Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Brother's Last Race - Jo Hann's Birthday Gift

Call it inferiority complex, call it brotherly rivalry, or even jealousy. Whatever it was, one thing I knew for sure was, the day I knew that I could run faster and further than my brother was the day my life changed for good.

All these years I have been living in my brother's shadows. He's intelligent, brilliant in his studies, knows his geography at the back of his hand, and is older than me. He gets presents first hand, books brand new, shirts fresh from the bags, and ang pows in larger potions. To simply make matters worse, he gets the attention from relatives and friends, while I'm always left by the side, sulking and wondering what I could do to divert those attentions away from him to myself.

So that morning during the annual school race, I realized I could run and run without stopping. That moment of time when I touch and broke the ribbon with my older brother tailing behind by the laps, that was the very defining moment. An eruptuous cheer, magnificent applaud, standing ovation from the crowd, and a team high in spirits dashing towards me, lifting me in their arms and throwing me into the air like a hero.

I knew then, that if there was anything that would make me shine brighter than him, it would be in a race.

And from that day, I trained very hard. Running, jogging, swimming and skipping. All forms of exercise that would make me stronger, faster, and last longer on the field and road. Every moment of training, the only thing on my mind was this,

"I'll be better than my brother."

Sure and true enough, I would emerge champion tournament after tournament, race after race. Slowly stepping into the limelight, walking up the podium before my brother, standing on a platform higher than his, I finally thought, This is it! I'm finally better than my brother!

My brother is a quiet man. He never held any grudges against me. We were still best of friends, the most ideal wrestling and squabbling partner and the most vulnerable prank target. Fact was, he never joined me for training since my winning streak in races began. Slowly he pulled back into the shadows, as if he was allowing me to bask in the glory of my strength, withdrawing from the crowd that once loved him, and faded into himself alone.

2 years ago, my brother would graduate in 2 months. So happened a tournament flyer fell into my hands and caught my attention. Eager to beat him in one last race, I invited him persistently to participate, and he - knowing my intentions well enough - agreed graciously.

That morning then, the eyes were on 2 men. Brothers, one the older brother, the other, the younger but faster brother. The bellowing of the siren, the raise of flag, and the gunshot. The race officially began.

In a 10 km race, many will fall out and drop out of line. Only a few would remain in the pack trailing the leader, and come 6th km, I was the leader with a single man remaining from the pack.

My brother.

The last 2 km was a traditional victory lap for me. I would stride into the stadium, gloriously raise my hands as I made my last 3 laps in the stadium before I crossed the line. Already the crowd were hysterically cheering me, chanting my name, while my brother quietly and tamely followed from a distance.

Beaming with pride and swelling with ego, I said to myself, This is it! The ultimate victory is mine!

Little did I know, before those words were even completed in my heart, I slipped and fell. It was the weight of my body that crushed my ankle, a grinding sound, then a snap and crackle, and I was lying on the floor, grimacing in pain, and holding my ankle with both hands. Looking up, through the shrunken vision of my half closed eyes, I could see the finishing line just metres away from me.

No!! I yelled to myself. How could this be?

I cried in pain and bitterness, not from the physical injury but from the mental agony. How could I have slipped on my very last occasion of beating my brother?

Initially, there was jeering from the crowd. Boos. Mockery. Laughter.

Then it was a eery silence that followed.

A pair of strong arms that I've never felt before, from below my armpit, lifted me up. In a few speechless moments of mine, he threw my left arm over his shoulder and rested my weight upon his back.

"Let's finish this race," he said through the deep breaths he took, "Together."

Those last few metres, limping down the lane, 3 feet supporting 2 bodies, 2 brothers once divided over a crown now united. Those last few metres were the longest I've ever had since I first ran. And tears of remorse, tears of shame swelled in my eyes and rolled freely. Resting my head on a shoulder that was full of a brother's strength and love, I was both ashamed of my behaviour, and proud of my brother.

He dropped me carefully and slowly into the first aiders hands after crossing the finishing line together. Lying down, while white soldiers were busy wrapping my feet together, my brother came over to me and said to me,

"I don't run against you, I run with you. And to me, you're more than a race champion, you're a brother. My only brother."

He graduated from high school with flying colours. Watching him walk onto the stage in his flowing robe with the square hat over his head, I recalled that last race we ran together. How I wished that I had ran with him more, I thought. How I wished that it wasn't ego and pride that fueled me to run faster. How I wished that every race I ran, I ran by his side and not ahead of him.

Those many races I won, I only obtained a short lived glory stored in a memory database, somewhere. That last race my brother ran, he still didn't win the race, but he won my respect. And till this very day, when asked about him and what he's up to, my reply is always simple,

"He's my brother." With pride and love.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Believe in You

Mandy had only one thing to say after I ran across the hall to break the good news to her.

"Jo, it's been such a long time since I last saw your eyes sparkle and light up like that."

Indeed, it has.

It really wasn't much of a sacrifice when I decided to make those trips back to Shah Alam. The juniors deserved some sort of training before entering the debate tournament. Besides, I was the one who actually persuaded both of them - and their mums - to allow them to join the debates. More to that, at least I utilized all those time to catch up with my beloved juniors. Betty, Peiling, Stephy, Amanda. Slept and played DOTA in Samuel's room, met his whacky bunch of friends, borrowed his Campbell biology book, slept on his bed while he slept on someone else's.

Then came one special old junior whom I've trained before. Zoe. The extremely special one. The one that I actually wished I'd spent more time with, the one I wished I had paid more attention to, the one that I've tried the hardest to understand... and yet failed at every step of the way for the whole of last year.

And to my surprise, this debate has blessed me more than anyone.

For a long time, I've held back many emotions and many problems. Refusing to allow people to once again meddle into my life and heart, I kept the world locked out to ensure that no one sees the me inside again. Yet one person could make that difference, even without trying. Seeing her made me remember myself when I was in her age. Tough, resilient, ready to take on the world, daring, brave, yet fearful. Fearful of the past, held back by the haunting memories, afraid of making mistakes that have happened before.

Throughout those sessions then, the greatest - and hardest - decision of all, was to choose to do what was right. All the time.

And for once too, I refused to lie to myself, I refused to lie to them. Juniors that may be far away from me in distance, but close to me in my heart. I believed in them, I trusted them, and I did all that I could to never let them down.

They deserved the best I can give.

Those juniors gave me the greatest gift. Not of victory, but of friendship. Not of success, but of trust. Not of another trophy, but truth.

They achieved what I could never have achieved on my own in my time.

Stephy and Pei Ling's sms again placed a smile on my face and in my heart. Somehow, my heart was so full of happiness and joy. It was such an honour to have them paired up in the first place, to see a friendship unfold between 2 initial strangers, how they learned to trust and depend on each other, how they held each other's hands and pray, how they'd very cheekily send me off and gossip and girl-talk, how they hung on, stayed strong for each other, trained hard, and eventually won the whole debate.

Zoe then, showed me that people can change for the better. Drop the word 'better', make it 'change for the best'. She proved me right. I chose to believe that she may be afraid, but she will not back down. I knew that one day, in her own time, in her moment, she will shine and rise above storms of despairs and sail the waves of turbulance. She did it. She may have made me proud, but she can now be proud of herself. Maybe not for what she did, but for realizing what she truly is.

And in a very quiet corner of the hall, was a special girl with a special story to tell. She had a story of sadness, a little tale of a troubled girl, and a little broken heart held in her hands. But I believe that while her hands still hold the shattered pieces, she now knows who she can surrender them to.

"Make sure you give Him every single piece, if not, that broken heart can never be mended"

Sam, Elsha, while I can never deny that I am proud because you won, I am still proud that you have went on to achieve that which you first thought was unattainable. I'm honoured to have your trust and belief from the very beginning, that while you two may have doubted in yourself, you never doubted in me. That you gave me a chance to prove to you that both of you are worth far more than what you think you are, that you allowed me to take a small step into your lives and bring you into experiences after experiences that will make you look at yourselves, never in the same way again.

Above all, Sam, Elsha, I am so happy that you are now not only the best of friends, but you two now have a wonderful and beautiful story of grace, mercy, and second chances.

It's your story, as it is mine. Thank you for sharing that story with me.

And yes Sam. That's the very best thing that has happened to me.

Friday, September 12, 2008

I. Miss U.

Waking up to the calls of the phone alarm, bending over the bed to switch it off, then slowly crawling out of the bed even when the eyes are still not fully opened, or the sun is not fully up. To walk to the desk and turn on the lights, sitting on a chair that provides little comfort when in front of the lecture notes:

I miss the days where my mother would wake me up. With ruffling on the head and a gentle whisper, those moments define the beginning of a beautiful day.

Walking out from a steamy shower hoping that it would keep me awake for the next 2 hours, tightening the buttons over the chest and wrist; knotting the ties before draping the stethoscope over the neck, and walking out of the house with a pen in the pocket and papers in the hand:

I miss the times when my dad would wait for me at the dining table, send me to school, and hearing those assuring words of "I love you" as I step out of the car, those minutes reminded me that I'm a son of a great dad.

Picking up a copy of free newspaper before ascending the 4 flights of stairs to my lecture hall, to open the doors entering an empty theater to be soon filled by people of all colours and ages; sitting down half browsing the papers before quickly turning back to the notes prepared nights before, and patiently waiting for the lecturer to walk in with profound sciences to be taught:

I miss the mornings where teachers amaze me with the simplest of ideas, when maths was so simple yet so fun, when science was so obvious yet so wonderful, when writing was a joy and a pleasure. It's a pity we can never be a child all over again.

Hustling through the narrow shelves searching for the book in a red cover, rushing downstairs again to the photocopy shop to get some articles copied; passing by crowds with occasional greetings of Hi's and Bye's, sometimes even forgetting names and addresses, when a smile is weary and a laughter is fake:

I miss the times when the reason we ran was laughter, and the people we met were people we love. Where laughter was genuine and a smile was from the heart, those days just seem so far away.

What I've learned in the last few weeks of Uni life has taught me, that medicine is a journey of rediscovering yourself by first understanding others. The fear that 'what I do not know could kill a patient' is extremely real. Perhaps it is a necessary fear to keep us on our feet, yet,

"It is not what we know, but what they know that would save a life"

Do they know who's the keeper of the lives? Do they know the source of true joy and laughter? Do they still remember the Giver of those happy days in their life?

IMU, stands for I Miss U. The memories that were graciously given to me, that I've taken for granted over the years; the people I've met and loved, that I've often neglected; the laughter and smiles that I could've given more generously; last but not least, the Reason of my being in IMU, and the Shaper of my future.