Friday, December 31, 2010

Behind the veil

Chapter 1

“I hate you!” she stormed into her room and slammed the door shut. “Er, Daisy”, Mutu prepared to launch into a long-winded lecture aimed in the general direction of the door. He tried to march in time with the broken picture on the wall that swung each time the door was slammed. This was his private joke – trying to march in tune with this melody of lunacy while maintaining the semblance of a sensible conversation. Needless to say, it wasn’t often he succeeded. “Er, Daisy, you will find that the word ‘hate’ is probably a bit too strong in this context”, he began. “Oh, shut it”, came the voice from the other room. “I’m trying to get some sleep here”. Pablo stood in the doorway in a towel. “Look mate, I’m complaining to the landlord about you two. For heaven’s sake, poke her, drug her or kill her – I don’t care. Just let me get some sleep, ok?” He made to slam the door but, changing his mind at the very last moment, stuck out a foot to keep it from slamming shut. The towel fell off. He swore. Mutu laughed. Pablo’s baleful look was the last delightful picture in the doorframe before it slammed shut.

Midway between contemplating the imminent end of his battered, shapeless, hideously deformed dreams and the endless source of tasteless fun provided by Pablo’s overreaching ambition and desire to command respect; Mutu spared a minute to wonder whether Daisy was alright. He tiptoed to her door and raised his hand to knock gently. He could hear her sobbing. He lowered his hand, beginning to feel rather guilty. He raised it again and listened. Those weren’t sobs he could hear. Daisy was talking to someone on the phone, and she was chuckling. Chuckling! As he raised his hand the third time to knock on her door, his phone rang. It was Chris. He picked it up. “You coming down or what? We’re late!”, Chris yelled into his ears. Mutu could almost smell the liquor in his breath. “Sure, I’ll be with you in a sec”. Daisy could wait another night. Pablo could wait another day. His broken dreams would never be mended, Mutu had since accepted. He put on his coat and hat, gently closed the door behind him and walked down the stairs to Chris. He needed a drink too.

Chapter 2

Mutu loved night bus rides. He didn’t have to drive, and that gave him time to think. The calmness, the serenity of the night on the motorway, especially with sparse traffic, with no bright headlights in the eyes to disturb the lazy contemplation of his chronically overworked pupils; this was the stuff of dreams. He sighed and turned in his reclining seat. A great sensory experience was made even better if he could see the night sky littered with stars. Perfect if the company was agreeable. He stole a look at the girl sitting beside him. She hadn’t said anything to him for the duration of the journey. There was enough time to remedy all that, Mutu thought. He stole another look at her reclining form. Not bad, he thought to himself. The man to his right across the aisle was sitting upright and nodding in his sleep, like a drunk sleepwalking lizard. Then the driver braked sharply. The comedy of the moment as his nodding head hit the backrest in front of him at what must have been breakneck speed, and a mixture of saliva and unprintable expletives exploded from his mouth, was only tempered somewhat by the horror of the kindly old lady seated beside him as she recoiled in shock.

“Screech!” the tires groaned in anguish as the driver braked again, long and hard. There was something wrong. Mutu could feel it in his bones. His heart started to beat faster. His palms began to sweat as he gripped the armrests tightly. He could tell the girl beside him was awake even though he didn’t look at her. The driver braked again and then there was a big bang as they slammed into something stationary, something huge. There was a brief silence, and then the cries started. The cacophony around him might have provided a bit of gruesome entertainment if Mutu hadn’t quickly realized that this wasn’t over. He saw the driver clambering from his seat into the passenger section, tripping over an outstretched leg in the process and landing on his generous paunch. Then he heard the firecrackers outside. His questions froze on his lips as he saw, as if in slow motion, the man across the aisle pulling out an automatic rifle from his knapsack. In one smooth motion he leapt to the front of the bus, smashed a hole in the windscreen and opened fire. “Everybody get down!” came a voice as another man joined him at the front of the bus. Cowering in-between his seat and the one in front of him while making himself as small as he possibly could, Mutu slowly realized the horror of their situation.

In the pregnant silence, Mutu began to contemplate the meaning of life. With the thud of each consecutive bullet spewed out of a semi-automatic rifle into the body of the bus, he realized that this could be over very quickly. “Help me, I’ve been hit, help me!” a male voice cried out somewhere behind him. No one moved or said anything. People mumbled under their breaths, praying for a miracle as the gunshots became louder and the bullets came closer. He could hear the girl beside him crying softly. “Are you alright?”, he whispered as he turned to look at her. Big, fearful eyes moved up and down in response. A quick movement drew Mutu’s eyes towards the front of the bus. One of the two men had jumped through the open door. The other one followed. A few more minutes of unreplied gunfire ensued before the bandits realized they had won the exchange. Then there followed the most tortuous few moments of silence that Mutu had ever experienced.

The next few minutes passed in a blur. About 10 masked men, armed and laughing crazily at tasteless jokes; here and there firing off a bullet in celebration, stripped down everyone. In his mind he gave them names; the one that issued all commands he called Mkpi because his guttural voice reminded him of a pre-pubescent he-goat. The men first, then the women, lined up flat on the ground for inspection. No one protested. As he lay down there, Mutu toyed idly with visions of doing something really stupid, like standing up and getting shot for his troubles. Not worth it, he decided after less than a second of thinking it over. “ … Now run!”, he heard Mkpi’s guttural voice . His wandering mind had missed the earlier part of the instruction, but seeing others take to their feet in a mad dash towards safety was all the interpretation he needed. He stood and started running. “You, wait!” He froze in his steps as he turned. Mkpi was pointing at the girl that sat beside him on the bus. The bile rose up Mutu’s throat as he realized what was about to happen. His madness drove him. “Please don’t hurt my sister Janet, please, please, sir”, he pleaded as he started to walk back towards the armed men, both hands raised in the air. The men pointed their rifles at him and he stopped walking. “She’s very ill – she has these epileptic fits you see”. He stared intensely at her as her eyes almost leapt out of their sockets screaming “what on earth do you think you’re doing?!”. Then she understood. And she put up a good show too. The disgust on their faces was plain as she threw herself on the ground, foaming at the mouth. Mkpi turned away and walked towards their parked getaway minibus, its engine revving. “Shoot him”, he said.

Then Mutu heard the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard all his life. It was the sound of a siren accompanied by the staccato sound of gunshots. The men heard it too. He threw himself to the ground as Mkpi’s minion let off the first shot. “C’mon, let’s go”, Mkpi screamed at his minion as the minibus started to move, lurching crazily like an overgrown potbelly on the legs of a mosquito. The man threw himself at the window while the minibus drove off, legs waving in the air as he disappeared into the belly of the bus.

Mutu picked up himself gingerly. He walked up to where the girl lay still. “They’re gone now”, he said. She opened her eyes and looked up at him. He helped her to her feet. She was shivering with fear. “What is your name?”, he asked her. “D-dd-daisy”, she stammered. Then came the tears. Lots of them.

I let you go

I love you, though you may not know it
I love you, though I may not show it
I fell in love with you and it surprised me, I loved you and it terrified me
Was I building castles in the dessert sky?
Mirages of you when you're not by
I drove home by way of yours
Through 14 days of amour I checked on you
The pages of your book no longer called on me,
To read, to taste, to watch and listen
I knew why, there was something missing
My fault, but maybe not!
I loved you and I let you go...

copyright 2011 SabreLight

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Boring, boring routine. Surely Professor Einstein got this one wrong?

Spontaneity. Creativity. Unpredictability. Excitement. These are not words usually associated with everyday routine. Think about it. You have one thousand pieces of plastic, all identical. You have to inspect them visually, one by one. Just the thought is making me dizzy already. It’s much easier and more efficient to have a machine scan them for defects. Then you can spend your time doing stuff that’s much more interesting. The same could be true for a nine-to-five routine. If you’re not in love with your job, this is very frustrating simply because it is for all intents and purposes unavoidable. The apparent inability to break free of this daily routine is particularly emasculating (for those concerned with gender equality, feel free to insert the feminine equivalent of that word). How about going to church every Sunday? Those routines you observe religiously, such as praying or reading your bible daily, meditating and the like? Same old, same old. Mind-numbing madness. Brain-to-mush transformation. These are the images often associated with the word “routine”. Not surprising if you hate it.

But hold on a minute. How about other kinds of routine? Such as Christine Ohuruogu or Sir Chris Hoy (or any other accomplished athlete for that matter) training maybe four or six hours everyday throughout their professional career? Surely that too is madness? Ok, you know what, forget that example. It’s too obvious. Let’s try another one. How about the routines of, say, brushing your teeth every morning, taking your insulin regularly, sleeping every night, maintenance checks on an airplane? What? This one’s obvious too? Ok. Maybe that was farcical, but I think you do get the point. Classifying everything that is done routinely as simply mind-numbing or boring is just silly. It’s not that simple. There is an important difference between my first few examples of routine in the previous paragraph and these other ones here. While the first ones often have no clear immediate or even quantifiable benefit, the second ones do. In fact, the routines in this second set are distinguished from the first one by the tangible nature of the issues they address. They either maintain the status quo (which is desirable) or achieve a clear goal.

What has professor Einstein got to do with all this? Well, the following quote “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” is attributed to him. I use the word “attributed” because I’m not sure that he actually said or wrote this. Forgive me if you didn’t, Einstein. But supposing you did – supposing Einstein did say this, surely that sentence needs to be properly qualified to be true? I’ll explain what I mean. Suppose you had to break down a door. You try the first five or six times (I guess that is enough to be “over and over again”), and you keep trying. Maybe the tenth or twelfth time, the door breaks open. You are certainly insane by this time, according to that quote. You kept going at it over and over again, expecting a different result each time. Of course, in real life this wouldn’t seem so stupid at all. Anyone standing by would urge you to keep trying because it would be (hopefully – I’m not referring to the door of a bank vault here!) clear that you would eventually succeed. We are assuming that this rather slow option is the only one available to you at the time.

You see what I’m getting at? By the time you tried to break down that door ten or twelve times, you had settled into a mini routine. It was repetitive and maybe boring, but it certainly wasn’t pointless (don’t get me wrong, you are well within your right to label some routines as pointless). Anyone that thinks you were insane by doing that same thing over and over again while expecting a different result needs their head examined. If we extend this example to something else that could take a lifetime to accomplish, we will see that the same thing applies. When a besotted fellow persistently pursues the object of his devotion, even though she has repeatedly said “no”, he sometimes succeeds (this has to be interpreted carefully, because such a pursuit is not far from actual insanity!). On the flip side, by consistently and routinely being kind to strangers (some of whom might swindle you in the process), you could eventually save the life of a millionaire who will then give you a cheque (imagination at work!). I think my point has now been made.

I recently had a conversation that forced me to think more deeply about routine. I found it truly amazing that this person was able to communicate with her friend every day for the past one year (you got that right – all three hundred and sixty five and one-quarter days!). Now that has to be a routine. But this particular routine brings something else. I believe that communication is an essential social tool which, used properly, can help to establish desirable social interactions. I’ll put it another way. Saying “I love you” to my spouse everyday is a routine that can eventually lose its meaning but, if done properly, fosters security in our relationship and lays the foundation for other expressions of our creativity and spontaneity. The same is true with buying presents for the kids every Christmas or praying with the family every morning. I had to look back several years to find my own routine in which I have found security. At the time I found it incredibly boring, but was forced to keep going at it over and over again. My dad expected a different result each time I had to go through this routine, and for two decades this didn’t happen. Well, it has certainly had a different result now, although maybe not exactly in the way he envisioned it. Two decades is a long time to do the same thing while expecting different results. But it wasn’t insanity. I guarantee you that.

So maybe we should look at routine in a different light. I may not much like the routine of having to go to work everyday, but it teaches me to be consistent. That way I can hold on to the things that matter the most to me. I value the routine of saying “hi” to my friends every so often. It gives me a chance to reach outside of myself, to grow by interacting with others. I cherish the opportunity to say “I love you” to my family. I was there when my grandmother passed on, so I know it’s not an opportunity I will have forever. Sometimes the expected outcome of a perfectly good routine may not materialise until after a while. That doesn’t make the routine any less good, boring or difficult. But it does make you wise to keep going at it until you see a different result.

©2009 by Genial.

Featured poem: 50%

I desired to go into the deepest depths that I could go
deepest depths of depravity that the world and true blood say is quite so
the way to live for the rich and delightful
the ice bling, and two bitch-ho on either arm yo
practicing menage a trois to standing ovations and night rituals
MTV bling, cribs, and adult-(e)RATED messing up my visuals
but His hand kept me, in actuality it never left me

still though I desired to explore and let my lust flow
Jane Doe draws first blood, I draw the first blow
job 9 - 5 and party all night tho
media hype tells me it's the entourage life, that's how we live bro!
gain the whole world, strip in da club and stay flossing my dough
forget about the soul, live and let live, and when the day comes if we must go, we must go
but I get kfc for lunch, breakfast, and dinner and on a good day, trip over to costco
one gray day looking at the dawn, it dawns on me, come crashing down on me, man I'm Lost YO!
but His hand kept me, in actuality it never left me

now am hungry and thirsty, challenges they try and they test me
how can I, always at my best be? labour to be the best G,
trial & times they develop and arrest me, Yet He never left me,
so He says to me, come into my rest Ji, see what things I've set ye
burden is light and everything easy, all you have to do is believe me
you've heard the truth, now let it set free, NOW I'm HALF FULL, I USED TO BE HALF EMPTY
Heaven SENT, not 50 (PER)CENT

copyright 2009 SabreLight

Friday, June 19, 2009

Going to Africa

As I went to work one sunny morn'
In this colourful capital city of the world
I met a man who had many thoughts
This man knew everything, I could've sworn
Was widely travelled and read, well taught
Tomorrow, he said to me, I shall see a wonderful vista
Sir, Where are you going tomorrow? I asked my new teacher
Tomorrow, he said, I am going to Africa.

In Africa there is no boundary
No nations, only one huge country
In Africa there is no water or food
Only little hungry children with flies and drool
There are no mothers, the fathers are no good
I think I'm going to get myself an orphan to boot
In Africa there is only one country
And its name is Africa.

I've been to Stoke, Sheffield, Scotland
I've read of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan
No, I've never heard of Nigeria, Algeria, Ethiopia
Oh, I've used a map several times - why do you ask?
I know the Niagara falls in New York
And the Victoria falls in Africa
I know Mont Blanc in France
And Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

I could be a president, a prime minister - a politician
I could be a journalist, a paper columnist, a newscaster
I write to warn of the melting of polar ice caps
I fight for the conservation of trees and gorillas
How dare you call me ignorant?
I don't talk about space, aliens, Mars or Jupiter
Myanmar, China or North Korea
As much as I do about Africa.

©2009 by Genial

Friday, May 1, 2009

There is probably no God. Now stop worrying.

There is an ideological war being prosecuted on the streets of London, with opposing causes championed on the sides and backs of lumbering red buses. It is bloodless in principle, but not without casualties in practice. This is a contest for rights; the right to faith, the right to believe, the right to disbelieve and the right to disagree. This is a battle about the existence of the entity generally known simply as God. On the one hand are the atheists, whose position can be condensed into the statement; “There is no God”. On the other hand are the theists, whose position can be broadly summarized in the following sentence; “God exists, and he created the universe”. These descriptions are oversimplifications, of course. Many people do not fall into either of these two extremes, but take positions that range from “I do not know for certain, but I strongly believe in God” to “I cannot know for certain, but I think God is very improbable”. The worldview represented by the latter statement is encapsulated in the following words printed on a placard at the side of a red London bus: “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”.

As a first step towards clarifying my position in this controversy, I will attempt to define God. In the most traditional and monotheistic sense, God is an infinite, unlimited entity that possesses infinite knowledge. This definition immediately poses a contextual problem. What exactly is infinity? In an anthropological setting, expressions such as “infinite” and “limitless” have no meaning. The mathematical concept of infinity is abstract; but what does it mean in a real, material, finite world? Consider the following quantities: two drops of water, four hundred sheep, a million dollars, and an infinite amount of water. While it is possible to conceptualise the first three examples, it is impossible to do the same for the last. Even if it were possible to conceptualise an infinite amount of water, it would occupy an infinite amount of space, which is impossible in a finite world. My point is this: it is impossible to define an infinite God in a complete and exhaustive sense within a finite context. It may nonetheless be possible to partially characterize certain aspects of God using finite expressions of the human experience, provided that such an entity interfaces with the human consciousness. In addition to this, any definition of God inherently implies the existence of such an entity, otherwise one gets trapped in a logical impasse. How does one describe something that does not exist?

This difficulty with defining God highlights another conceptual issue. Lack of belief in the supernatural denies the existence of God. In its most extreme form, atheism says “there is no God”. Such an assertion is not sustainable for the following reason: an absolute assertion must be predicated on either possession of infinite knowledge, or access to such knowledge. Therefore, to say “there is no God” is to say “I possess infinite knowledge, and I know so”. This is a rather precarious position to take, and it is no surprise that few well-informed people make such an assertion. It is far more sensible to adopt a position that is based on the balance of probabilities. Such a position says that “within the limits of my finite human experience, I have seen no evidence that objectively, conclusively and consistently proves the existence of God. Therefore, on the balance of probabilities, God does not exist”. In other words, there is probably no God.

In contrast, theism in general asserts that God exists, and Christianity in particular insists that God is personal and interfaces with the finite human experience. Let us consider the Christian position for a moment. Is this a sustainable position? By the previous definition, absolute statements require infinite knowledge, or access to such knowledge. Man obviously does not possess infinite knowledge, so the answer must lie in access to such knowledge. The atheist cannot claim access to infinite knowledge since atheism denies the existence of God, who possesses such knowledge by definition. But the Christian, who believes in a God that interfaces with the human experience, can claim to have obtained such knowledge by access. Based on such a premise, the assertion that “God exists” is sustainable. But this raises the question of validity. How can such a claim be verified? If such a claim cannot be verified, then it has no real value. Christianity claims that this assertion is verified in both personal and collective experiences. It is practically impossible to subject personal experiences to the criteria of reproducibility and objectivity for two reasons. Firstly, if God is infinite, then the human experience of God will be potentially different for every person, even if there were an infinite number of people in existence. This will make it potentially impossible to reproduce such an experience consistently. Secondly, if the experience of God is personal, then inherent subjectivity is implied. The human psyche is complicated, and such experiences are bound to be communicated differently. So where does that leave us?

The Christian position is this: extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. The one proof of the existence of God was in the collective experience of one man, Jesus Christ, who claimed he was God; an infinite God in finite human form. This was an extraordinary claim. The extraordinary proof in this case was that of his resurrection - literal and not merely figurative resurrection, according to history. In addition to providing evidence to support Jesus’ claim of the existence of God, this event also provided evidence to support another claim of his; that there is an existence beyond the present. In this existence, the finite becomes enveloped by the infinite, and man is held accountable by God. This remarkable combination of events has not been replicated since then, thus the entire Christian worldview of God hinges on a single piece of evidence. However, because this evidence is sufficiently extraordinary, was experienced historically in a collective sense, and is being validated presently in a personal sense, it is my position that it is adequate. If I am wrong, and this is someday proven to be false by contrary evidence of equal weight, then it will ultimately not matter. But what if I am right, and this is true?

The buses in London are like mobile billboards. Their sides are replete with signs advertising all sorts of companies, products, events and ideological standpoints. Recently, one of such signs attracted my attention, and I will conclude by quoting from it. “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life. And pray that you are not wrong.”

©2009 by Genial

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The everlasting Arms (1)

Teetering on the edge of the precipice
A sheer drop beneath
One look at the endless deep
A sure promise of death if I slip

But I feel so drawn to the edge
Two steps forward, one backwards
Sidling closer to a place of fewer words
But my mind still says - watch your step!

I press on, stretch my neck to see
My tongue to taste the nectar and all
the liquid of the velvety fall
Danger just a memory, it tastes so sweet

I start to lose my senses
Intoxicated by the taste that weakens my defences
Balance, balance! I will myself to stand tall
But slowly I begin to fall

As if in slow motion all I ever did flashes before me
The spectre, ever closer, of the unforgiving deep
Arms flailing, clinging to every last twine
Wildly swaying, silently battling to stay alive

Fingernails scratching at the side of the steep face
I try to end my fall - searching for any last hope at all
For a second I think maybe there is a place for my feet
Then it all gives way at the last moment - and I fall

A heart-stopping moment of existence
There is no balance - heaven and earth
transposed as the horizon moves to my feet
I fall, fall, fall - to a certain decease. I fall.

©2009 by Genial