Three Questions

For this blog, allow me to just simply share a story I lifted from a book I recently read (‘The Resilient Spirit”).

Once upon a time an emperor decided that if he knew the answers to three questions, he would always know what to do, no matter what. The questions were these:

When is the best time to do things?

Who are the most important people?

What is the most important thing?

The emperor offered a big reward for the right answers to these questions, and he received many, but none satisfied him.

Finally, he decided to travel to the top of the mountain to visit an old hermit who would perhaps know the right answers. When he reached the hermit, the emperor asked his three questions. The hermit, digging in his garden, listened attentively and said nothing. He returned to his digging. As the emperor watched him, he noticed how tired the old man seemed.

“Here,” he said, “give me the spade and I’ll dig while you rest.” So the hermit rested and the emperor dug.

After several hours, the emperor was very tired. He put down the spade and said: “If you can’t answer my questions, that’s all right. Just tell me and I’ll take my leave.”

“Do you hear someone running?” the hermit asked suddenly, pointing to the edge of the woods.

Sure enough, a man came tumbling out of the woods, clutching his stomach. He collapsed as the hermit and the emperor reached him. Opening the man’s shirt, they saw that he had a deep cut.  The emperor cleaned the wound, using his own shirt to bind it. Regaining consciousness, the man asked for water. The emperor hurried to a nearby stream and brought him some. The man drank gratefully, then slept.

The hermit and the emperor carried the man into the hut and lay him on the hermit’s bed. By this time the emperor was exhausted, too, and he fell asleep.

The next morning when the emperor awoke, he saw the wounded man staring down at him.

“Forgive me,” the man whispered.

“Forgive you?” said the emperor, sitting up, wide awake. “What have you done that needs my forgiveness?”

“You do not know me, your majesty, but I have thought of you as my sworn enemy. During that last war, you killed my brother and took away my lands.”

The man went on to explain that he had been lying in ambush, waiting for the emperor to come back down the mountain when one of the emperor’s attendants recognized him as an enemy and gave him a painful wound.

“I fled, but if you hadn’t helped me when you did, I surely would have died. I had planned to kill you. Instead, you saved my life! I am ashamed and very grateful.”

The emperor was glad to hear the story and restored the man’s land.

After the man left, the emperor looked at the hermit and said: “I must leave now. I shall travel everywhere looking for the answers to my questions.”

The hermit laughed and said, “Your questions are already answered your majesty.”

The hermit explained that if the emperor had not helped to dig in the garden but had simply hurried off in search of his answers, he would have been killed on the way down the mountain.

“The most important time for you was the time you were digging in the garden. The most important person was myself, the person you were with, and the most important thing was simply to help me,” added the hermit.

“And later, when we met the wounded man who came up the mountain, the most important time was that spent tending his wound, for otherwise, he would have died – and you would not have become friends. And he was at that moment the most important person in the world, and the most important pursuit was tending his wound.

“The present moment is the only moment,” the hermit continued. “The most important person is always the person you are with and the most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy. What could be simpler or more important?”

Tuesdays @ FFI – Vermeer

A day after my Monmouth escapade, I promised to meet a 3-week old friend so we can say our goodbyes before he flies back to his mission place.

He spent four weeks vacation in London and one of the last items in his London’s bucket list is to see one of Vermeer’s painting, which is reported to be part of the Royal Collection and is in fact, included in the treasures featured in this years opening of the State Rooms. Buckingham Palace only opens its doors to the public during summer – so call it being at the right place and at the right time, and by virtue of empathy, I sincerely showed interest and started to induce art and culture to my pedestrian consciousness.

Before buying our tickets, we had to ask members of the Buckingham staff whether Vermeer’s painting is indeed included in the things we will see inside. I wish I know something about Vermeer. I wish I could even spell his name as I had to ask my friend to spell it for me.

Forget about the fact that we will be able to walk in the Grand Staircase where footprints of royalties, aristocrats, head of states and diplomats are indelibly found – I had to remind myself that seeing Vermeer’s painting is the most important.

Ignore the fact that I will be able to smell and touch the State Dining table, where each Sevres porcelain are arranged in precision, that the distance between cutleries are measured using rulers and Her Majesty personally checks it before grand occasions such as State dinners – I had to remind myself that finding one of the 34 known paintings of Vermeer will be the highlight of our visit.

It is not so important to see the Throne Room where through centuries, it hosted and continues to host audiences of all nationalities, receive homage, award high honours and perform other royal functions – I had to remind myself that paying homage to Vermeer’s painting is our day’s mission.

Soon as we entered the 55-yard long picture gallery where paintings of Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Rubens and many others are displayed, in a split second, my friend found Vermeer’s painting, called ‘The Music Lesson’. I hurriedly looked at it and quietly exclaimed, ‘Ah, oh-K’.

(The Royal Collection © 2010,
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
RCIN 405346)

Felt like the smell of paella and curry in the Borough market 24 hours ago made my heart beat faster than seeing one of Royal Collection’s most valued possessions. Thank goodness for the audio guide provided, I quickly pressed the number for Vermeer’s painting and listened to what it is all about. I did not listen to it just once, I listened to it three times until I found myself not just looking at the painting, I found myself reading, feeling and almost tempted to touching the painting. Vermeer is known with his exquisite and masterly treatment and use of light. The audio even said that one could feel the air and space in Vermeer’s paintings. If espresso just gave me less than a minute of pleasure, I made sure that the visual appetite I had during that moment will be rightfully satisfied so I took as much time as I possibly can adoring Vermeer’s work.

I will not profess to have been converted as an art enthusiast after my Vermeer experience but I acknowledge that our life is indeed surrounded by so many things unknown and unfamiliar to us – just like Vermeer and his paintings. Most will sometimes appear nameless, meaningless and even useless – only when we pay attention will we realise the great treasures within our midst.

Tuesdays @ FFI – Hijacker

I have been trying to think of what and how to best describe the annoyances and disturbances I come across with every now and then. It comes in different forms, sizes, colours and magnitude.

Take for example last Tuesday, when I tried to start and end the day right. Woke up early, said my morning prayers, had breakfast, looked forward for a productive day and end it with a peaceful mind and grateful heart. That was the plan. Carry out the day from point A to point B.

Everything was going well until mid-day, when during a post meeting conversation, someone just robbed me off of my sanity and calmness, just like an unexpected hijacker, who illegally seized what I have planned for the day and forced it to go to a different destination. The seemingly innate rudeness and arrogance of this Tuesday hijacker made me panic, felt inferior and upset.  I did not end the day with peaceful mind and grateful heart. For a significant period of that day, I did allow the hijacker to be in control.

We are exposed to many forms of hijacking – bad news, bad conversations, bad emails, phone calls or text messages. All these, sadly influence and even change the course of our days, of our lives, and more sadly, it oftentimes leave our hearts bruised.  We cannot prepare enough or shield ourselves enough to prevent the ‘hijacking’ to happen but through interior preparation, we can prime ourselves on how to respond more appropriately.

That Tuesday night, I did pray for guidance so I can respond more appropriately next time it happens. Lo and behold, the gospel last Wednesday (Matthew 18:15-20) talked about how to treat someone like the Tuesday hijacker. Maybe, it is not all about just moving from point A to B – hijackers are necessary because they are invitations for us to take the distance between our knees and the floor and in prayer, sought for God’s protection and ask for our most needed graces.

Dear God,

when withdrawing from a battle

is not an option,

let your angels

of wisdom

and

courage

be my

shield and armour,

Amen.

Tuesdays @ FFI – Two Words p2

In my previous blog, I did put a note that it is to be continued. A friend expressed that she is actually wondering how I can pull off an ending to that blog. I also do not know. I just felt that it is incomplete.

I came to write that first blog after downloading the song ‘Two Words’ from iTunes, listening to it (without exaggeration) more than 100 times and watching two youtube versions – one when Lea Salonga sang it in one of her concerts years ago and the other one when she sang the song at her wedding.

I tried to stay away from the context of ‘I do’ between two people. I wanted to focus on the many ‘I do’s’ we profess in our daily lives. Thus, the first blog. But, I did not want to leave it just like that.

I wanted to pay tribute to a beautifully crafted song – from its lyrics, melody, arrangement and the way it was soulfully sang by one of the greatest performers I’ve known in my lifetime.  She sang it in two different occasions – first as a duty to perform, the second as an expression of lifetime commitment where life is offered.

In life, we do so many things as part of our professional commitments. I yearn for that day when I can truly tell myself that what I do is not a duty dictated by my job, that what I do is an expression of service not only to fulfill a dream but to find meaning in my chosen vocation.

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Tuesdays @ FFI – Two Words

Our daily life is weaved together by thread of decisions. Some life changing – providing a new set of canvas for what is yet to come. Some life giving – adding colours to once a monochromatic landscape. Some decisions entail embracing while some require letting go. Some decisions are guided and inspired by faith while other decisions can be achieved by processing and analysing data. The pinnacle is when we face that moment when we have to say ‘I do’.

And if life should come to just one question,

Do I hold each moment true?

No trace of sadness,

Always with gladness…

‘I do’

(lyrics from the song, Two Words)

How true! Of the many vows we have professed in our lives – from the most simple promises we’ve made to ourselves to the most revered commitments we have made to our loved ones and others, if life truly should come to just one question, whenever we make a decision, even if there are traces of sadness, for as long as when we said I do, we held and faced that moment true, we should look at who and what we are today with gladness.

(to be continued…)