Lessons from 2015: Life will find a way

It’s been said that at 25, a person’s beliefs are mostly set for life. Perhaps that’s true, or perhaps it’s a fallacy. Either way, 2015 has been a heck of an adventure.

Have you ever considered, truly considered, that all things will end one day? That maybe you might not wake up tomorrow, or that the person you love most on earth may be gone in a second? Maybe you’ve been through life with some major losses but then life goes back to normal, and you take the same old things for granted.

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Mum and I during a photoshoot, Dec 2015. (Photo: Samuel Goh Photography)

That was me.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll realise I put up an end-of-year blog post to breathe, take stock, give thanks and remind myself of everything that’s happened. Here’s this year’s post.

The last 365 days have been all about unlearning many things. Unlearning how others viewed me, how I viewed myself. Untethering my life from Melbourne and choosing to be present. It’s been about relearning to be a daughter, a friend, and a sister.

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For the most part, it’s felt like I was being taken apart and then, later on, put back together.

2015 marks the first year in eight years that I’ve been home for the entire period. And it’s also the first time in eight years I was here to witness my grandma being rushed to hospital. It brings to mind the first time I accompanied her to hospital too, as a 12-year-old who found her after she collapsed due to a massive stroke.

It’s been 13 years since and that day haunts me from time to time. And on a fateful day in June this year I got a panicked call from mum saying Popo was in hospital and she was at work and could you take a cab down now?

I got into the first cab I could. It didn’t accept NETS, so I emptied my wallet and was S$0.30 short of the fare. The driver, while seemingly grumpy, gave me a sympathetic nod and said: “It’s okay. Go.”

I didn’t need to be told twice, though I regret not taking down his details so I could pay him back.

My grandma has always been one of my biggest champions. I have never lived in a world where she didn’t exist. Dementia, not age (or perhaps both) slowly took her away from us. From hints of recognition in her eyes, my laughter is nowadays mainly met with blank looks. Where she’d once hum along to familiar hymns like Amazing Grace or come Christmastime, Jingle Bells, she now stares straight ahead even if I sing at the top of my lungs.

It breaks my heart a little bit more whenever I see her, but the pain is worth it.

It gets me thinking about mortality and adding life to our years. Before the stroke, Popo was full of life. She was heavily involved in church and her community; in fact, she was the head of the women’s sub-committee in her constituency. She sang in the church choir. All the neighbours knew her. Even now, 13 years on, stallholders at her neighbourhood market ask after her.

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Popo, warded in hospital. June 2015.

She’s still around, but regardless, she’s left an impact and a legacy. Yes, the stroke probably took away her mobility and her speech too soon. But even then, I’m proud of the woman she is.

I wonder what would happen if I died tomorrow. It’s not a popular topic of conversation, I think, but it’s always a possibility. I could get hit by a car or (more likely) the Uber I’m in could crash. If I have the privilege of standing face to face with God at the pearly gates, what would I say?

Earlier in the year, I probably only had a bunch of articles and social media blurbs to show for. I loved the job more than anyone or anything, myself included. It was the only world worth living for.

But then I put up stories about devastating earthquakes and sportspeople who have overcome adversity to emerge victorious. And then I see my own grandmother lying helplessly in hospital, desperately wishing she could convey her thoughts to us – but alas, that ability has been cruelly taken away.

And then I realised that there is more to this life than being a journalist. I was created to be a daughter, sister and friend. Besides being a writer, I’m a coffee addict (the two are probably related), a wannabe singer, an amateur cook and a church girl. These parts of me aren’t mutually exclusive – they make up who I am. To deny any part of them would be to ask a part of me to die, and that wouldn’t be ideal.

It was also telling of the relationships I hold dear. I had to answer some sobering questions, too. What can I do to nurture a better relationship with my parents? They’re not perfect and I can’t change them, but how can I change to make it work? How can I be a better daughter?

And if I profess to believe in God, then why can’t I wake up every Sunday afternoon to go to church?

Perhaps this is important as well: If I promised to take better care of myself, why am I not feeding my soul with the things I love – like fresh air, adequate sleep, sushi, alone time, and more?

So halfway into the year I decided to take a stand: To love the people around me a little better. And to be a little kinder to myself. Because there is life beyond a significant season. Because rest enables one to keep going.

I haven’t always kept that promise. I’ve since said things I regret, and I’ve pushed myself to the breaking point. But it was an important lesson in knowing that I deserve more, that it’s okay to be human, and that at the end of the day, what I want most is to be whole.

The Newsroom

The newsroom has become my second home.

On my second day of work in September last year, someone I once knew asked if I missed Melbourne. I remember telling him that I felt right at home at Caldecott Hill, even if it was a brand new environment, and even if I missed Melbourne till it physically hurt.

More than a year on, that first bit still holds true.

It’s been quite an eventful year for the newsroom, with the AirAsia crash, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing, the Nepal Quake, Sabah Quake, SEA Games, SG50, General Election and Para Games, just to name a few.

Where I work looks nothing like the newsroom in the HBO series of the same name. But the basics remain the same – it’s fast, intense, and no one knows what’s going to happen in the next minute.

I’ve banged out stories while holding my tears in; I’ve had egg on my face after making unforgivable errors; I’ve written more social media blurbs and drunk more cups of coffee than I can count.

What a year, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Opposition Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang, after the rally at Aljunied GRC. September 2015.

I’ve come to realise that the collective effort of the team I am a part of helps to shape the national conversation. It helps determine what people talk about when they go to lunch, or when they’re on their smoke break. That every SMS or app notification we send out when news breaks is important, because someone may just need to know.

Much as being a journalist is about getting the most people to read your story – especially in the digital age – I’ve also learned that each story matters. It will reach the right people eventually. And my job is to tell it as accurately, beautifully, and as quickly as possible.

I’ve had the privilege of being a part of many momentous moments for our country in a significant year (our 50th!), and it’s something I won’t forget in a long, long time.

#feelslikehome

If the newsroom is my second home, then I suppose my third home would be Kingdomcity Singapore.

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Kingdomcity’s Leaders Advance 2015, Sunway Convention Centre, Kuala Lumpur. October 2015.

I wrote about the Great Church Debate That Existed In My Head earlier this year. For the first couple of months of 2015, I was the girl that didn’t want to commit. I said “No, thanks” to church almost every Sunday because it was too tiring to make small talk, make new friends, and put on a mask.

Simply put, I believe in Jesus and loved and wanted more of God (whatever that means to you), but wanted nothing to do with the church, thankyouverymuch.

Sundays were a reminder of everything I left behind in Melbourne, and everything I hated about Singapore. The gossip and exclusivity and general vibe was just repulsive, to me.

What changed?

Besides constant uncomfortable conversations with my boss and a few close friends, I came to the conclusion that okay – going to church is a part of my life. I could deny it with all my heart but eventually I’d find my way back. Or God would guide me back.

No church is perfect, much less Kingdomcity, which is just in its infancy. But when I decided to call it home, I sent up this prayer:

I promised to love the church
Broken and beautiful as she is
And I signed my heart away
Own this heart-broke sound
Shatter my pride (if you have to)

That prayer has come back to haunt me a few times since then.

So, once again, the church isn’t perfect and I don’t expect it to be. But I made a promise to love it, and its people. I’ve made amazing friends who have become a huge part of my life. And at some point, I didn’t even realise that I was looking forward to Sundays again. It became my favourite day of the week.

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The incredible hospitality team I was a part of. Kingdomcity Singapore LOVE night, Dec 2015.

Kingdomcity became a place of refuge. Just by being there, it broke my misconceptions about Singapore, in general. I realised there were people struggling with the same things I was. We’re all on this journey together.

I didn’t understand where God was right in the middle of everything. But I guess this year taught me that if I can’t see God’s hand, I can still trust His heart. He is good in spite of the crap that goes on in this world. The two are difficult to reconcile, but I believe it to be true.

It’s okay if you don’t believe in Him, too. He’s got it covered. x

There’ll be a season for joy and weeping
In everything, our God is faithful

Full circle

One of my biggest nights of 2015 was speaking to a small crowd in a room at *SCAPE about social influence and social media.

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(Photo: *SCAPE)

I was visiting my grandmother in June this year when I got a call. The person on the other line asked if I’d be keen to speak on that topic.

Who, me?

I don’t know how, but I shared the stage one August night with Benjamin Kheng from The Sam Willows, renowned host Matthew Zachary Liu, and Jiezhen Wu, girl boss at The Hidden Good. We talked about being real and authentic online, and about the great responsibilities we hold when we realise people are listening. We talked about how content is king and it’s just the kingdom that’s changing.

Somewhere in the middle of the session an audience member stood up. He’d recognised my name on the poster and decided to come down. He remembered reading the most popular post on this blog titled ‘We are not all heroes‘ (written more than two years ago now) and proceeded to recount Part 2 of the story, the one that never made it online.

This is what most people don’t know.

Zheng Popo passed away from cancer some time after I wrote that post. In her final days, a group of young people realised she was not at her usual spot outside Mandarin Gallery. Having sent her home before, they went to her block of flats and knocked on every door.

She wasn’t at home, but her neighbours informed them that she was in hospital.

And so the search for Zheng Popo began. They went to every ward in the hospital to look for her. When they finally did, they learned that she suffered from Stage 4 cancer. She had no family, or at least none that showed up.

They became her family, right till she crossed from this world to the next.

I sat there as Yeu Ann (the very kind audience member who shared this story) recounted this and tried so hard not to cry.

It was a reminder, once again, that we are living stories. We’re unwittingly writing our memoirs in our daily lives, be it online or offline.

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Still can’t believe I got to meet these guys. Aug 2015. (Photo: Tong Yee)

It was a massive privilege to have shared a platform with those guys. And it was an even greater privilege to have been a small part of Zheng Popo’s story.

So we’re back here again, tiptoeing round the edge of the end of another year.

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Don’t fear the mountain that stands in your way. Lake Ashi, Japan. October 2015.

I don’t know what 2015 has been like for you. Perhaps it’s been your best year yet. Perhaps you saw some dreams die and a part of you died with it too. Perhaps you went through this year without really knowing what you’ve accomplished.

Either way, welcome to 2016. What would it take for you to dream again? What would it take for you to believe in the impossible? What do you need to go headfirst into the adventure you always wanted to embark on?

Perhaps we all need a dose of courage. Let’s dive in together and see what the year holds. Let’s trust that no matter what, it’ll be good.

Love you guys.

All my heart,
Diane x

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