I remember the days when I programmed in Visual Basic. It would have taken me just 15 minutes worth of coding to write a program to tell me how long it would be, in minutes, to a specified point in time.
Now, it is almost 21.5 hours to 26 July, 1987. And here I am thinking: what will happen tomorrow? What will I do? Will I just let it go by as another day? Or will I make it a better day than before? How should I live my life?
If I were to plot a graph of life's excitement against time, I would probably see a curve similar to the human blood pressure graph, only in reverse. Life's excitement gradually increases, but it's always filled with highs and lows, ups and downs.
One day every year is always kept just for you. That's because that particular date marks the start of your life. I look back now, and I see how many years I've disregarded it, and didn't cherish it. I treated it as just another day in the life of Eric MJL, just another day to go by. I always relied on others to make it a special day for me; I never bothered to make it significant.
But how does one make such a day significant? Does one go out and party with friends and family, enjoying the atmosphere of friendship in the human race? Does one go and do something particularly rare and exciting, such as going to bungee jump from a bridge over torrent rapids?
(Anybody thinking "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" now?
Too typical for me. Thousands, if not millions, if not billions, have marked their birthdays by inviting friends to a gathering, blowing out candles, and essentially playing together in a day of fun and happiness. But no, it's too typical for me.
Yet, what do I do? Let the day pass? Let it be just "another day in the life" of Eric MJL? Let no. 19 become another statistic in the eulogy of missed birthdays? Get a life man.
No, I won't celebrate it meaninglessly, and neither will I let the day pass. Carpe Diem man, Carpe Diem. That's what Mr. Tham gave all of us in 6-1/1999 of SAJS as a leaving message. Sieze the day. Sieze the day.
I will sieze the day, and mark it as the new start. 19, the age of coming in Canada, shall be my new start. New responsibilities to take on as a youth no longer dependent. New challenges for the young to face. 19.
I reflect back on the ritual of coming of age. Tribal elders make male youths endure hardship to prove their manhood. Singaporean men go through National Service. For me, the ritual was becoming independent, separating from family and friends, from familiarity and closeness, to embark on seeking my own identity and capabilities. Indeed, the rituals across cultures are the same - to get you to stand on your own two feet, to be no longer 100% dependent on your parents, to get you to make your own decisions, to be no longer controlled by authoritative figures but to have a mind of your own.
Symbolism in the rituals of coming of age are abundant. Think of the first army uniform Singaporean men receive. Their boots, their name tags, their caps. For those who go on to OCS, their one bar on their coats. Think of the chants and songs the tribal people sing. Then add on the charred, steaming hot coal, or the stick to battle the lion. For me, the symbolism was little. My rental money, my first job, my first courses in university... It wasn't visual or audible; it was intangible. Yet, the symbolism is just as strong. There will be one turning point, where all children will finally grow up and become independent.
19. The new age.