Saturday, September 09, 2006

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Uncle always has something to say at family gatherings. He says it very loudly and is repetitive, over a beer can and through a red face and a nose that looks like it is swollen with alcohol. He drops phrases about keeping the flag flying, never letting the system get us down, and the all-our-hopes-are-with-you-young-man, for he has seen-in-my-eyes-something-special, and believes I will make all things right (o cursed spite).
The time is always out of joint when Uncle speaks, and one day he takes me aside at the family gathering, as mahjong crackles and words clang around the living space. Out to the balcony, he urges me to listen:"You must join them!" he almost shouts, and the neighbours enjoying a night out of doors on their own balcony turn round and round, shocked.
"What on earth can you mean, uncle? You lack lucidity, and your drink drains you of all sense. We should go back into the noise of the family, back to their distractions and their every-which-way suggestions about my future, so that I can stave off decisions longer, keep possibilities at bay - don't confront, don't face, don't encounter the future - here, spoilt by choice in our age, we the children of plenty really don't want to decide, if you know what I mean, dear Uncle?"
"Of course I know what you mean! Of course - which of us is never in doubt? Which of us is never still in a constant, restless state of indecisive-decision? We are always choosing not to choose! We are always deferring, preferring this transition-like state, lost in translation, waiting for the waiting to end! But how can you stand it? How can you be so patient?"
"Oh Uncle! I cannot take this anymore - I am torn - Mother says this-and-that. Father is on about something else entirely. I don't know where to turn. I can't tell if I should lift my eyes up to the skies, hope for the best, do my utmost in all idealism, or crouch-hide myself away into self-repression, disappearing so that I am not hurt or detectable-perceptible, disappearing as if I never existed? Which must it be, Uncle? Which? I hope you can tell me!"
Uncle smiles gently, and he squeezes my shoulder reassuringly: "All must face this crossroad, and those of us who are worthy will know what I mean - you must join them! You must join their ranks, toe their lines, follow their guidance and eat your fill of their rhetoric-rationale, learn their ways so that they will be lulled into comfort and ease with you in their presence. Join them because if you do not, you will end up like some of us, crazies crying our hearts out on a metaphorical sidewalk or open street, forever shut out, waiting to be shut down, where no one hears you except the powerless and the ears of your own mind. You don't want to be one of those, trapped by their freedom to criticize. They're like orphans really, growing ugly and old and tired and never adopted... and to so many, they are a joke, an enterprise that is sinking with every clever word undermined by a stupid political move. They are all their own endless disaster movie. And why? It is because they are outside. They refused to join them. So join them!"
"But uncle," I quip, "will I be giving up all my ideals, and all my hopes and dreams of changing the system for the better? Will I be selling out if I toe the line the way you have said it? Will I fade away into their woodwork, to be invoked whenever they need another mouthpiece for their ways/means of control? Will I no longer - "
"You must stop this talk!" he cuts me off, "You infect yourself with cynicism and fear. You must tell yourself that you are stronger than this! You are the self-aware! You are different! You can join them and still remain true to yourself! And when you are in a position at last to make a difference, then you can be the change you want to see in the world! Bide your time, mind-scribble your thoughts into your heart, cherish them and wait patiently for the day that you may unearth them, and let them sparkle and shine! You can do it! If anyone can, you can do it!"
"Uncle - oh I wish I shared your faith in me. I think always of the million conversations that others like me must have had, as they tiptoed on the threshold of this moment, thinking-voicing their doubts, believing all of a sudden that they have-had what it takes to be that change, that different key element that transforms all. They enter the gates with thanksgiving in their hearts, relishing the opportunity, the blessing that they have been chosen, knowing in their soul that in time, in some short and quick time, it will be their chance to change everything - they say to themselves little prayers of your words - when it is my time, when I am in a position to make all things better, and till then, wait wait wait, till then wait means never, till then I will toe the line till it tows me, under-under into its lair, into its promises and compromises, into its many-splendoured comfort zones of wait-wait-wait till the time is ripe. And in the end, there is no such time. There is no such time because we waited, we hoped but sold out, we dreamed but gave up, we eat our fill of their rhetoric-rationale and they left us no space for ourselves. In the end I am gone, disappeared into their darkness and I will have failed, like so many before me. I will have failed. What makes me so special, uncle? So many have become them, speaking their tongues. So many! Why would I be any different?"
My uncle seems to have tears in his eyes, but I can't see even though my whole city is lighted at night, filled with burning lamps, chasing away dark and black and void. But even then, the brightness doesn't pierce the veil in this universe, as my uncle quietly looks away, into some far off new construction site, as we build homes into the sky, into air and wind and glass and stone. My uncle doesn't seem to have anything left to say, but then he mumbles: "Wait means never. Wait means never..." and trails off into another drunken stumble, back into the house, into the noises of mahjong again, into the distractions and the deferrals and the disappointment that I have advanced too far into apathy, too far into the lands of indifference and inaction.
I try to reach out to him but he's too fargone, and soon I wonder if his words were just the drink, talking out of turn, spluttering some last, hidden, idealistic spurt of hopeless-hope?
Today I got the letter from the powers-that-be, asking me to come-see-the-paradise and consider-the-career-in-service-of-the-people. I did not realise Uncle would say anything so coincidentally in tune with my state of mind. I did not know what my decision was going to be. And all I could do, while watching the family gathering trundle to its close, was wait for my mind to make itself up, wait for my heart to speak about ideals and pragmatism, about meritocratic- maybes and perhaps-es to form formless in my head. What would I do? Wait.


Blogger bastard said...

my friend you have outdone yourself.

so much to read.
so dense.

but i ploughed through it for the sheer beauty of prose.

i would say more about the true message contained in the words,

but alas.

i'm a lazy fucker.

10:45 AM  
Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

do write more often.

I love your prose!

6:18 PM  
Blogger Aristocrat said...

You have a great blog, great content. I chuckle to myself at every post.

If only you could separate the block of words into paragraphs, the pleasure will be all mine. Or was it intentional?

12:44 PM  
Blogger bastard said...

i'm betting intentional.

some people are too aware of their craft to let such things occur without reason.

dude. are we giving you too much credit?

4:48 AM  
Blogger thesoupnazi said...

he's a good man

11:57 AM  
Blogger bastard said...


5:48 AM  
Blogger j said...

yar i totally agree la. WOMAN.

5:48 AM  

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