Today's piece is dedicated to a friend, whom I fondly call Mr Coww, as his surname rhymes with that big animal that goes by a similar sounding name. And it's just my comedic nature to award him this nick, which I know, knowing him well enough, he doesn't mind. Last evening, he complained of some lingering back pain and had to be warded at the hospital for observation over-night.
"Perhaps it is good to have a beautiful mind, but an even greater gift is to discover a beautiful heart," John J. Nash Jr was quoted as saying by Russell Crowe in a movie of the same title I adopted for my post today. The film is a heart-warming, yet melancholic, one based on the true life story of the Nobel prize-winner in mathematics, with some liberties taken to enhance the messages of a legend in his own lifetime.
It tells of an understanding wife Alicia, played by lovely Jennifer Connelly, who stood by her man who lived not quite a "normal" life in that a brilliant mind sometimes went off the top and the man transformed into another personality -- a state termed schizophrenia that often sees Nash go into illusions of seeing "enemies" where there were none. Nash who is the mind capable of sifting through a maze of mathematical equations and algorithms is sometimes changed into a childlike being, removed from the reality of his environments, and yet having to cope with the demands of the real world. Not many women can stand the strains of being married to a man swinging betweeen the poles of reality and fantasy.
Nash thrived because his heart and that of Alicia had danced at a common wavelength at the most testing times of their married lives together.
And in my interactions with Coww spannng some forty years, I have had the privilege to have witnessed a brilliant mind, but more dear too me, a deep insight into a friend's heart. I have also taken certain liberties -- as poets are wont to do -- to give an inkling into a special person's innermost sanctuary, and to do it well and fairly is a challenge, and it is not an easy task.
What indeed is friendship based on if not on communication of confidences and sharing of insights between two individuals, and a friendship that endures is to be treasured more than gold. And it need not always be between a man and a woman, often it can be one between two men, or two women, and it doesn't come under "homosexual" either. A bondship between them that sees two individuals through dark storms and high seas -- that gives one a calm beyond a doctor's best medicine, I hope every reader has found at least one confidante to help face Life's many and varied challenges.
In pursuit of the spirit for peak performance
Two anecdotes I shall relate here pertaining to my confidante. I once was quite lost in terms of finding the "right" ways to capitalise on my God-given talents, and so I asked dear Coww. He said wryly that I might try to the best of my ability -- but if that one ingredient was missing -- my success in writing would never achieve the peak I was capable of. Well, I countered that I had full confidence in myself, I know I had received a special gift with the exquisite use of the written word in English, only maybe the local environment was not ideal to this pursuit and fostering and flowering, hence I won't attain the "peak" he spoke of.
"No, no, my friend, it's not that. Unless you are touched by the spirit, your limits are merely at the human level ..." I feel humbled by Coww's words, so discerning, yet disconcerting at times.
My writer's streak of impatience and of the questioning mind sometimes cut him off, followed by a long debate of what this "spirit" he meant, and my perspective of "it". Well, we have not arrived at a mutually agreed conclusion, and the debate continues -- in the spirit of "we agree to be agreeable in our disagreement", so easy over teh tarik on a "wintry" evening (if that is possible in equatorial Malaysia, pardon me, I digress...), and a cold cendol (the best in Seremban is found in the Lake Gardens vicinity, I digress again...) on a tropical afternoon.
Coww is a born storyteller. He studied in a Chinese school for only one year when the Japanese invaded then Malaya, and for the following three years, it was a long, long holiday. After the Japanese occupation ended with the arrival of the British, Coww at 10 one day walked uninvited into a mission school asking to see the principal. The head was taken back to see a young lad asking to study in the school. The principal said every pupil had to pass an Entrance Test in English, and he expected the intruder to back down, and leave with his head down.
But ignorance can sometimes be blissful, and young Coww persevered in the "test", and to the surprise of both head and tail, he managed to "pass" with some margin to spare.
In the first year, this "china-man" pupil felt "very inadequate" among so many English-speaking classmates who spoke the language like it was kinddie playtime. Young Coww was cowed, but he resolved he would overcome. And Veni, Vidi, Vici he did, after immersing in all sorts of English books at every free period and opportunity.
Somehow life again took some unexpected turns and Coww went to study in a private Chinese school for the first three years at secondary level, before parachuting back into an English school for the final two years.
Later, as a real life teacher now sitting in front of the class, he could quote Shakespeare better than many mates who had undergone 12 years of schooling in English while he only had five! So we shared two common loves -- passion for Shakespeare and getting high on poems. He has an edge because he could recite poems from Chinese literature besides colonialist British while I can only from the latter. Sometimes I would coin some "quotable quotes" and tested him on revealing the source, betting on the "loser" buying a better than normal dinner of steak or lamb chop. Of course, I won more often than he as I was the one bequeathed with more guile and wickedness. But pulling each other's legs is part of the learning process as Coww became wiser than me after each act.
I refrain from broadcasting several episodes more telling in saucinesss than the foregoing; suffice to say, we both add salt and spice into each other's tales. Adding value to the tall ones, aspiring towards "towering" status maybe ...
With yesterday's evening episode, I was apprehensive, and at such moments I recall one of my favourite poets, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), on:
Hope Is the Thing with Feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
I remember last night well when I lingered around the hospital ward while Coww took an hour's rest before the next reading of his blood pressure. He asked me not to bother hanging around, yes, a few times. No, I said I preferred to be there waiting around with my book companion than to be anywhere else. The presence of an buddy in times of trouble, that's what I need, so I reciprocate to another buddy's need.
I'll end with John Taylor's assuring:
Now ain't it good to know that you've got a friend
When people can be so cold
They'll hurt you, yes, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them
Oh,but don't you let them...
So indeed, it's double happiness to find a beautiful mind, and constantly hear the beatings -- and singing -- of a beautiful heart. Saudara Coww, keep the faith and the heart's song will go on for ever, and I'll continue to try to patiently listen, and discern the gems of friendship within. Gifts from one heart to another.