I was doing some work at the dining table back in my Penang home on the day of the general elections, and I was observing my parents entertaining Zachary with my old Lego bricks, where my dad was earnestly trying to figure out how to build a lion for his grandson. Lucky for Zachary, his grandpa has very good spatial and shape recognition skills and can sculpt almost anything on paper (he used to sketch most of my art homework for me back in high school), and even Lego bricks. While my dad isn’t a master Lego builder, the constructed figurine did its job and Zachary was happy.
Have you ever sometimes felt like your life was made out of mismatched, disoriented Lego blocks? And without a manual or much planning, you sometimes put pieces together as long as they work and you keep moving. The blocks keep coming, and you try to keep up. Eventually, they start falling like Tetris and you find it harder and harder to find the correct blocks that fit.
We’re halfway through the year, and it hasn’t been a year since I came back but some days it feels like I’ve never left home at all. I hit the ground running at work, I’m involved in two very different projects, reporting to two bosses with very contrasting personalities where the only thing they have in common is the extreme urgency in project execution, where work spills over as late as 10PM on weekdays, and as early as 6AM on weekends. Where outstation meetings are scheduled less than 24 hours before the next flight out. Google Calendar is now my best friend who reminds me to be a good daughter/sister/friend by NOT missing important dates, my climbing schedule is erratic, I read in the toilet and on the train, and I constantly have to remind myself to be present when I’m spending quality time with my loved ones.
But sometimes I slack.
There are days when texts go un-responded, when emails distract me from the person sitting right in front of me, when I lose my patience at the smallest things, when I go to the climbing gym but not actually climb anything, when I cave in to junk food, and when I cannot be the daughter/sister/friend/employee that I need to be.
Since the accident almost two months ago, my car is still in the workshop. I sometimes forget about my car. I miss it, but the notion of just having to keep moving (be it borrowing my dad’s car or taking public transportation) leaves me no time to think about things that I have very little control of. It’s only some days when I want to go out on my own to do something out of routine, that I feel totally inadequate and frustrated without my ride. And when my family starts asking me about the car again and again, I snap unjustly. I took their concern as a sign of pestering, and their offer to call up the car service center as meddling. They were concerned and wanted to lend a hand – but I was impatient and forgot that I could use some help sometimes.
And then some days, like today, I take a deep breath and stop for awhile. The Lego blocks that kept streaming down are now suspended in mid-air, each piece representing the many things that will take place later and the weeks to come. And I wonder why I am so frustrated. These blocks are all harmless, they are just events that need to happen, but instead of addressing one brick while juggling two others, I can actually find order in this chaos and focus on the bricks that matter first, that matter most.
Like putting work aside for a few minutes and helping out at the major cookout at my office today to give out free food in the spirit of the fasting month. Even though I’m not Muslim nor fasting – I’m part of this community that has been my foundation of support at work. We may not be working in the same department, but we’re all friends. Little things that seem insignificant most times, however, can be the most significant at very specific times. Like manners. Or reminding your loved ones that you love them. Taking time to do something that matters more to someone else other than yourself. Showing up when others end up leaving. Understand that understanding requires effort, empathy and patience – both ways.
I look at my To-Do list for work and it’s never ending. And it never will. I was just kidding around with a colleague today, telling her that for the next couple of years we can forget about the idea of 8-hour sleeps, and weekends. But it wasn’t as funny as I thought. In fact, it is very dangerous to live that way. Promises will be broken, reckless mistakes are bound to be made, relationships will be affected, emotions will hit brick walls and our health will take its toll. There’s working hard, and then there’s working yourself to the ground.
I’ve never liked the word ‘busy’. I pride myself as someone who’s never too busy for her loved ones. But if I want to sustain that, I need to be realistic about time and how I spend it. And sometimes, making time is not enough – being present is equally important. If my primary love language is quality time, then I must ensure that whoever I spend my time with gets the same kind of love and attention I would like to get from them. And if I ever find myself being the one giving more, that’s okay – that’s what unconditional means, but that’s a whole other topic on its own.
My nephews often teach and remind me of things I sometimes forget. The way they rummage through their toys and books just so you can play or read with them, sometimes sitting quietly and waiting patiently for you while you finish replying your texts or take that phone call, when they refuse to go to bed because they want to spend a little more time with you, when they’re on a high just because they’re happy (or overloaded with sugar) – they don’t juggle with all the Lego blocks in their lives all at once – they pick one, give their utmost attention to it, then move on to another. Based on their hyperactivity, it may seem like they’re always busy, but the truth is, they’re pretty good at being still. Have you ever seen a child being 100% transfixed with the toy / book / screen they’re with? I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen an adult read a book without picking up their phone every ten minutes.
It’s 7PM on a Thursday evening. It’s almost time for dinner. And then I’m going to see my family and return my dad’s car for the umpteenth time. And then I’m going to apologize to them for being cranky about my car. And then I’m going to spend some quality time with my favourite people. And then I’m going to be grateful for another day before I go to bed. And then I’m going to be grateful for the next morning that breaks through.
I will learn to be still, even when I’m in motion.