Stephen Chong (M.Ed.) ~ A life of substance

Stephen Chong - Author and Coach

Saturday

In life, some things are just more important than winning … a story:

The young lad came bounding into the kitchen with an enthusiasm only a nine-year-old can display. He was attired head-to-toe in the colours of his favourite team - bedecked in a black and yellow striped jumper, scarf and even a beanie. A vestment totally unsuited to the mounting temperature of the day’s morning. The boy’s father, munching on a piece of toast asked with a slight smile,

“Hey son, what day is it today?”

The look the boy gave his dad could only best be described as incredulous. “Why it’s Saturday, silly.”

“Oh,” replied Dad with a smile behind his eyes, “I almost forgot.”

“Dad, remember, we’re going to the footy, aren’t we?” asked the lad in innocent concern.

“Sure are,” replied the elder as he took another bite of toast.

“Hey, son,” he continued after he had swallowed the morsel. “Do you know where the word Saturday comes from?”

The boy’s brow furrowed as he looked curiously at his father. “Ah, nah!” was the genuine reply.

“Well,” continued dad, “the word Saturday originates from ancient Roman times. It comes from the planet Saturn, who they worshipped as one of their really important gods.”

The lad looked at his father with only a modicum of interest, trying his best to stay focused on the conversation.

“And do you know what else,” continued the older man?“ “In ancient Rome, well over two thousand years ago, they used to have games in large arenas just like our own.”

The boy’s eyes seemed to glow at this extra piece of half-relevant information.

“Yes, except that the games were held with gladiators, and these gladiators used to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd.”

“Oh, my!” exclaimed the lad. “Do you mean to say that they battled one another until their opponent was killed?”

“Yep!” replied dad after another bite of toast.

The boy’s brows creased together in consternation. “Why did they do that?”

“Well, they fought to the death for the glory of winning and the roar of the crowd. If they won their battle, they were even called, ‘a god of the arena’. A great laurel in those days.”

“Geez, Dad,” said the boy, “I’m glad we don’t live in those days.”

“Yeah, I guess not, son. I mean, to have to kill someone to win the game would be pretty horrible, don’t you think?”

“Sure would,” replied the boy with certainty.

A quiet few moments descended between the pair as they both pondered the magnitude of the information before them.

“Hey, son,” said the father, “it makes you wonder why winning is so important, doesn’t it?’

“Huh?” replied the nine-year-old a bit out of his depth.

“Well, in our game, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Isn’t that so?”

“Yeah, and I hate it when we lose,” replied the boy as his shoulders sagged.

“I guess,” continued father, “winning isn’t everything. Maybe it’s even more important to lose than to win all the time.”

At this, the lad’s eyebrows really did join together.

“I mean to say,” continued dad, “isn’t the most important thing, after you lose that is, to get up and try again? To fight hard to do better next time and to learn from your mistakes, so that you improve and practice some more and get better than you thought you were.”

“Yeah, I guess it is,” replied the boy.

Then, after a little more toast, Dad asked, “Hey, son, do you think the Tigers will win today?”

The boy’s brows once again cemented. “I dunno, Dad. But you know what? I reckon it really doesn’t matter.”

“What?” replied father with surprise.

“Don’t you see, Dad? Even if we lose we will get off the canvas, fight hard to get better and become a stronger team for it.”

The older man looked at his young cadet with evident pride as he picked up his hat and rose from his seat. “You know, son, I think you’re right.”

The two looked at one another in a compact. As if by osmosis, they knew what time it was as they made their way towards the front door. Then, just as they were about to open the door to leave, the young boy stopped suddenly and turned to his father.

“Hey, Dad, do you know what’s so good about Saturdays?”

“No, son!” replied the father somewhat bemused by the question.

“I’m spending the day with you,” said the nine-year-old with a sparkle in his eyes.

The father looked at his son with love as he placed his arm around his boy’s shoulder as they left the house. “I reckon so, my son. Thank God it’s Saturday.”    

The Cassowary King

The Cassowary King

The man sat at the base of the large silky oak tree, his head firmly placed in the palms of his hands. He paid little mind to the sweet sounds of the rainforest in which he sat. Neither the agog tweets of the lorikeets at play, nor the quaint twits of the tiny finches and sunbirds, caused to balm his troubled mind. None of these alive sounds made impact through the man’s inner turmoil. All the man could do was to mumble laments to his woe and kick the dirt and small scree away with his feet.

           “What more do you want from me?” wailed the man to only the trees who were listening. “You have taken everything. I have no more to give.”

           At these words, the man picked up a fallen stick and tossed it, rather forcefully, it must be said, into the dense underbrush of the rainforest.

           “Ouch,” can the dolorous cry from behind a dense thatch of wait-a-whiles. “Who threw that stick,” commanded the rumbling retort. “I have mind to see that you pay dearly for your mistake.”

           The man lifted his head in surprise at the uncommon intrusion. He did not know there was somebody to where he threw the stick. Immediately he got to his feet and walked the small distance in effort to peer through the thick under-brush, yet he could still not see the source of the voice of anger.

           “I, I, I’m sorry,” he mumbled in somewhat confusion, “I did not mean to hit anyone with the stick. It was an accident. I am dreadfully sorry.”

           All at that same instant, a large cassowary came bounding through the trees to confront the man and his meek apology. So startled was the man that he jumped back many-a-metre, to stand, once again by the base of the large tree of his previous musing.

           ‘How dare you hit me with that stick,” said the cassowary with venom. “Why I’ve a good mind to give you a karate kick that you will never forget.”

           “Please, please, do not hurt me,” pleaded the man. “It was an accident. I did not mean to hit you.”

           The cassowary did see through his anger that the man was sincere in his apology and this did cause him to abate his ire somewhat.

           “Well, okay,” said the mollified rainforest creature, “but don’t do it again. Otherwise I will be sure to make you pay a heavy price.”

           “Yes, yes sir,” stumbled the man, as his chin approached his chest.

           The cassowary turned to leave the man to his own, but then his peaked casque tilted side-wards in question.  

           “Tell me something before I go. Why did you throw that stick, if you did not intend to hurt me?”

           The man scratched the earth diffidently with his feet in effort to draw forth the tumult from his mind.

           “Well, it’s just that … well … I, I’m frustrated, you know.”

           “Frustrated? What is frustrated?” asked the confused bird.

           The man still struggled with himself for a few moments, so he crouched to his haunches and scratched at the earth with the points of his fingers.

           “Well, if you must know, I am frustrated because everything I try, I fail at. My whole life has been one big blob of failure. I’ve never succeeded at anything.”

           Once again the cassowary’s casque tilted beyond the vertical.

           “But, I do not understand,” intoned the cassowary. “What have you got to worry about?”

           The man looked at him strangely, as if trying to work out why this bird could not see the extent of his lament. So much so, that he even felt the heat of anger enter body to seek an outlet through his mind.

           ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see that I am nothing, nothing but a failure?”

           “I can see nothing of the sort,” replied the cassowary, followed by a pregnant pause. “Anyway, what have you got to worry about?”

           “Huh?” was the man’s confused reply.

           “Look,” said the cassowary, “I am nearly the last of my kind. Soon I and my few remaining brothers and sisters will be extinct.

           At these words, the man’s jaw almost dropped to the earth.

           “You cannot be serious. Why, you are a magnificent rainforest creature, a miracle amongst the North Queensland rainforest. Why, the rainforest would not be the same without the statement of your being here.”

           “Well, it is so,” replied the cassowary wearily. “Soon, much sooner than you think, I and my kind will be no more.”

           “This is an outrage,” cried the man. “It should not be so. Something must be done.”

           “I’m afraid it’s too late,” replied the cassowary in despair. “There a so few that will listen to our cry.”

           At these words from the cassowary, the man drew himself to his full height in declaration.

           “I will not have it so. I am going to march out of here and do everything that I can to ensure that you and your kind do not die to extinction.” The man then stumbled over his next thoughts before he found voice. “Why, I will shout from the very rooftops. I will plead with the powers that control our sacred rainforest. I will speak to all ears that will listen. I will not stop until it is done, and you and your kind are safe.”

           The cassowary’s face lightened with joy and a strange warble entered his chest that he could not stop from expressing.

           “You, you would do this for me?” he asked of the man.

           “Yes, most certainly and I will not stop until I have succeeded,” exclaimed the man with determination

           The cassowary’s casque, once again tilted to the side a little. “But, what about your, your frustration? Your lack of success.”

           The man stood to his full height and looked steely at the cassowary.

           “My friend, I will not fail you.”

By Stephen Paul CHONG

24th August 2016      

What are we going to tell them?

“What are we going to tell them?”

“Boys, are you almost ready to go?” I asked of my three teenage boys in the usual mayhem of an early morning start in preparation to get them to school - knowing full well the time it takes to drive the Kuranda Range to arrive at school on time.

           “Nearly, dad,” was the reply from one son.

            “Have you put the washing on the line yet?” I enquired in the knowledge that they are generally most diligent in completion of their morning chores.

           “Not yet, dad,” was the response from another.

            “Okay, but you better get on with it,” I replied without due concern, “otherwise we’ll be late.”

           A few moments later, I hear …

           “Dad, you better come and see this, quickly.”

           Attuned to the sense of urgency in my son’s voice, I made haste to the lounge room where each of my lads was aligned at the front door.

           “Oh, my God, will you look at that?” was my astounded response to what was prancing up and down right in front of our front door.

           There he was, as large as life, a rather sizable cassowary, marching up and down in front of our house. We all watched in awe as this magnificent creature of the rainforest paraded himself before us.

           “Can we go outside?” intoned one son.

           “Not on your life,” I replied in earnest, “those things are dangerous.”

 At that same instant, the cassowary decided that he’d had enough of his prancing and stood directly in front of us and started this warbling sound.

           “Warble, warble, warble,” said the cassowary.

           “What’s he saying, dad,” asked another son.

You know how it is as a father of teenage children – you are supposed to have all the answers to life’s important questions.

           “Dunno, son,” was my informed reply, “I don’t speak cassowary.”

Anyway, after a few more minutes of listening to the cassowary, our dilemma became apparent. The washing still had not been hung out. But, how to get to the line unscathed while Mr. Cassowary was playing sentry?

           Then, our real dilemma became apparent.

           “What are going to tell them?” asked one lad.

           “Huh?” was my informed reply.

           “Dad, if we are late for school, what excuse do we use?”

All at once the penny dropped – I understood our predicament with perfect clarity. Schools have heard them all before, haven’t they?

           ‘The dog ate my lunch and I had to make another one’, or maybe, ‘The cat got run over and we had to get another one’ is probably another.

           Anyway, as all of these possible excuses ran through my head, I thought that maybe we should just tell the truth, but … ‘A cassowary wouldn’t let us out of the house’ just didn’t have that ring of credibility to it.

           Thankfully though, Mr. Cassowary got bored of prancing and warbling and eventually succumbed to the pleasures of the rainforest, allowing us to put all hands to task and hang out the washing.

           As fortune would have it, we managed to make it to school with a few moments to spare. A fact for which I am most grateful, given that I was still in debate about whether to tell the truth (at risk to my reputation), or tell a wee-white lie that did not defy any sense of reason.

By

Stephen Chong

15 August 2016

mob: 0414 438 909

“What are we going to tell them?”

Episode 1 … “Alfred’s story must be told”

From the moment his father pushed him out of the front door of the burning and collapsing wreckage of their house, life took on some kind of surreal quality for Alfred. Time seemed to rush past, and yet it seemed to stand still all at once. The weeks that had passed since the earthquake that had shattered his home and the community of the pond were a blur of pain floating in a never-ending sea of anguish.

The pain he felt for the loss of his beloved father and mother was like a band constricting tightly around his chest. He could still smell the charred ashes from the embers that were all that remained of his house, and he could smell the acrid scent of the burnt corpses every time he took breath. Even now, his mind vividly returned to the memories of identifying his parents’ bodies in the makeshift morgue that was the final home to many of the fallen. It was hard to believe that his still-developing teenage body could harbour so many tears – yet they had flowed unabated.

He knew he had to leave this agony behind him. So he flew westward with the sacred Book of Mysteries tucked firmly in the folds of his cloak. As he flew, he could still hear the last screams of his father running back into the burning house – it was a continuing nightmare.

Despite his long anguish, the Book of Mysteries had been a constant source of succour to his damaged spirit in this terrible time. The words of the legendary manuscript proved time and again to be an elixir for his pain. Without the book’s wisdoms he was certain that he would have flown into an abyss, never again to return.

There was no one else! No family, no friends that he could find, and certainly no semblance of a community of ducks from whom he could draw support. He was alone – a teenager in a frighteningly disturbed world.

After the devastation of the earthquake, he had flown off, not really knowing why, only knowing that some irresistible and compelling force was telling him to do so. But to where and to what, he had no idea. His nose continued to point westward, but he was cold and tired, and his hunger burned a hole in his stomach. He had not eaten for many days. The meagre fare that he had packed to sustain himself was a mere semblance of the rich offerings he was used to devouring. The meals his mother had put on the table were now but a faint memory. Yet, despite his pangs of hunger, he managed to raise his eyes to the horizon. As he did so, he picked up a strong scent of a storm heading his way. Soon, he saw cumulonimbus clouds assembling menacingly on the horizon.

His better instincts told him to find shelter – and quickly, before disaster turned into catastrophe. He banked to the left after catching a glimpse of a patch of trees that looked as if they might provide some semblance of cover. Maybe there would be a pond or a water hole from which he could forage a meal. He flew down to take a look.

Alfred managed to scavenge a few meagre morsels that did little to lift his feeling of hunger, although they were better than nothing. He also assembled a rudimentary shelter from the wind and rain that were gathering apace. The shelter and food made his brief sojourn in this desolate backwater a respite from complete disaster, but it was still an uncomfortable situation.

He scrunched his body into a foetal position, arranging some of the leaves and twigs to create a semblance of warmth for his chilled body. He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep – but alas, sleep did not come. There were only images of his mother and father, flashes of the burning roof of his house collapsing around him, and the ever-present smell of ashes still fresh in his nostrils.

He wasn’t sure whether he was awake or dreaming, for he seemed to exist in some nether-zone where he was cognisant of his thoughts but aware that he was not fully awake. He could hear his father calling his name and he could see his mother’s face as she lay dead in the morgue. He had only one answer as to relief from these excruciating images … he began to cry.

Once again, his tears ran unabated from a well that seemed bottomless. His heaving and dishevelled body was shaking with fever, and his breath came between anguished sobs. Cramping pains gripped his stomach, and his limbs felt leaden and atrophied, as if they no longer obeyed his command to move as directed. The chilling wind and driving rain managed to find their way through his meagre defences. The dark spectre of the trees and the malevolence of their shadows in the moonlight only compounded his feelings of dread; in addition to that, the crash of falling branches and twigs made the night air full of exaggerated peril.

The veil of darkness continued for goodness knows how many hours, and each separate moment seemed to be as deep as or deeper than the last. Yet, all of a sudden, some-thing seemed to shift. It was like the lifting of a burden or the release of a pressure valve … out of the blue he felt lighter, as if his burdens were no longer the ordeal that they had first seemed to be. It was hard to explain, really. Maybe the best way to describe it was to say it was as if someone (or something) had taken away the burden of his negative thoughts – had released his thoughts from the bonds of enslavement to the negative.

Then, in a split second, he had an inspiration. He had to get the Book of Mysteries out … he had to write something. He had to start writing “his story”. Now, finally, the significance of his recent experience at the gravesite of his great-great-grandfather, when he had placed the sacred symbol in the Book of Mysteries, was clear to him. The words had been plain and clear. They had said, “This is your story now.”

He took a pen and began to write in verse. This is what he wrote:

I’m here without you, but you are still here

in my dreams.

I’m lost and alone and my dreams are as nightmares.

You didn’t tell me life would be so hard;

I didn’t sign up for this life, and it now seems totally over-rated.

Anyway, why pick on me?

I don’t deserve any of this.

I haven’t hurt anyone, accumulated any karma,

or defamed the sacred.

Why me? Go and pick on somebody else.

 

You were my parents. It was your job to protect me,

and now you leave me alone;

I love you but I hate you at the same time.

Why can’t things be just the way they were?

It might just be simpler to leave this life and join you, given that you’ve left me here alone.

 

I can’t look at life the same; how can I?

The last weeks have been like a thousand lifetimes

of pain and injustice,

And the miles have just been passing under the flap

of wings, without purpose or pleasure.

If there is a God, can you come and save me from this mire?

 

When all is said and done, I’ve only got memories to drive me onward,

But I don’t know what for or where I’m going.

How can this be fair? I’m still only a kid.

Who am I writing to, anyway?

If you were some kind of God,

you’d not place an innocent in such a position.

 

I love you, my Mum and Dad; I always did.

You were my life and all that I held sacred.

Why can’t you be with me now?

Reach beyond the veil to take away my pain.

It was thus before – can it not be again?

 

The storm rages all around me; yet I hear a deafening silence to my questions.

Why do you not answer me? Can you not hear the cries of your son?

Yet, I remember the one of the things you taught me … Yes. I will go on.

I will persist and I will never give up.

Alfred closed the sacred book and tucked it under the folds of his cloak. Then, with a sigh of frustration oddly mixed with determination, he flew off with the rays of the early morning sun casting a long shadow in front of his gaze.

To be loved is like the balance in your cheque-book!

Huh? Chong, have you finally lost mind? What on earth are you talking about? ‘To be loved is like the balance in your cheque-book’.

Well, the definition of balance is many and varied. A ‘balance’ is an apparatus for weighing. To be perched on balance is on a knife’s edge. To ‘be’ balanced might be stability of body or mind, or harmony of design and proportion. These diverse meanings are all valid. I however propose a wider perspective of the term ‘balance’. One that relates more to something like the ‘balance of your cheque-book’ … And it has to do with love.

You know, millions of people can’t be wrong. I mean to say, it’s really nice to be loved, isn’t it? Just knowing that someone, somewhere, really loves you – not just a little bit, not just now and again or when they want something, but all of the time. Even when they’re mad at you, or you’ve made a mistake, or even when you’ve “pissed them off” in some way, they still love you.

           It’s like a warm fuzzy blanket that surrounds you each and every moment of every day. It’s like the taste of Nanna’s apple pie 365 days of the year. Now this “love” can come from a whole variety of wonderful places. It might be from your partner or your mother or father. It could be the grizzly-bear hug from your old Grandpa, or the sloppy kiss from your two-year-old child – and, by the way, the more the merrier. It’s like, “Give me more, please”.

           It’s a bit like an elixir of life, somewhat akin to the nutrients from the earth that a plant seeks through its roots so that its flowers may bloom. Take away the nutrients and the plant does not flourish, and the flowers do not bloom.

           Much, of course, has been written about the sweet elixir of love. It can be read through verse, or discovered in a tome or through the lyrics of a sweet melody, or when you hear the words of a song that touches your heart and makes you cry, not from sadness, but from recognition – recognition that those words, or that tune has touched within you to the core of your being. They have been the key that opened the door to the love that is within. That’s not a “desire for”, but rather a “recognition of” this love within us.

           So, when your old Grandpa gives you a hug, or your two-year-old plants a sloppy one on your cheek, know that what they are doing is touching the well of love that is within you. They act like a key that unlocks the door to let your love shine through.

           You know what else is really interesting? It’s not just your grandfather or child or mother or father who holds a key. There’s another really important person that holds a key to your “love” room. Do you know who that is?

                                                           “YOU”

           Yes, you! You hold the key to the well of love that’s inside. You can turn the key and enter any time you like. Entry is free any time, day or night. You don’t need anyone’s permission – there’s no pass that’s required, but simply an acknowledgement that you are worthy, a knowing that, despite your foibles and inconsistencies (like we all have), you are worthy of love.

           Go on. Take the key out of your pocket and put it in the keyhole. Open the door and go inside. Ah, there you are – yourself, standing in the room. Give yourself a big smile. Go and give yourself a big hug. Did you notice the sparks of love that shine from your eyes? Go on, now, give yourself a gift of appreciation. Say thank you. Tell yourself that you’ll see you later. Then, with a heart full to the bursting, leave the room and go about your daily business, knowing that you can come back to the “love” room any time you like. You’ll always be there.

When your “love” room is in balance, it’s a bit like having a cheque-book with a never-ending supply of money it, from which you can withdraw whenever you like. Pretty cool, hey!

By Stephen Chong

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