I try to smile harder, beneath the mask I try to let you see, I love you Beneath the mask, I offer you A flower from my heart.
In a sea (of physical distancing) people, smiles shielded with 3-ply, 5-ply and what have yous masks, we can still be kind. We can still love. We can still smile at one another. Because a smile comes from the heart. And what’s from the heart, even if it can’t be seen in these strange times, it can be felt.
Writer’s note: I love this. My heart danced when I wrote this poem. It started with an idea of trying to smile harder, trying to make my smile to be seen beneath my mask. So, I drew a portrait of a woman wearing a mask. (Not of anyone in particular. I just used one of my photos as a guide.) As I was drawing the portrait, with a quiet prayer in my heart, I asked, “Lord, what do You want me to say about this?” The words came.
p.s. The phrase “a flower from my heart” was inspired by Pope Francis.
We were soaked in the rain. Willingly soaked. Well, except for the upper half of our body, kept dry because we were protected in hiking-worthy (though we weren’t hiking) rain jackets. Me, in a striking red coloured one. My husband, a cool black. Just the two of us, deliriously happy. As no sane person would wanna be willingly out in the rain.
It was around three in the afternoon. “I’m gonna go walk on the beach now,” I said to my husband. The sky has just opened up to let some tiny drops of rain down. “Ah, it’s still safe to walk. Only a slight drizzle,” I assured myself.
As I strolled along, feeling the powdery-soft sand yielding beneath my feet, the wind picked up speed and played with my hair. “Nice, this is nice”, I thought to myself as I inhaled the salty air.
The sky then opened up more, and the raindrops got fatter. “Maybe I should end my walk now and go back,” I thought.
I walked back. But somehow, instead of diving into our hotel’s beachfront chalet for shelter, I grabbed my rain jacket to head out again. And as if on cue, my husband has the same idea. Thus both of us with rain jacket on, walked out to the increasingly pouring rain. Grinning like idiots.
The colour of the sea changed to grey in a bid to outdo the darkened sky. I scanned the horizon. No lightning, we are safe. The waves rolled high and crashed upon the shore. We stood and stared into the open space. Both in quiet awe. Mesmerised by the beauty and power of nature.
As I licked the salty rain on my lips, my skirt absolutely soaked, I smiled from within. It felt like my soul was satisfied. That miss-play-it-safe-and-sensible has let her soul out to unfamiliar ground to play. I smiled even more with this new knowledge.
When was the last time I’ve done such a carefree thing? Heading out to the beach in the pouring rain. It’s crazy.
“Sorry, lemme take this call,” said the person sitting across of you.
Beep beep beep…
“Just one minute, I’ll reply to this message quickly,” said the same person again.
By this time, the coffee has turned cold. So has the conversation. And a bit of your heart. That weird, sourly feeling of “this is normal, right?” This multi-tasking, here-not-here kind of life?
By this time, you probably wonder if it’s the prime minister or the CEO of a company is sitting in front of your friend/client/family instead, would your meeting be interrupted or distracted?
By this time, you might wonder, are you not important enough as a person to warrant a decent, be present conversation?
Or has this tech world of so-called connectivity changed us to be commonly rude? That, putting the person in front of you on-hold is okay.
What unspoken message are we sending out with our lifestyle habits? Even if we don’t mean it. Even if we do value the time of another person with us…and the person. But then again…do we? Is our action congruent with our mind?
Can you put the phone away in your pocket, or in your bag? Or if life and death depend on your instantaneous response, put it on silent but where you can see it, and shift your attention to now.
On a whim, I made this spoof advertisement based on any skincare on earth claiming that it’ll give us forever youthful skin.
Chuckling and smiling to myself, I sketched out the real ingredients to remain youthful in life instead. Have you noticed how young and alive a person can be, no matter their age, when they have that sense of wonder in them?
As we wanted to pay for our breakfast, with a deadpan face, the Malay owner of a streetside warung (small restaurant) that we’ve returned to three times for our meals, said to us, “We can’t give you a discount today, it’s impossible to give a discount…because we are treating you to this meal, as you are going back to KL (Kuala Lumpur) today.”
My eyes widen in a pleasant yet hesitant surprise. My husband and I wanted to return his gift of generosity. “No, no, I protested. We want to bless your business too.”
As we cycled back the short distance to our hotel, my heart burst open in joyful amazement of their genuine generosity, and I almost cried in gratitude. That was our parting memory of Langkawi. We were there for two weeks of work and travel.
It’s been a few weeks since we are back from this beautiful island. Not a day passed where I didn’t think of our experience there. And of our new Malay friends from the warung.
In fact, on the second day of our return, I received a Whatsapp from one of the ladies there, with a simple keeping in touch message of asking if I’ve started work, “Sudah mula bekerja ke?” “Have you started to work?”
Of which I proceeded to chat and connect with her, fumbling with my iPhone’s English language keyboard which insisted on changing the Malay words to something else.
And I’m usually more guarded. You know, as in, urbanite-guarded. Often, I tend to stick to the usual and familiar surrounding. Watchful and uncomfortable to go beyond.
But with travelling, it puts us in a new environment every day. Especially when we travel with our bicycles; without a holiday-maker mindset but with an explorer mindset instead. Where we tend to favour eating where the locals eat. And minimise being demarcated to tourist strips.
Bicycling has this fantastic advantage where we can go further, slower, and meet new friends. Even if it’s just offering a smile and a wave—it’s like leaving the fragrance of flowers wherever you go. The giver and the receiver, both blessed.
Our Langkawi stay has been like that. A beautiful memory of immersion with the Malay community, eating *nasi lemak, nasi campur, pulut ikan masin, speaking broken Malay interspersed with lots of smiles, cycling along kampung road and houses, with cute kids and old folks alike waving and smiling to us as we pedalled passed them.
For the urbanite us, we were in wonder of a completely different environment and lifestyle. The pace; slower. The people; friendlier, kinder, generous with their smiles. Perhaps a simpler way of living—leads to more generous and happier people.
*for my non-Malaysian readers. : ) Nasi lemak: fragrant coconut rice. Nasi campur: rice with a selection of dishes, mini buffet style. Pulut ikan masin: Glutinous rice with fried salted fish. Kampung: village.