Merry Christmas, everyone! Sorry for dropping off the face of the earth, but a lot of things have been happening the past few weeks.
For one thing, I finished my first novel!!
After starting it in March 2009, with a Masters in between, I have finally hit the finish line at 97,800 words on December 20, 2.20am (yeah, nice number ). In the words of my former mentor, I have SLAIN THAT DRAGON!
Now I am letting my dragon roast and cool for a while to clear my mind of doubts and second guesses, before I start carving–I mean, editing the novel in January. It still needs a lot of work, but at least the story is not irredeemable, I hope.
How do I feel? Excited, relieved, a bit emotional too to tell the truth. Since I first started writing the novel – back when I was a journalist in Ipoh, Malaysia – so much has happened. I flew across half the world, met amazing people, and became blessed with good friends. In these two years, I also lost my grandmother who was taken away so suddenly. And I tried not to miss Malaysia so intensely.
What Christmas Means to Me
Christmas always makes me think of my grandmother. My Poh Poh would cherish those rare times I’m home for Christmas, and on the eve we would go for midnight Mass together with my brother. Not being much of a churchgoer, I could never understand why people would turn up several hours before a midnight Mass.
Once, we’d turned up five hours early for the midnight service! I remember, deep down, of feeling resentful of having to go so early. Despite arriving at 7pm, every seat inside the church was already taken and people were filling the rows of plastic chairs outside on the church porch. Sitting beside my Poh Poh, I’d hold the thin white candle that scalded my fingers with melting wax despite the manila card ‘hilt’. I would spend those hours praying, reflecting on my life, playing with balls of wax and trying not to wish for a music player.
Time passed faster than I thought, as I had a lot of people to ask God to look after, there was plenty of things to reflect on my life, and soon enough I’d find myself daydreaming (nightdreaming?) about some story in my head. In the landscape of my mind, characters played out betrayals, dramas, fought, schemed, and were made to not swear so much (‘because you people are in church, darnit!’)
And then the moment came in the Mass to stand and wish Peace Be With You, where you are supposed to nod or shake the hand of your fellow Christians. I am ashamed to say this is the part I always, always hate most about Mass, because I would cringe at having to do this with strangers. I can’t help it, I’ve always resented it. It’s like a teacher forcing you to sing the national anthem, or your friends egging you into sticking your tongue against a lamp post in winter.
Once that Peace Be With You business is over however, my tensions about the whole Mass dissolve. I could relax like normal people.
Which is why it’s ironic that when I hurried into church this morning for Christmas Mass, late as usual, I flopped myself onto a wooden seat…only for the priest to call, “Now let us make to each other the Sign of Peace!”
With a gasp, I hopped back up and dutifully clasped the hand of the man beside me and the people around us. (Speaking of which, this is amazing to me: I come late and I can still find plenty of seats at the St Mary’s RC Cathedral. I presume there are not many Roman Catholics in Edinburgh!) I waited for my insides to squeeze with anxiety when I had to meet their eyes, or for my heart to pound when I shake their hands…nothing.
Perhaps it’s because I was already breathless from rushing here, perhaps I didn’t have to wait in dread anticipating that feared moment of the Mass. Instead, I felt almost…calm. The Mass went on, and it was only when the choir launched into a noel that I nearly broke down.
The main reason I came to church was to light a tea light candle for my Poh Poh, as I’ve done for her last Christmas mass. I’m sure she would have preferred I go for Mass every Sunday, just as I’m sure she must have hoped I speak to her more when she was alive. In 19 months, I’ve had time – and good people – to help me deal with the grief and the guilt, to make me understand it’s absolutely normal to feel regret, as long as I don’t let my life be ruled by it.
As long as I live my life without fear.
Today, at least I could place the candle in its holder and say: Hello, Poh Poh. I’m here. And I’ve done it.