think you have what you need to escape this hole you’re stuck in. I think you know what to do.”

I paused.
I wondered, how much of this story was real, how much was fictitious? I thought about this new life that I had spent years inventing and how I had ended up in another dead end. I thought about why real life was so terrifying to me. I saw truth as fire and I still live with the burn marks.

“Stop writing fiction?”

“No. Stop writing bad fiction.”

“Excuse me?”

He smiled.

“There’s nothing wrong with writing fiction, my friend. But the best fiction is real fiction.”

“Ah. The great Albert Camus. How could I forget.”

Perhaps I had been asking myself the wrong question.
How much of my life is fiction, how much a lie?

I thought of truth as fire still – that had not changed. It was dangerous. But maybe if I allow myself the risk of playing with explosives, I just might be able to make fireworks.

Talk about grip strength. The pen is slipping from my hand.

homelessness

It’s almost unbelievable.

To remember what’s forgotten.

To be separated from those you love for so long and forgetting what it’s like to be with them.

You forget the nuances of their voice. The tonal inflections. The cadence.

The poetry.

You forget what it’s like to stand next to them.

Sharing a space together.

You forget how to position your body. How much personal space to give. You become extra aware of how close you stand by them.

You forget what it is like to walk with them.

The pace of our stroll. The patterns of our footfalls. The syncopated steps, strangely synced together by odd time signatures. We are percussionists. Our rhythms have so happened to line up in a time like this.

You forget what it’s like to talk to them.

The art of storytelling. Where did we leave off? Which chapter did we bookmark? Which episode? Don’t worry, I’ll re-watch it with you.

You forget what it feels like to make eye contact with them.

The strangeness. The tension. Who breaks contact first. The trust. The intimacy.

The inability to explain what it means but the sureness of knowing it meant something.

You forget what it is like to share a silence.

The nagging of our consciences to fill the emptiness.

The surrendering.

The release when you discover that the emptiness is actually already filled.

With treasures.

The vibrant, colorful dialogue exchanged between two souls at a loss for words.

The richness of silence.

Precious stones. Hidden, yet we somehow have found them together.

 

p

You forget who they are.

And yet, you don’t.

p

p

You learn, and then you learn again.

You taste the sweetness of second and third times.

Fourth. Fifth. Sixth times.

Eventually, you wonder if each time will be your last.

p

p

You wonder if they remember. You wonder how much they forgot.

You wonder if you’ve remembered too much.

You wonder if they haven’t remembered enough.

You wonder if there even is a balance.

You ask yourself if it’s worth the heartache to remember. If you should just try to forget.

You realize that you have no choice but to remember, anyways.

You forget and you remember.

“What is a farewell even?”, you ask yourself.

You figure the human soul was never meant to say goodbye.

So you stop.

You never leave, yet you are always going.

You try finding home. Or building one.

Then you run away.

You protect your heart, for it must be far too frail. You wonder if other souls are as fragile.

You never leave.

You keep them at arm’s distance.

You give up.

The tragedy that we were never meant to bid farewells, yet we have no choice but to do so.

You accept the inevitability of heartbreak.

That perhaps, this is the human curse.

You memorize.

You see the forgotten beauty of remembering. That the world has remembered how to forget and forgotten how to remember.

You collect memories like a child collects toys.

And the toys have names. They have life. They have distinct personalities and you know how each of them would respond to your jokes. To your sorrows. To your battle cries.

“Are they real?”, you often ponder. Sometimes you even ask them.

You realize that they ask the same question, themselves.

Perhaps we’ll never know.

But then, you decide to remember.

You forget, yet you never really forget.

You cannot.

You invent heaven into a place with no goodbyes.

You start to realize why you wander and tread the earth. And why even as you travel, your baggage is yet so heavy.

You understand you were never meant for this world anyways.

You accept that home was never here to begin with.

You begin to see that you’re just a pilgrim, of sorts.

A time traveler.

Never forget.

homesickness

I wrote this during my recent spontaneous escapade to San Diego.

It is a dialogue piece about adventure and escape. As I pensively sipped my iced red-eye at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, a mere coffee-bean’s throw from the cliffs, a young woman sat next to me. No words were exchanged.

p

p

“Oh, I’m not from these parts.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I come from a land far off and distant.”

“Wow, I would have never guessed. You could pass as a local.”

“Haha, appreciate it.”

It is harder than I thought to look in her eyes. She’s pretty.

“Well… What brings you here then?”

“Good question.”

“So you’re not sure why you’re here?”

“Sometimes, you don’t know why until you actually go.”

“Hm. I see. Well, are you making any progress?”

“I think so. I’m still figuring it out.”

“That’s fair. What do you got so far?”

“Well aren’t you quite the inquisitor.”

“Hey, I already shared my story. Don’t leave me hanging. Besides, what are the chances we see each other again in the future?

“I guess.”

She looks at me and I quickly turn away, in an attempt to steal back my glance.

“Alright then. Just for you. Shall we?”

As if in unspoken tradition, we raise our beer bottles towards each other once again and toast. Clink. After a deep swig, we continue our aimless stroll on the warmly-lit streets of the downtown labyrinth.

“…Well?”

“I’m running.”

Her eyes widen.

“Like… a fugitive? What did you do?!”

“No no, not like that… I ain’t like your FBI Most Wanted felon or anything.”

“Oh. How boring.”

“Hey, you asked for it.”

“Okay fine. So what are you running from? Or who?”

“I’m running from life.”

“I’m not quite sure I understand.”

“Well back where I’m from… things aren’t looking so great right now. And I don’t want to be there right now.”

“Hm. Must be pretty bad, huh. For you to run.”

“Yeah. It’s hard to look out the window sometimes. Some mornings, it seems as if I’m waking up blinded. Like one of my eyes forgets to awaken from its slumber.”

“Seriously?”

“My city… we live in shadows. It’s quite dismal. Imagine not being able to see one color for the rest of your life. You don’t fully realize its beauty until it’s lost. Or, the color blue. It isn’t as blue anymore. It’s not a rich cerulean substance with flavor. It’s just… blue. Without the depth. We’re losing something precious.”

“Whoa.”

“The worst thing is… I don’t know if anyone else notices what’s happening. Or cares.”

“Have you tried explaining it to them?”

“I’ve tried. I talked to my family, my friends, Hell, I’ve even talked to the governor. I published articles and what not, trying start a movement or something.”

“So you’re a writer.”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

“And nothing. I mean, they’ve tried to respond and ‘fix’ the problem but I don’t think it’s been very helpful.”

“Why not?”

“Well, if your doctor gives you the wrong diagnosis…”

“…He’s gonna give you the wrong medicine.”

“Precisely.”

“Ah. And you think you have the right diagnosis?”

“That’s the thing. I’m not even sure myself.
But… I’m sure as hell more knowledgable than they are.”

“What makes you so confident?”

“I’ve lived here the longest. Even longer than the governor. This is my city. I know every street corner, back alley, secret passage, you name it. I know the underground networks better than I know grade school math. I practically built a good portion of it. I own these streets. My blood runs in the city’s veins and the city’s blood runs in my veins.”

“They should have elected you for governor.”

“Nah, that ain’t me. I belong on the ground-level. On the streets. Front lines, you know?”

“Mm. Can’t you change the city if you know it best?”

“That’s the thing. I need the resources from the higher-ups to make some sort of real change. I can’t do it alone.”

“But they ain’t buyin’ it.”

“They ain’t buyin’ it. I’ve tried to start something on my own initiative but I don’t think it’s possible. I can’t sustain it for much longer. The fatigue is starting to cement in my soul and my soul is hardening.”

“No one understands.”

“No one understands.”

She looks over at me.

“That sounds painful.”

“You have no idea. It’s unbearable. Seeing my own city in flames. Ash clouds trace the skyline. People have been inhaling smog for so long they’ve forgotten what’s in the air they’re breathing. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my city without the haze.

When the city burns… when the city bleeds, it’s not just the city’s blood that flows.”

“It’s your blood.”

I nod at her.

“Damn. I can’t imagine that.”

“Yeah, it’s a lot.”

The pace of our step slows.

p

p

“So… you’re escaping. Escaping your world, escaping the pain.”

“Yeah. I suppose I am.”

“No shame in that. It makes sense.”

“Mm. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Many people think otherwise. People at home, I mean.”

“Well, they clearly don’t get it.”

I pause.

“Yeah.     …Yeah. Thanks.”

We make eye contact at last. Mutual contact, that is. Something about her gaze pierces me, through my burning tears, through my dark, fathomless eyes, through my soul.

p

p

“You know, I feel honored. Special.”

“How so?”

“You picked my city. You could have gone anywhere in the world but you picked my home. Even if it was to escape.”

“Well, I was just… I guess I just wandered here. I didn’t have a destination. Just far away.”

“But something told you to stop. Here. Of all places.”

“Hm. I guess so.”

She looks at me again and gives me a soft smile, the way that only your closest friends would give you a soft, yet strangely loving shove.

p

p

“What’s wrong?”

“I… I have to go back. I can already feel the bleeding.”

“This isn’t your first time, is it?”

“No. How did you know that?”

“Just a guess. I can almost see… tethers. And they’re latching onto you, almost like chains, and whenever you leave, no matter how far you go, they eventually pull you back.”

“Damn. You’re good.”

“Hah. Thanks.”

“Do I have to leave?”

“I can’t make that choice for you, my friend. You have to decide that for yourself.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

“Again, that’s your choice. It’s your city.”

“Sometimes… it seems like the only moments when I feel like I belong are the moments when I am far away. When I am traveling to new, unfamiliar worlds. When I am discovering the treasures of distant lands. When I am wandering. It is in times like those that I actually feel like my soul is in tune with my body. I get that sense of ‘Yes, this is right’-ness. Like I should be here… when I’m not here. Does that even make sense?”

“Ah. You have the heart of a wayfarer.”

“Have you ever gone somewhere and felt a deep yearning for a place you’ve never known? A homesickness for a land you’ve just set foot on?”

“Rarely, but yes.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

“Is it that you don’t want to leave, or that you don’t want go back home?”

“I can’t tell.”

“That’s okay.”

We made eye contact again. Not nearly as intimidating but even more powerful.

“I can already feel it. The… tethers? They’re pulling me pretty hard. It’s almost suffocating.”

“I guess this is it, then.”

We approach the platform. I board the train hesitantly.

“This conversation was not long enough for my taste.”

“Hah. We’ve been at it for quite a few hours, bud.”

“Man. Is that so.”

“Hey, if you ever need to run away… if you ever need a place to escape to, you know where to go. My city’s gates are open.”

“But will I ever see you again? Will you be here if I come back? How will I find you?”

She gave a gentle smile.

p

The train’s doors closed between us.
As the speed of the train crescendoed, the sight of her face waned into the horizon, gradually, yet still too quickly. She disappeared from view but I continued to stare out the window.

The tethers tightened their grip around me and dragged me back into the nauseating timelapse of life.

p

p

Why am I here?

bare minimum

Part-time student. What time does class start again? Do I even want to go to class?  Your Krispy Kreme donuts got nothing on my glazed eyes. Like, look through the glass because they’re supposed to be windows right? I don’t know. I’m there but the professor still notices my absence. So much for perfect attendance. She moves closer to me and tries to get my attention, channeling her lecture entirely in my direction. She thinks I’m suspect. Great. This again. I’m kind of skimming the textbook, I suppose. I am only enrolled in two classes. Just gotta go to school twice a week. I can do this. Wait. I don’t even know anymore. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

I swear I’m not voting for Trump but.. we all build walls, right? My bricks just tend to be invisible. I build them up and tear them back down, like Lego blocks. What am I doing. Where are my friends? Do I have any friends? Of course I do. Get away from me. What am I doing. I should at least show up. Or text you. Pray for you? Mm… Hang out. You know. Friend things. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

At least I did it, right? People showed up. I made it happen. Check. Rinse and repeat. But what about praying for them? Do I even vision for them? What does God want to do in their lives? What about the friendship outside of a structured meeting? It’s okay, at least we got the job done, right? Wait. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Oops. I’m so sorry. This isn’t relationship, this is damage control. Maybe if we buy more buckets, the leak will stop. “I’m sorry”. I’m hurting you. I just need to try harder because you’re doing a stellar job so it’s on me. Wait. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Shut up, damn phone. Waking up is perhaps the biggest victory of the day because it is the first. Some days, I don’t want to. I pull my covers over my head in an attempt to pretend that it is still nighttime. The light of a new day doesn’t have quite the same effect anymore. My body aches but my soul aches more. Maybe I can go back into that dream. Maybe I can… No. I need to get up. Just gotta roll out of bed. Roll back into life. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Holy shit. We did it. It’s meal time. “Gin Kao!“, I hear him grumble. We scooch our butts a couple feet to the left into the kitchen, grab our charcoal-stained bowls, swat away the flies still feeding on the grub stuck to our dirty utensils from breakfast, and scooch back into the dining room. As he takes the first bite, we hastily mutter a quick prayer under our breaths before joining him. Alright. We just gotta get through dinner. Heavy breathing. We’re in a minefield. One wrong move. I’m already on his bad side. Eat faster. But wait, what about learning how to love him? What about sharing life with him? Asking him how his day was? I don’t even know anymore. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Oh my god. Damn roosters won’t shut up. Please. It’s still dark outside. You have ONE JOB. No, no please, not the radio… My body aches as I roll around in an attempt to find a slightly less painful position on my concrete mattress. My forearm feels like a research paper written in braille. How. How did they get inside our mosquito net again? Did I even sleep? I don’t want to get up. Another day of suffering. Days are longer here. Maybe it’s the gravity. Okay, just gotta get through breakfast. Just four more days until Sabbath. Can I even make it?

Bare minimum.

Okay, just a few more hours until nighttime and I’ll be able to take refuge in my room. Maybe if I just sit in that corner of the dining hall, no one will notice me. Make sure to face that way. Hmm, if I watch three 45-minute episodes, I’ll make it through the evening and I can go to bed right after. Two more days until the weekend. Can I even do that?

Bare minimum.

Life. What are its prerequisites? Maybe if I can just get a C.
How many more days? Months? Years? How much more death before new life? How little manna do I need to pack to survive another day in the wilderness?

Bare minimum.

 

 

Why am I here?

Bare. Minimum.

the crescent’s edge

I hold my breath, readying my heart to brace the shattering impact of past and present.

Soul surgery. I smell the metal of sterilized tools and hear the disquieting crinkle of plastic packaging. I can feel the cold air of the canyon’s shadow brush over my skin.

Okay. Deep breath. “What’s next?”, I inquire nervously, expecting to descend the treacherous ladder down the canyon and into the chasm. I even feel ready for it. Let’s do this thing.

But the wayfarer does not move. He continues to stare into the distance, unyielding in his gaze. “Come back”, he beckons me. “Take yet another look. Let it captivate you.”

I hoist myself up the ladder and off the cliff-face, willingly yet hesitantly. I inch towards him like a timid child and sit beside him. My peripherals are not as great as I would like so I attempt stealing a glimpse of his face. But my awkward side glance quickly becomes an awkward stare. Wait. My heart suddenly slows down and beats with greater resonance.

I can see the universe in his eyes.
The star-covered tapestry. I see… the cerulean expanse. It’s real. The waters welled up and left his eyes. A swirl of galaxies lay in a teardrop, hanging suspended in midair.

He’s crying.

I turn my eyes to find the view that held him hostage. Wind. Lots of wind. Rushing through my hair, massaging my soul. At the crescent’s edge, we survey the awe-inspiring scenery of the canyon and the glittering backdrop that accompanied it. The overwhelming sight of celestial bodies and the vast expanse of abysmal darkness, juxtaposed in a scenery of beautiful disparity.

 

 

It’s not time yet. The ticks of two metronomes pound unrelentingly within me, my heart lost between the two tempos, not knowing which to beat to. He’s inviting me to un-sync my heart from the rhythm of one to another. When your being tries to align itself to two different times, something inside tears. Something is ripping. I guess I’m still jet-lagged.

The pace of life around me demands the next step. “Progress”. Solutions. Results. I expect him to pick up the shovel but he prescribes a different medicine.

And so we sit there at the cliffside, not even in anticipation, but in consummate presence. I taste a different-flavored peace, that somehow, this is exactly where we need to be. On the verge of light and shadow. We stare off into the distance. We wonder. And as we do so, we remember.

 

“Let us take the long way, shall we? The view is breath-taking, I promise you.
Put on your helmet.”

grip strength – an excerpt from “#gettrekt16”

If you hold the ashes, how can you find new flame?
If you cling to your scars, how will you find healing?
If you embrace death, how can you receive new life?
If you stay in the grave, how will you rise again?

 

Wake up, Lazarus.
Let it go, Justin.

 

I can’t. At least not yet.

If not now, then when?

 

 

 

 

Why am I here?

#gettrekt16

the inclusio of scripture

[here’s a little article that’s dedicated to the bible-lovers]

inclusio – a device in literature where a section of text is bracketed off.  the story is placed within a frame, so that it begins and ends the same way.  like a sandwich.  inclusios are everywhere, in books, music, movies, you name it.  we often overlook them the first time we read, listen, watch them, but when we look back, we realize that they’re there and it’s quite mindblowing sometimes.

in onerepublic’s most famous song “apologize”, ryan tedder begins and ends the song the same way, with the words “i’m holding on your rope, got me ten feet off the ground”.  inclusio.  jason mraz both opens and closes “the sunshine song” with “if there’s a light in everybody, send out your ray of sunshine” [excellent song, btw].  inclusio.

in movies, they’re not as prevalent but there still are some out there, such as mission impossible iii.  in the opening scene, ethan hunt is strapped to a chair and watches in agony as the heartless antagonist owen davian counts down to the second he pulls the trigger of the gun pointed at hunt’s wife’s head.  turns out it was a flash.. forward? and the audience does not get to see davian finish counting.  2 hours of intense, spy action sequences later, we revisit the interrogation scene once again, only this time, davian finishes counting as a desperate ethan hunt attempts to negotiate with him.  inclusio.  in forrest gump, both the opening and closing scene show forrest gump [and forrest jr] waiting at the bus stop in greenbow, alabama as a white feather is carried by the breeze into the sky.  inclusio.

i find it weird that i enjoy writing blogs and whatnot but i’m a terrible reader.  i don’t read too much but anyone who knows me well would know that my favorite book of all time is the bible.  just about a month ago, i’ve been made aware that even the bible, the living word of god, has inclusios in it.  if you look in the gospel of mark, there is a very subtle inclusio hidden in chapters 1 and 15.

in chapter 1, we witness the baptism of Jesus [by John] in the Jordan River.  pretty epic moment.  in chapter 15, we witness the death of the messiah as he breathes his last on the cross.  overwhelmingly epic moment.  though baptism and death are two concepts that one would most likely find contrasting to one another, these are the two elements that make up the big juicy sandwich of the “gospel inclusio”.  but how, justin?  how do the baptism and death Jesus make up an inclusio if they’re not even the same thing?  you be trippin, man!  well, let’s take a look at scripture.

1. “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”    -Mark 1:9-11

here is the scene when Jesus gets baptized.  what observations can we make?  Jesus was getting dunked in the river and as he rose from the water, the heavens opened.  i’d like to say i have a vast and vivid imagination but the imagery in here is simply unfathomable.  i try to picture some large crevice splitting open and creating a divide that breaks some invisible, metaphysical boundary between heaven and earth.  and wind.  lots and lots of gushing, loud wind.  then, the holy spirit makes its way down from the other side of this momentarily fractured barrier and the voice of God thunders from it: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   holy cheeseballs.

2. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”    -Mark 15:37-39

fast forward 15 chapters.  Jesus dies.  what observations can we make?  as Jesus let out one last sigh, the curtain of the temple tore completely, from top to bottom.  so what temple is mark talking about anyways?  in case you didn’t know, it was the temple of Jerusalem [Herod’s temple, if i am not mistaken] and inside this holy temple, animal sacrifices were made as well as worship according to the Law of Moses.  there was also a room called the Holy of Holies, in which the presence of God resided.  it also contained the Ark of the Covenant [yes, the one in indiana jones].  this place was so sacred that no one could enter into this inner sanctuary except the High Priest once a year to make atonement for the people’s sins.  this room was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain.  and this wasn’t just any old window curtain that you put on for decoration.  it was a 4-inch thick curtain with such strength that even horses tied to each side could not pull apart.  oh yeah, it was also 60 feet tall.  pretty buff curtain.  but not buff enough.  when this curtain tore in half, even the Roman centurion instantly knew that Jesus was certainly the son of God and he was so sure about it that he felt like he had to say it out loud.  holy cheeseballs.

okay, now it’s time to connect the dots.

EXHIBIT A

in mark chapter 1, jesus was baptized by water.  while one may think that this is just something that all believers must do as a public profession of their faith and acceptance of God as their heavenly Father, baptism also has another meaning.  “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” [Romans 6:3-4]  baptism, in essence, means death.  so what was Jesus up to at the end of Mark?  oh yeah, dying.  bingo.

EXHIBIT B

after Jesus’ baptism, the heavens OPENED!  after Jesus’ death, the curtain OPENED!  well..  tore in half.  if you haven’t already got it, the curtain wasn’t just an extraordinarily buff curtain, it was a symbolic representation of the separation of God and Man.  separation of the Holiest of Holies and the rest of the temple.  of sinless and sinful.  of light and darkness.  of the heavens and earth.  when Jesus died for our sins, the impenetrable barrier between us and God was shattered.  bingo.

EXHIBIT C

after the heavens opened, we hear a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11]  this is the voice of God, and He is proclaiming that Jesus is His beloved Son.  after the curtain ripped open, we hear a voice from a bystander: “Surely this man is the Son of God!” [Mark 15:39]  this is the voice of a Roman centurion, and he is proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God.  bingo.

i don’t know about you but when i first realized all of this, i was completely mindblown.  the entire gospel story of Jesus Christ, wrapped in a big, delicious sandwich.  wickedly cool.  personally, this revelation served as a reminder of just how amazing God’s Word is.  the bible is a truly remarkable book and i think we all ought to spend more time reading it.  trust me, it will change lives.  and lastly, i would like to give a big shout-out and thank you to the fantastic mr. jimmy l., who did such a phenomenal job at sharing God’s truth with me and the other highschoolers at ev.  personally, this was one of the most memorable bible lessons i’ve ever been taught in my entire life.

PRAYER:  heavenly father, thank you for your word.  thank you for this amazing book of life, because through it, we may grow spiritually and learn more about you.  thank you for God-breathed scripture, for it is useful in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training others in righteousness.  it is your truth that we cling on to and it is our double-edged sword.  thank you for revealing yourself in it so that we may see a glimpse of just how great you are.  Lord, please help me grow a desire and eagerness in reading your word.  move my heart and let me have an inclination to hear your truths each and every day of my life.  God, I want to grow in you.  i want to know you more and i want to love you even more than i already do.  help me become a better son.  as always, i am eternally grateful for your gift of love and i will forever praise you.  and it’s in your Son’s most precious name that I pray,  amen.