All the World's a Classroom

This Story Called Life

If life is a journey, then each of us is a lonesome traveler. Not that we travel alone from start to finish, but that our path is distinctly our own. No one else starts at the same exact point as we do, no one else ends at the same point as we do. No one else takes the same turns, U-turns, detours, and wrong turns. But at every point, though, our path overlaps and intersects with others’. We meet other travelers on the way, some going the same way, some going other ways. Sometimes we get to travel together with people for a long period of time. Naturally these people would be going in the same direction as we do.

At those intersections or overlapping lines, there’s this thing called influence that we exert upon each other. In one way or another, we wouldn’t be the same again after those interactions. Some may even influence the next steps and turns that we would take, whether we are conscious of it or not.

What’s more fascinating is that there are travelers whose paths we never intersect, yet the twists and turns in their paths greatly influence ours. These people may live in a different time and place than us. Great historical characters who lived inspiring lives are prime examples of this group of people.

What got me thinking recently, however, are not these obviously influential people who are far away from me. I thought about the people who are closer, whose stories I assumed I know but in reality, I actually don’t. I was thinking specifically about my parents. We are much attached to our parents, of course, and we know them well. Yet, although our paths overlap very closely for a very long amount of time, when I start to think about what they have gone through in their lives, I realize that I have no idea what it is like to walk on their paths. They too once were like me, being in my age, making decisions as I do. What thoughts did they have then? The persons that they became of course were in turn, influenced by their parents, my grandparents.

My father used to tell his kids stories about his younger years. I wouldn’t get tired of him telling the same stories over and over again. He would tell us what his family was like, what he did when he was in his twenties, how he left his hometown to go to Jakarta with very little money to make something out of himself. He made crazy, risky, and bold decisions that turned out to be right, and he made some others that turned out to be wrong. Life was rough and definitely not smooth-sailing. At times he came across scams and people who tricked him, and in the end he would just have to take the hit. When I was little, though, hearing these stories over dinner, I would always have this surreal feeling – I can’t believe the person who’s telling the story and the person whose story is being told is the same person. But yet it is.

As I grew older, certain parts of the stories were explained in more details and I got a clearer picture of my family history and heritage, some related to the historical context of the country. It gave me more insights to understand the person-hood of my father more, and how those things could influence him. Yet even with all of this combined, I still don’t know what it means to experience all the things that he did. To extend it even further, he would tell me stories of my grandfather whom I never met, and they would sound like stories in a history book – distant and grand. My grandfather’s path influenced my father’s path, which in turn influences mine. And you can just keep going.

This is simply what happens in life, and it’s quite amusing just being marveled by the way things are. The web of humanity – there is not one person on earth who knows how we all are interconnected. Things like Facebook give us a snapshot of how intricate the part of the web that we’re in is, but it’s still not the full story. I long for that day (or the thousand years) when we will at last know and have all of these explained to us.

A Noticed Penny

Mark 12:41-44 (NASB)

41And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury;

I wonder what this day in the life of Jesus was like. As busy as Jesus was, at this instance, He took the time to simply sit down and observe people. It seemed random that He just decided to do this. Was He taking a break from teaching? Did He see something intriguing that He wanted to observe? Was this a common thing that Jesus did? Did He do it out of a whim or was it intentionally done to teach the disciples an important lesson?

Perhaps it wasn’t fully random. After all He decided to sit opposite to the treasury. The immediate issue at hand, of course, was money. Notice that He was observing how the people were putting the money into the treasury. How many ways can a person put money into the treasury? Physically, you can first observe how people walk towards the treasury. Some would strut, some would straight to the treasury, some would bow a little as a language of humility or self consciousness. It was a public place, and people knew that others would be watching. Some loved the attention, some were uncomfortable. Some would mindlessly put down their money, some with a little attitude, some with carefulness so as to not make a lot of noise. From physical observations, perhaps then you could make inferences on the motive of the person.

and many rich people were putting in large sums.

The treasury was a place that collected free will offerings and money from the people. What was given was not tithe or sacrifices of penitence; the givers gave out of their own free will. Of notice, the rich people were giving a lot of money because, quite naturally, they had a lot of it.

42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.

Seeing a poor person around the treasury was perhaps a rare occasion. A woman, alone, was about to be the center of attention. A rich widow would make the story very different, but this was a poor one. I wouldn’t imagine her making a lot of noise.  Timidly, she would approach the treasury. Did she go up when others went up too so the crowd wouldn’t notice her? Or did people naturally avoid being seen and associated with her?

She put in two small copper coins, a cent. A penny. That was her free will offering. I think about how worthless pennies are today. These are the smallest denominations in US currency, the ones we see on the sidewalks and no one cared to pick them up.

43Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;

Yet her penny did not escape the eyes of God. Not only Jesus noticed this widow, He bragged about her.  He said this widow put in more than all others. Maybe He meant all others individually, maybe He all other contributors combined. How can a penny be worth more than a whole treasury?

44for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

All other people gave out of their abundance. This widow’s mite, however, was all that she owned, all that she had to live on. How in the world can someone only own a penny? How can something that is so worthless to many, worth so much to a person and to God? This widow’s life was in that mite, and she gave that to God. It was more than a free will offering; it was a free will sacrifice.

It is when sacrifices that cost something are called for that the heart is tested.[1]

[1] A quote from S. N. Haskell’s article in The True Missionary, a short-lived journal published during 1874, found in Sacrifice & Commitment

The Peculiarity of Joy

This thought is by no means original to me, but recent events have brought this back to mind. In the human experience, pain and suffering are those that have a leveling effect on (pretty much) every human being on the planet. What I mean by a leveling effect is the capacity of every individual to somehow relate to each other on similar grounds.

When it comes to the evil things that happen in life, even though essentially we can never fully understand another’s pain, we can imagine similar things happening to us and how terrible it is to be in the same situation. For example, when a person cuts his finger, even though I cannot truly experience his pain at the moment, I can still at the very least understand the concept of getting a cut and say, “Ouch! That hurts!” When someone is betrayed, lost a loved one, becomes a victim of violence or crime, we know that we would feel almost exactly as that person feels if the same thing happens to us. We see those who suffer from natural disasters and calamities, and we know to say in our hearts, yes, it could very well happen to me too, prompting us to reach out to them. Indeed, sympathy and empathy are noble gifts to humanity.

I wonder, though, if there is something equivalent to sympathy when it comes to joy. What would be the tool for me to understand when someone is overjoyed because he has fulfilled his life dreams? It would be much easier if his life dreams overlap with the things I like, the values I hold. But if not, it would be close to impossible for me to feel a fraction of the happiness that he’s experiencing. It seems to me that we are much more limited in trying to put ourselves in another’s shoes when it comes to joy and happiness, and I think it’s because there’s much individuality in joy and what can make an individual joyful.

What makes a person happy, thrilled, and fulfilled is distinctly different than the next person. One person likes to mix all his food together, another person likes them all separate. One loves pouring over books, another one loves building things. If a friend loves and gets so much joy out of picking up pebbles, he’d still be my friend, but it’d be hard for me to relate. The things that he enjoys may actually be painful for me. Basically the point is, the things that interest a person, things that can make his face glow when speaking, his passion, life goals, and dreams, define who he is. A person’s idiosyncrasies are part of what makes him him; they make that person weird, quirky, unique, special, and peculiar. Dealing and embracing each other’s quirks and differences is partly what makes life quite amusing.

As hard as it is to relate to people’s joy due to dissimilar interests, what a marvelous thing it is to find company in which we share the same weird things that thrill our hearts. You get excited over the same things, your conversations are energizing, and when one shares an experience, the other can say “Yeaa, I totally know what you’re talking about!!” as opposed to “Huh..? Okay…” There’s resonance, you’re at the same wavelength, your hearts are beating at the same beat. When that happens, it’s definitely worth it to keep those people around for life.

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