(Just over a month ago.)
“Hey, man. Why don’t you go up to Wembley Central today. See if you can get to know the area more, connect with the people, get some stories.”
I looked up at Cris from my computer. He and his wife and I had been in the thick of developing a cinematographic, social justice project to raise awareness for different issues and combat isolation in the area.
I’d been stuck answering emails all morning.
Hm. Let me think abou– yes.
The best part about going out that day was the creative freedom. There was no stifling agenda. No time limit. Nobody was expecting me to produce a certain amount of money or reach a quota. My job was literally just finding interesting people to talk to.
After wandering into one of those ancient, cathedral-style churches (complete with the mossy dilapidated graveyard and everything,) a nice little old Nigerian lady invited me to have some coffee at an event they were hosting.
While I was standing around trying not to look uncomfortable, another chronologically advanced woman came up to me and proceeded to tell me her life story. I heard all about how she grew up in Barbados until her mother sent her away to England for a better life. She hated it at first but then decided she might as well make the best of it. She became a nurse, then a manager, then got married, had kids, her kids had kids. Now, retired and widowed, she ran her own little flower shop business.
After that, I passed by the abandoned hotel where an Indian pastor friend held his church services. (The only metaphorically and literally underground Christian church in London that I know of.) I arrived during the tail end of his service as he was praying for people. As soon as he saw me sitting there doing nothing, he waved me over and said, “Here. Pray for this lady. She’s got pain in her stomach.”
I prayed a little bit and BOOM. The lady got healed on the spot. No joke. Full-on miracle.
The pastor was like, “Sweet. Pray for this other person.”
Same thing. Boom. Pain a moment ago; now, no pain at all.
Afterwards I got to talking to another guy who told me about his childhood growing up in India and how his parents had placed him in a Christian school because they were academically better than Hindu schools at the time, despite the fact that his father was a radical Hindu. This guy converted to Christianity but kept it a secret for a whole ten years until his father found his Bible in the house. His father beat him and threatened to kill him, so he left home. Now he lives in London with his own family.
Later, I sauntered down Ealing Road.
Picture it: The Bollywood music, the smell of incense and burning oil, the lilt of Hindi being spoken up and down the streets. It’s why we affectionately call it Little India.
Top it off with the giant Hindu temple sitting just across the street from the little Baptist church and the Muslim mosque about a block away.
It’s why I love this city so much.
So, a couple years ago, I watched a movie called Super, about a guy starved for justice who wants to become a hero. It’s a rubbish movie. Hilarious, but rubbish.
Anyhow, there’s this one scene where the protagonist is arguing with his sidekick in a garage. The sidekick is whining because she’s bored and feels there isn’t enough crime to fight. The main guy then explains how even in comic books the heroes aren’t fighting all the time. You only see the action in each panel. They have their “boring” moments that get cut out and left “in between” the panels, but even though you never see those moments, it’s understood that the characters still live them.
Despite being such a brain-numbing film, that scene nestled into my mind, and as I walked through Wembley Central that day, totally garnished in the ecstasy of adventure, it began to sprout an epiphany.
I began to wonder if days like this should be a regular thing — if we should strive to make every day a “panel” day. We naturally tend to idolise these sorts of moments. We share the videos on Facebook… post the pictures on Instagram… hear other people tell their stories and think, “Wow. If only my life were as amazing as that person’s life always seems to be.”
But not every moment has to be a highlight. We have our valleys and trenches. The dips that get lost in anonymity. Those are the scenes we just stuff in between the panels. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just think the issue is having an expectation for our entire life to be made up of panel moments, or feeling like we need to display our life as one long highlight reel.
Sure. Of course every moment is valuable, but what I think I’m figuring out is I need to learn to appreciate and love both types individually.
We’ll always have our panel moments. The ones we deem “worthy” of talking about or uploading to YouTube. Parading across the cognitive social red carpet to receive the flashes of admiration or awe from peers and strangers. Not that they have to be lived for that reason, of course. Maybe you’d only ever talk about them in the company of good friends telling fun stories and reminiscing old times. Or perhaps on a stage to inspire the upcoming generation.
And of course we’ll have our in-between-the-panel moments. The ones we don’t even bother thinking about when somebody asks, “What have you been up to these last few months?”
But that’s okay. There’s a healthy balance. I’m all for diving into the extravagance of life, but I want to learn to appreciate the “dull” moments too. All the best stories are great just as much for what they don’t show as for what they do. It’s the exhausting mountain of hours that the author spends behind the scenes that make the characters so rich on the page or screen.
November drizzled some particularly bleak moments into the mix of the work I’m doing and my continual effort to make London home, but the good far outweighs the bad. Here’s how my life might look in comic book form:
One panel might show us spending heaps of time continuing to develop the Creative Arts internship for next year. Another panel might have us working on starting a free cafe. Another might show me attending refugee home placement meetings, translating for the counseling school, preaching at the aforementioned Indian church, serving in a homeless shelter, or helping out with the English course.
In between the panels… endless emails to answer. Wandering around the streets at night waiting for life to shower me with meaning and purpose. Binge-watching anime TV shows with my Chilean friend. #addictedtoattackontitan
It’s all about how you choose to look at it, right?
I’ll be leaving the UK soon to spend Christmas
back home in one of my homes this year. That’s also a whole miracle story in itself.
Thanks again from my heart to all you who are believing in me and supporting me in my still-new life over here.
Keep being awesome.