On Saturday morning, I went to church – there was a special mass to commemorate our national day of independence and for once I was moved to attend.
It saddened me that the mass was being held in the small chapel rather than the main church because not many people were expected to attend. When I arrived, the church was closed up and I thought I’d somehow been mistaken, until I drove around to the other entrance and saw a few people outside the chapel. Later I heard from others that many people had arrived, seen the main church closed and left, disappointed.
I was disappointed too.
I was disappointed that a mass organised with the intent to pray for our nation did not invite a significant population of the church congregation to attend. The chapel was full but it only had 1/8 the capacity of the church.
I was disappointed that there was no notice provided to inform members of the congregation that the mass was to be held in the chapel, and those who wanted to be there were robbed of that chance.
I was disappointed that there hadn’t been a more strident call for as many people to attend as possible, as there had been for previous occasions such as feast days and seminars, fund-raisers and talks.
But I’m glad I was there. I told my two girls to pray for all those things in the country that seemed wrong in their eyes. And I prayed too. I can’t even recall what exactly I prayed for but at that moment, kneeling in the chapel, I know I prayed with all my heart for things to change for the better.
Someone once shared with me that the harder we try to strive for good, the more temptations we are faced with, and the harder the other side tries to bring us down. It reminds me of this line from one of my favourite novels:
“We struggle because we must. Evil has the advantage for it is served by chaos and confusion. It can destroy and ravage while we must preserve and build. Ours is the more difficult task.” [Raymond E Feist]
This rings even more true as I read the news this morning of a 101-year old Hindu temple being destroyed the day after Merdeka. Why? Because the site on which it was erected – 100 years ago! – was on reserved land.
From what can gather, the temple’s location had been a matter of conflict with the city council for some time, and it’s claimed that the entire temple is not being demolished, only part of it to make way for a new pavement/pavement repairs. It’s hard to tell what’s the truth as mainstream news reported that statues of deities were not smashed while independent news reports said they were. Some reports also state that a court order was not presented, making any works – demolition or otherwise – illegal.
Official statements by the police claim it was all a misunderstanding – that the people at the temple who tried to prevent the officials from carrying out their work misunderstood their intent. But what were they supposed to think when no notice was given by the city council to the temple leaders? When officials rudely intruded on a place of workshop? What more on a Sunday after celebrating our national independence day?
Admittedly, anything to do with race and religion in this country is highly inflammatory. The insensitivities of one group only feeds the fear and reactivity of other groups resulting in a perfect storm of negativity.
It’s so hard not to get caught up in it. It’s so hard not to react with condemnation and a desire to lash back at those who trample on the rights and sensitivities of others, at those who feel superior and above the law.
At the same time, while I was at mass, something prompted me to think about the ones who have fought for our country – men like Tunku Abdul Rahman who fought for our independence; soldiers like my father who spent the best of their years in defence of our nation, and those who lost their lives for love of their country; and everyday heroes who fought and continue to fight to make Malaysia a better place to live.
When we only focus on hate and anger, we disregard the sacrifices and the ongoing efforts that help to undo all the negativity.
As an individual, I’m fearful of putting myself at the forefront – fearful of being targeted or blacklisted in some way; fearful of attracting the attention of those who could make my life miserable, arrest me or put me away for being a nuisance.
But ‘there are other ways to serve’ as a priest once told me. So, borrowing from yet another novel, I like to remind myself that while we can’t stop others from being hateful, bigoted, racist, inflammatory or corrupt, “we can do our best in the opposite direction” [Susan Cooper]
This country is my home. I may dream endlessly of travel or sigh in envy at how wonderful things seem to be in another country, but I could never call any other place home.
When I left work on Friday and wished my colleague ‘Happy Merdeka’, the response was decidedly lukewarm. I understood perfectly. But the fact is, we can still celebrate this country which is our home and remember that there are still Malaysians who have respect for others, who are charitable and caring, who are bold and outspoken in defence of what’s right.
So no matter what we see in the papers which saddens or angers us, let’s “do our best in the opposite direction” and celebrate everything that makes us proud Malaysians everyday.