Making Sense of Pain

Pain is not something I’ve written about before. In many ways life has treated me fairly well, and I have been pretty blessed never having to worry about much. However I’m also well aware that life is not all smooth sailing. After looking for work for about a year, I finally got my first job offer three weeks ago, only to have my work visa application rejected because of changes in immigration policies.

When I first heard news of that, I was nonchalant about it. It’s not that I’m immune to setbacks, but in a way I was mentally prepared for such a result. As I ruminated over the matter and talked it over with friends, my state of mind swung between the positive and the negative. My family and friends are here, and I believed that I had the necessary competency to add to this society. This is where I call home, if only temporarily.

After being worn out looking for work for over a year, I was tired, and didn’t want to fight further. This is not my long term home, and I can always go to less restrictive markets. That’s a beauty of open markets. Those who want a more competitive lifestyle can choose it, whereas those who prefer a slower pace of life can choose accordingly. And that was my position till a friend “scolded” me for my lack of fighting spirit. My view was that there are things that I will fight for, there are people I will fight with, but this wasn’t something that I would give my whole life for.

Then I had an epiphany. While this is not something I would kill myself over, why not make use of it and treat is as training for something that I may need to fight for in the future? Maybe there is some use for the pain that has come through no choice of my own, for me to learn to fight.

I’m thankful for my circle of friends who have been supporting me all this way, and for my boss who’s shown me much favor. The best is yet to come. Amen.

Understanding my Circle

Last night, a friend shared about feeling that making friends online was like taking fast food. Things may be fresh for a while, but won’t last for long. It caused me to ponder the depth of relationships in my life, and whether there is any correlation between depth and source of friendship. While not very scientific, I decided to do a simple classification of people on my contact list.

If the sum of my relationships is who I am, we can see that church forms a critical part of my identity. Though I do not have any concrete data of this at the moment, I can testify that the depth of the relationships with people in the church would definitely be deeper than those formed outside. The church to some may just be a gathering of individuals, but to me it is truly a family. It is my church, my life.

The yellow portion of the chart consists of people whom I met through other structures of society. Stephen Covey talks about this in his book The Speed of Trust as Organizational and Societal trust. Most of these people I met in school, university, through social meetings (e.g. with the Cambodian community in Canberra), and through other friends.

The red portion is something I’ve been thinking about since yesterday. It consists of people whom I wouldn’t know if not for the internet. These include friends made on Couchsurfing during my time in China whose contact I’ve chosen to retain, people from meetup groups that I’ve attended, and even a friend whom I met in an online game and eventually met up with when I visited that city. The longest friendship in this category spans about 10 years—a friend whom I met on IRC.

The purple group of friends are probably the most interesting, as they were made in the most natural of situations, though requiring me to take a step out of my comfort zone to talk with them. These include a solar engineer I chatted with while on a bus in Canberra 5+ years ago, a Spanish family I helped navigate the train in Singapore, people I sat nearby in restaurants, etc. It is a pity that I didn’t maintain contact with some of the people I chatted with in parks in China.

Of course, family will always be family, and as the saying goes, blood is thicker than water.

This is the first time I’ve done an analysis on the relationships in my life, and I think the only surprising thing was the last segment of seemingly “random” friends whom I made. What surprised me was the number of such friends, given my inherently introverted nature. I guess I’ve come a long way :). What I love most about this way of making friends is that chances are that these people are from a different circle compared to the people whom I already know. These people have given me diverse windows to the big world out there.

It would definitely be great if I could reach into the recesses of my memory and increase the data set to include people whom I’ve stopped contact with, and more data such as date of first contact, venue, specific context, depth of relationship, frequency of contact, length of each contact, etc.

All in all, I am thankful for everyone in my life. Whether you are here for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, every single person I had the privilege of knowing is special in my eyes. There will always be those who I passed by, people I may never have a chance to meet again, such as an elderly man scavenging for food in a dustbin near a bus stop in Xiamen, or a middle school teacher I talked with at People’s Park, Chengdu. Perhaps one day I may see a reason for meeting these people.