As part of the Open Up, Can? project, participants were asked to reflect upon these 6 questions. Here are a few responses by 6 different individuals.
1. What was the most painful thing for you in 2020?
O: The silly thing is I can't even really remember the details of this season of my life. Those few months are just a blur, like a muffled song, or an elusive rhythm. And if you were to ask me, I prefer to keep it that way.
It all began with an act of kindness. "Are you okay?" she asked, as I lay wounded on the ground. I managed to sustain a minor sports injury because I was too lazy to stretch. But this harmless act of concern set the stage to what I thought was a great friendship. It was funny, how I managed to enjoy a conversation with someone I had never met before, as I lay flat on the floor. I was surprised by how much we had in common. As the months went by, we had more chances to get to know each other, and became close friends. We understood each other, and the conversations always flowed naturally. The more I got to know her, the more there was for me to like. I believe that she felt the same way, as we regularly expressed our appreciation for the friendship we had.
We were close, and perhaps I should have done a better job setting up emotional boundaries, for both of our well-being. We made so many promises to each other, how we would visit many different places after exams, or try out different new activities together. This was something I looked forward to, and the thought of these new experiences kept me motivated during the exam period.
However, things didn't work out as envisioned. Fast forward a few months, as quickly as she became a big part of my life, she started to disappear. I could sense that she became distant. She no longer told me the details of her life, nor how her days went. However, it wasn't a clean break. She still talked to me sporadically, and when confronted, assured me that everything was fine. She would, however, insist that she no longer wanted to do anything previously promised.
Memories are dangerous things, they stir us up with emotion, and are able to leave heavy marks in on us. All the happy times and experiences we had together, complete with the sweetest smiles and joyous laughter, came back to tear me apart. I would wake up at irregular hours, and find myself unsettled and unable to go back to sleep. For the coming weeks, life for me was a combination of sleepless nights and drowsy days. I didn't feel any joy despite going to nice places and dining at luxurious restaurants, nor could I find any fulfilment in my days.
Fortunately, it is better now. "Time heals all wounds", as the saying goes. However, I do not believe that times heals. Conversely, it is our imperfect brains, which are the antidote. After all this time, I find myself unable to recall exactly what hurt me so. It was as if, as a defence mechanism, my brain wiped out some memories, so that whenever I thought of her, it was just emptiness. And as I forget these painful memories, my active memory was slowly filled up with new experiences. This was when I was reminded of my heavenly Father, who is at once has infinite understanding and knowledge, but also exists at all points of time. Do the things that I do to hurt Him, never go away? Would He be able to forget these painful memories as easily as I did?
And so this concludes that season of mine. Like much of everyday life, there was no closure nor dramatic ending. I do not know if I would ever get to know her side of the story, or if she even understands her side of the story clearly. But maybe part of growing and maturing is accepting that we do not have all the answers, though that shouldn't let us give up nor lessen in our efforts to search for them.
2. Describe a dream that has come true.
S: I never had a good relationship with my parents, particularly my dad, who I felt was always aloof and negligent. Since I was in primary school, he did not like to talk to me, and I had no one to turn to when I was down. Over time, I hated him and I distanced myself from him. I remember him shouting at me, scolding my mum and dragging his feet at family outings. I suppressed my hurt over many years and became numb to him. My heart turned cold.
But I could not live that way. The many hurts kept returning. I would cry to sleep and imagine worse things in my relationship with him. I hated him, but I wanted a father. I blamed him for my emotional scars. I could not let go.
In 2020, school was mostly online, but I would not talk to my father for months at a stretch, even though we live in the same house. I prayed for things to change. Approaching my father took immense strength from me, because I just didn't want to hear his voice. I fasted and prayed. It is odd, because I wanted to be healed, but I didn't want to talk to my dad.
In December, during family dinners, he suddenly started talking to my mum, my brother and I. I just drifted with his conversation. I noticed that I didn't feel that aversion to his voice anymore. And he was speaking in a kind voice, unlike his dismissive tone. I don't know what happened to him or to me. But soon, I realise that I can talk to my dad without feeling a sense of revulsion to the sound of his voice. He even prayed for me.
Was this a dream come true? Yea, kinda. I don't feel the childhood hurts as much anymore, and I find my dad approachable now. My relationship with my dad is still a work in progress, but it is something that I wouldn't have imagined a year ago.
3. In the coming year, what do you hope or fear might happen?
R: I’m so scared my mom will die. It's a fear that's always in the back of my head - that something will happen to her, because I lost one parent very unexpectedly also. What’s to say I won’t lose another? Every time I receive a call from my brother at an odd time or from my mother’s driver, my heart starts racing, because I fear it might be bad news.
Another fear that I have for next year is that I won’t be able to find love.
A third fear is that I won’t find a well paying job and end up being in singaporean poverty. I won't be able to take cab, no money for aircon, cannot hang out with friends outside, can’t go on dates and thus making it harder to find love. I will lose confidence in my ability to provide for my future family.
4. Do you feel like you lost something this year?
A: I think I lost the ability to enjoy life the way I previously would. It probably stems from the privilege-guilt of knowing how others in less favourable conditions are living. It became more apparent after i changed my diet - I became a vegetarian after accumulating knowledge of how detrimental and unethical the animal agriculture industry is. After which, I resigned to a simple lifestyle of eating almost the same meals everyday. It was tough at first, but it was a constant reminder to myself that there are others who don’t even have the luxury to eat.
5. What did you find unexpectedly in 2020?
J: I found immeasurable love from community. It was unexpected because 2020 was a year where everyone could not physically meet up with each other and we all had to rely on virtual meetups to keep everyone in check. I experienced a phase where I completely shut myself out from everyone and I didn’t want to interact with anyone at all and just wanted to be alone. But my community who never stopped loving me, continued to extend love, care and concern to me despite me ignoring their texts. They would go to the extent of sending me food and encouraging me through the food delivery notes. That measure of love picked me off the ground and made me appreciate the people around me so much more, but most importantly, it showed me that the community in our lives are so crucial to help us thrive, strive to be better and not just survive!
6. Name something that recently brought you joy.
Q: When i took my friend out sailing and saw the look of joy on his face. We went out to the yacht club and he was so excited to see everything, which made me feel very encouraged. When we finally launched, I knew he was stressed from schoolwork but there was not a hint of that on his face. He usually has an expressionless face, but even then you can tell when he’s stressed. But that day was the total opposite - he was smiling way more than usual (normally he doesn’t smile).
The sport itself has a therapeutic effect on me - it takes my mind off things, like taking a little vacation, and letting him revel in that with me was rather encouraging. Moreover, I consider it one of my life’s purposes to bring warmth to the world around me, so seeing this makes me feel like i have accomplished my purpose.