With my knees on hard ground and my head in my pillow, I think of all the things you did for me, did to me, did behind my back for my sake and tears start to run down my cheeks. You have redefined love for me, shown me the sunshine I never saw in this dimension of our bond as Friends.
It is a day before my birthday, Saturday. She grapples with her heart, wrestles with time- God, is this how I turn Twenty-one? In This state? She cradles her heart to her chest so it won’t sink further.
A mysterious telephone call, a friend claiming to be my personal chauffeur for the day picking me up right from my doorstep, a very polite request for me to blindfold myself before being very roughly covered in a sack and lugged off by two inexperienced ‘thugs’ into a car, to a mysterious location… A mockingly fierce and gruff, “Woman, you’re not allowed to ask any questions.” Giggles, and laughter.
An interminably long car ride, grappling with a hidden depression still, and trying not to fight the Monster writhing within me- do I deserve this love and do they know how Ugly my Monster is? What are they up to? A gentlemanly invitation out of the car with my blindfold still on, the sound of birds, the smell of trees, and a question, “Wai Jia, do you like what you hear? Where do you think you’re at now?”
A hug, more hugs. Can I take off my blindfold now?
I open my eyes to see you all, standing proud like a neat choir, your voices rising to lift my cold heart, serenading me beautifully with a self-written song about my life-what I do and who I am, to the tune of the hit number Yellow by my favourite band Coldplay. Your voices resonate in the sunshine-filled glasshouse restaurant in the midst of an Eden-like garden, your faces filled with glee at my shocked expression. The lyrics capture my heart and I am too surprised to cry. I have never been in this place before. Your voices rise like rainbow-coloured balloons which burst into love, amidst the strumming of two guitars. The last line of the song goes- See how God sings to you, that you are beautiful…
You all envelope me in a hug.
I find ourselves in a classy restaurant, with snazzy menus and attentive service. “Are we eating here?” I ask in disbelief. Healthy, yummy salads, colorful fusion fruit juices in tall, tall glasses, thick gooey homemade soup, gourmet sandwiches and cold soba sitting elegantly on white plates. I realize this costs everyone a lot, and you had put in so much thought to find a place with food I’d be comfortable with. All this while, you’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been comfortable eating, what breakthroughs I’d made, and what I’m still trying to break through.
Sunshine pours in through the glass walls. The garden sings outside. You know how much I love nature, love the way gorgeous sunshine kisses skin. We all agree it feels like a piece of heaven.
I smile back, don’t know what to tell you, don’t know how to tell all fifteen of you how touched and loved I feel. I look at the menu and realize how much you all have paid to make this reality, the days of planning it must have taken in spite of exams in a few days, how well everything was thought through so that they were all my favourite things. “Go sit down Jia, don’t just stand there. Look at your presents!”
Wild, unpredictable flowers, so tall they strectch from my knees to my shoulders, picked and chosen for me fresh from the florist’s bucket. Violet hydrangeas, pearly white carnations with a tint of crimson and purple on the edges, and pure white lilies fast asleep in their buds. Wild, unpredicatable flowers, the way I like them- so free and unpretending. It makes me so happy every morning to see gorgeous flowers by my window sill soaking up morning sunshine. ” I hope you like them, dear. My pleasure picking them out for you.”
I absolutely love them. My room smells like a garden.
A book- Where is God when it hurts? You know what I’ve been going through because you’ve all been praying for me all this while. I realise it isn’t any book you pulled off the shelf- you bought it specifically with me in mind. Photos of my closest friends in a special frame, a beautiful sketchbook-the kind with blank pages that scream potential and smell like as good as the morning, a silly and obscene sketch of me which invites my skull-boring glare, more hugs and heartfelt notes-
-“ I’m so happy being your friend, so happy that youre such a strange mix of child and woman, of dreamer and radical, melancholy eyes and that incandescent smile… I love the way you have thought bubbles, the way you randomly tell me I am beautiful, the way you can hardly keep your new ideas from bubbling from you, the way you dream of wearing black stockings with white shoes! Everything!!…”
And another- “ You are beautiful just the way you are. As as you soar on heights with God, battle monsters that come your way, get headaches from pesky guys-whatever it is-I’ll be walking by your side all the way.” I know they are more than words- because you have always been there for me, your arms have held my teary face so many a time, almost every time. What do I do with Friends like you.
I take pictures with everyone. I think it must be over- “thank you all for coming” and then-
-another song! And cake… a huge beautiful breadcake (Weeks before today I remember you asking me very gently, “Jia, have you started eating cake again this year? Does it make you uncomfortable, still?” And you smile broadly when I reply, ” No dear, my church friends bought a birthday cake for me in advance- tis the first time I finished my portion by myself since It happened.”), the kind I like best- that is solid cake all the way through without cream in between, and a generous spread of strawberries and raspberries and blueberries. I finish my portion and I feel… normal. Happy.
Presents, more presents… do you guys ever stop?
“Jia, you look so beautiful today.”
“Do you see how loved you are? You’re so beautiful to us.”
I don’t know what to say. You all, separately, tell me in different ways. As usual, I take deep breaths to believe it from within and I hear a voice within me dying to ask, ” Really? Even though I’ve put on enough weight the equivalent of two sacks of rice in the past year during recovery, and I’ll still grow to put on more? You still think so? Even if it’s in all the wrong places?” But I never need to ask it because you all look at me and I know your answer would be yes, you still think so, you think I am more beautiful now than I ever was before when It happened, will become more so, because I am happier now, will be happier still when all this blows over. What do I do with friends like you.
Sunday morning, the actual day arrives, I receive a flood of emails and text messages, and struggle to reply every one. My 21st birthday in church is me in my white, white dress. An elderly missionary, blind from illness takes both my hands to pray for me, “Oh Wai Jia you’re such a blessing”, a surprise treat to a birthday lunch after my exams by a very, very kind woman, a bouquet of flowers bought spontaneously and given to me, a woman who’s been loving me for no reason other than “your beautiful spirit” (Really? I think to myself) stops me in my tracks and asks all in one breath in her beautiful Indian accent, “Young lady, so tell me- why do you have a ring on your finger? When I told my husband about taking you out for lunch with our family someday, he told me that you are married and I said no, you’re so young, she must be married to God- so what is it?”
I smile, I tell her I turn Twenty-one that very day, and yes, she, not her husband, is right about my ring. She hugs me and beams “I knew it!” Finally, someone understands.
A beautiful drawing of a photo of me and the children in Nepal, and a poem written for me makes my day. It is the kind of gift that unlocks locked doors in my head and gives me fresh insight and warmth each time I look at it.
I realise, in so many ways, you all have more faith in me than I do. And that keeps me so strong, keeps me going.
More cake, church friends, laughter. I remember the birthday celebration we had in advance a week ago when I opened up my place to my church friends for our weekly bible study and you all brought books, clothes, a painting painted specially for me, jewellery, a subscription to a Christian magazine for a year, expensive cake, hugs, more hugs… “You all brought presents?” I ask incredulously.
“Of course, silly girl- it’s your birthday!” Silly me. The last time I had a party was when I was six and I forgot what a birthday party is supposed to be like.
I receive all sorts of hugs. I love hugs.
That afternoon I deliver two large boxes of second-hand clothes collected from my classmates to the missionary from Nepal who’s back in Singapore for just a few days-“I can only meet you on Sunday afternoon. You can pass them to me, and I’ll bring them back to the children, thank you so much.”
In Daddy’s car, we drive up to his place.
“How are the children?” I ask, “How is the project coming along?”
” We’ve raised our target amount, and Kitesong has raised… $110’000 to date. That’s what I last heard. Biggest portion of the $250’000 in total raised to date from other things. But inflation makes things so uncertain. Details will be finalised by April… Ha, it’s your 21st birthday and here you are delivering second-hand clothes for the children in Nepal… It reflects you, doesn’t it, ha?”
I remember the children, and their smiles and the innocent way they used to tell me, “I don’t know when my birthday is.” I forget, they are orphans with dark stories, which begin with being left on a dingy roadside. I’m so sorry for asking, I say. “It’s okay, didi (big sister) Wai Jia.” They beam at me and giggle. Silly me.
Two years ago, on this very day, they told me, “Yes, I think your idea will work out. Please draw your book, please go ahead with this project.” It’s been exactly two years.
How time flies. How we’ve come full circle, and yet, not quite yet.
I miss you all, lovely.
Friends, flowers, cards and cake. Second-hand clothes, Kitesong, prayer and love.
Days and days of planning in spite of an onslaught of exams looming imminently ahead, remembering all my favourite things (you all even try to come in rainbow colours), and telling me over and over how much you love me, singing how beautiful I am that day, and every other day. You keep telling me the same thing over and over, in different ways.
Love travels far, leaps over bridges and sails over oceans, continents. Love, love can be close, can smell like flowers, feel like warm, fuzzy hugs, sound like self-written songs, look like hand-written cards, drawings too.
“We love you so much. Do you see how loved you are, Jia? The way you are, just the way you are.”
You remembered all my favourite things- from the type of food and place to the type of cake, from the choice of song to the choice of books, from the type of flowers bought to the choice of surprises that would move me… You know me so well-you make me wonder, am I the clown with stilts too far off the ground and a heart worn too close to both my sleeves? And you take it like you always do from me, pinning it on your chest like a lapel pin, my heart next to yours. What do I do with Friends like you.
I realize, you all have been praying for me, visiting this space, even. You all know.
With my knees on hard ground and my head in my pillow, I think of all the things you did for me, did to me, did behind my back for my sake and tears start to run down my cheeks. This underserved love from you all.
You have shown me sunshine in a dimension of Friendship I have never seen before, filled me to capacity again with love when I was emptied, burnt out, drained dry and crushed down. Your love has filled me to the brim-is this how God looks like, like all of you? Your love, your longsuffering, patient, forgiving love for me and my Monster has given me new strength, enlarged my heart to love even more widely, deeply. So this is what Friends do- I never knew it in this dimension before.
I look again at the present you all prepared for me and it reads on the side, “ Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”- John 15:13
All at once, the words flew off like golden butterflies, and rested onto the tree planted in my heart.
Thank you all so much. For all your well wishes, for remembering, for showing me what Love can be, what it looks and sounds and feels like, what it is. This has been the most memorable and beautiful of birthdays.
I love you.
With special thanks to J, TT, MR, JK, BH, SL and all my friends who helped out that day- I want to thank you specially for all your effort in making this day so special for me. Not just that day, but every other day- From helping me with schoolwork, to praying for me when I can’t sleep at night, to just being there for me and giving me a handsqueeze, I can’t believe you go to such distances for me.
Till today, J, you’re telling me how you’re going to pass me a CD of all the photos and video you took that day, and how I’ll receive the lyrics of that beautiful song on shiny paper. I just learnt you guys had to recce a few places to see which was suitable for me, and how things were stressing you out a bit the night before because of all the details, how you prayed that everything would be -just- perfect. You guys are crazy, you know that?
And for all it’s worth, I want to say how blessed and thankful I am to God for you. For showing me the distance that Friends can go for each other. Your love for me has taught me time and again what Love is, what it looks and sounds and feels like. When people joke that I’m like Mother Teresa, I often tell them it’s because… they haven’t met you.
“ Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
– John 15:13