Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More than half way through

Death is like that big elephant in the room we are all trying to ignore. I did not meet my maternal grandmother. I barely remember my paternal grandmother. I remember that I was very young when I paternal grandfather passed away, and I had no comprehension of life, let alone death. So I knew that something big happened at his funeral, but I did not know what. It was only my maternal grandfather, whom I had any interaction with. And I was a little sad when he passed away, but my life had barely begun. There was education ahead of me, a career and the rest of life. Mortality in a civilized country like Singapore, was just not something to dwell on for a young person. And it would seem that anyone who is alive, simply does not want to think about it. When I first started working as a photographer, I worked with the Tsao Foundation to document old folks. And in spite of the fact that old folks in Singapore are relatively well taken care off, and the staff found the images I took hopeful, some outside members of the public were repelled by the images. Was it because I shot in black and white, or is it simply because, healthy people do not want to contemplate the end? I can understand a general public not wanting to see murder victims or people with other terminal illnesses, but age is something we all do. The usage of my images was limited as it was thought that it would not help fund raising.

Well, perhaps while living, we should live for the moment, concentrate on now. But recently my father has suffered a stroke. How do I ignore that? Up until the stroke, everything was under control. After the stroke, his diabetes, high blood pressure, prostrate, sodium levels, all part of a fragile machinery, become issues. I must say that my dad has done pretty well health wise, but at eighty, I guess it was inevitable that his body starts to deteriorate. Now this was no longer my grandfather, this is my father, the foundation of my family. And even though this stroke was relatively minor and he is slowly recovering, this has shaken me. I have just read the book 'My stroke of Insight', where the author had a massive stroke on the left hemisphere of her brain. The left side is the logical side and the author had found in the right hemisphere an inner peace. Ironically for my father, a long time meditator and all round calm person, his minor stroke was in the right hemisphere. He is unable to meditate and he has become emotional. In this sense, the anchor of my family, has become unstuck, keeping calm in the family now requires large amounts of paddling. And in some small way, I have already lost my father. He is still here for sure, and his actions and his words still come through, but things will just never be the same again.

And if my eighty year old father suffering an illness is expected, then the real wake up call is that a couple of my friends have stomach cancer. Fortunately they have been able to treat their cancers, but this is no longer a distant possibility. I do remember hearing that a college friend of mine dying of a heart attack in her twenties. But this was an unfortunate congenital condition. It was an 'accident' in the sense that it was out of the norm. However, it is now obvious that death walks amongst us, amongst the people of my age group. We cannot take our health for granted. I went to have a check up on my eyes, finding that I had become long sighted and I got these headaches. I was worried of having a stroke, but I was told that it was normal for people past their forties to become long sighted. The truth is that the descent has begun. This not a morbid thought, it is not something to panic about, it is simply a fact. It is a fact that we are mortal.

Contemplating the end is a sobering thought. I guess worrying about how my life will unravel at the end can be the stuff of night mares, but that is a wasted effort. Knowing that I am mortal is actually a good thing. It makes me treasure life and it is making me think hard about my priorities. The important thing is not to let morbid fear paralyze me. I may or may not have a pleasant ending, worrying about it will not change it. But right here, right now, I have choices to be made. When we are young, we have an abundance of energy and no experience. We can try many things out, aim for the peaks of many distant mountains and afford to hit a few dead ends. At this point of time, I have to decide what is important. Why should I get out of bed in the morning, and just what mountain do I want to scale? Heck, is it even worth scaling a mountain?

In my own experience, just what is it that matters? Fame, like winning awards or having millions of social network likes, is fleeting. Pleasures of the flesh, intense as they can be, are transient. Past a certain level, money has diminishing returns. It really is not the end points that matter, the place where things can be tabulated. For a while now, the photographs that I have been taking are not as important as the process of taking them. Take for example, my overland journey in 2010. Having the photographs from the journey is nice, and I do want to exhibit them. But it was the journey, that counted. The act of going from country to country, meeting new people and experiencing new sights. It was for me a way to experience life fully. To keep engaged in being human and understand what other humans are experiencing. I am continuing my photography now, but it is not the photographs that are my aim, but the experiences and insights that I gain from the process of creating them. Why do I make some photographs, what is the process of making them, what does it mean? What can I share with other people with my photography? The same goes with my relationships. I am not interested in being with the in crowd. I do not want to be seen in a certain way. I am not looking for networking opportunities. I am looking for quality time with my friends and family, ways of sharing and making life richer by weaving bridges of understanding. I want to share the good and the bad.

I guess that what I am trying to say is that I realize that I have to live my life to the fullest so that I will have no regrets at the end. And living life to the full is not some big fancy thing, but it really is simply being engaged in the act of living. I want to keep pushing as much as I am able to, but it is more focussed. I am no longer blasting off like a shot gun, but I am a sniper, with a specific target. Mortality is not good or bad, it is a fact. We all just have to deal with it. I know that I am probably more than half way through.

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