Monday, October 2



THERE they are, lined up neatly on the low concrete wall by the storm drain – bunches of pretty flowers, their bright colours contrasted starkly against the gloomy sky. I was at the site of the tragedy where a sudden flash flood took away the lives of two young people. One of the bunches carried a card with a poignant and desperate message – “Miracle can happen”.

“What a forlorn prayer,” said my photographer friend Tim.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“There is no miracle in this world. Look around you, it’s just thievery, corruption, scams, murders, massacres, ad nauseam.”

I suspected Tim to be a cynical atheist. Then he added, “It is as if God has abandoned us.” So, not only is he an atheist, he is a blasphemer as well.

Instinctively, I wanted to say, “You doubting Thomas, ye of little faith,” but I checked myself. The sad fact is that the gloom and doom view he expressed seems to be true. When I think about all the news (both mainstream and alternative) that hog the headlines at home and abroad, it seems that all the guides for human behaviour as espoused in all the major religious teachings have been violated, and with impunity.

It is enough to drive one into the depressing acceptance of the view by one philosopher, “Man is by nature bad.” I must admit that I could not plough through that voluminous work of rather lengthy title, ‘Critique of Practical Reason and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics’ by Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) but that statement does seem to sum up the situation of the world as portrayed by the news media.

On the home front we have the town of Sibu reeling from the recent series of five brutal and bloody homicides in just two weeks. Around the world there are reports of murders, mayhem and massacres where men invoke the name of their God to carry out their heinous deeds. At the national level, we read of political skulduggery and chicanery. Then there are the reports of corruption, which appears to have lodged itself as the culture of our society. Such ubiquitous bad news is enough to make us feel down and drive some people to cry, “God where are you?” It seems that heaven too is in anguish – it has been weeping incessantly for the month.

It is against this light (or is it darkness) that the message card for one of the bunches of flowers by the roadside – “Miracle can happen” – sounds so much like a drowning man clutching at a straw.

“Of course, there is no such thing as a miracle,” some would say. I suppose they could be right, if by miracles we mean turning water into wine, walking on water and raising the dead. But are miracles really just such mind-boggling big things? Or aren’t miracles found in small personal actions?

The young man who jumped into the swirling water to try to save the schoolgirl when he himself could not swim. Isn’t that a mind-boggling act? I am glad that the public and the authorities are now recognising him as a hero. But I am sure heroism was not something on his mind when he took what proved to be the fatal plunge.

“I think it as an instinctive reaction,” I said to my friend Baha when we were talking about the incident.

“No, I disagree. Our human instinct is self-preservation. What he did was against this basic instinct.”

For a while I was inclined to agree with my friend that what the brave young man did was extraordinary. Then I had a chat with Jim, a devout Christian.

“On the contrary I think otherwise,” said Jim, “I think the young man was displaying an innate quality of man.”

“Oh, what’s that?”

“My religion teaches that God created man in His likeness. God is not a physical being so when we talk about His likeness
we are talking about the quintessence of goodness. I believe man is born with the capacity to do good.”

I am still trying to digest that but I must say that it is more attractive and comforting than, “Man is by nature bad.”

I look at the picture that Tim, my photographer friend, took. It shows little flowers standing up brightly, and almost defiantly, against the gloomy overcast sky. How reassuring it is to know that when called upon, ordinary people are capable of doing
heroic deeds. Perhaps that is the miracle.