download (3)It was late in the evening, February 24th 2005 I sat down to enjoy my new DVD player. I put on one of my all time favourites, Ridley Scott’s BLACK RAIN. As the opening song sounded I felt something.

I was tired but I wasn’t feeling sad. Yet I was. Then I remembered the date.

It was my dad’s birthday. But he has been gone for two birthdays now. It was also the date Hee Ling died. Back in 1993.

It has been twelve years. But of course you never forget.

I remember inhaling, smelling her scalp, trying desperately to imprint her smell forever in my memory. I remember Stephen falling asleep next to his mother’s body, with his toys. When I asked him why he had done that, he replied “just in case mummy wakes up and can play with me.”

But of course mummy never woke up again. She was gone. And I was lost.

In the lonely days that followed, I tried to numb the loneliness by watching movies on VHS tapes. It was the first time I had joined a tape club. The first two movies I borrowed were THE MAMBO KINGS and BLACK RAIN. In retrospect these may not have been the best movies for a new widower to watch.

But they were the first of many I watched in those long, lost lonely nights. And their songs have become part of my personal sound track. Two in particular. “Beautiful Maria of My Soul” (MAMBO KINGS) and “I’ll Be Holding On”(BLACK RAIN).

But as I look back, perhaps those were precisely the right tapes to borrow. Their stories and their songs helped me to feel my loss.

“And the taste of you remains
Clinging to paradise
But as the distance from you grows
All that my heart ever knows
Hunger for your kiss
Longing for your touch
Beautiful Maria of my soul”

(Beautiful Maria of My Soul – MAMBO KINGS)

I played that song again and again.

I had known sorrow before. But February 24th 1993 taught me that I knew nothing of sorrow. And therefore perhaps I knew little of real life. Without Hee Ling by my side I found myself helpless, a child.

Without her wisdom, I made a number of bad errors. One tragedy gave birth to another.

I also discovered that the church community was ill equipped to help people in complex painful situations. I am still discovering that today.

Perhaps the evangelical communities I belonged to were better at formulating doctrines. And committed to an activism that sought to win the world for Christ.

But they were often paralyzed when faced with the complexity of human tragedy. And so they left you alone. Or kept you at a distance.

On a night like this I realize afresh how lonely the last twelve years have been. But I also realize how far I have come. The grief will always be part of my life in some way. But at least it is now part of my life. Not cutting into my life.

I often wonder how I have been able to survive and grow through all this, knowing how weak I am.

In his book, COURAGE & CALLING, Gordon T. Smith tells us that we need two things to be able to persevere in any desire to live a meaningful life ? the grace of God; and the encouragement of friends. On a night like this I realize that my life is living proof of what Smith teaches.

I think of all the friends that the Lord brought into my life at just the right time. In the quiet of the night, their faces flash by me. And I smile.

I really do not know why you chose to stand by me, why you risked grace, especially when I fumbled, and indeed as I continue to fumble. But you did.

I thank you one and all. I pray the Lord repay you for your kindness and more.

But finally it is about God and His grace. I have absolutely no doubts about that. If the Lord had not held me fast I would have fallen away. I never would have survived.

“I’ll Be Holding On” is a survivors’s song.

“Well my life is made of sand It flows right through my hand Each day I make a stand And I’ll see it through I’ll be reachin’ for the light I’ll be wearin’ out the night And you know I’ll be alright I’ll be holdin’ on.”

(I’ll Be Holding On ? BLACK RAIN)

Trouble is we are not told where he finds the strength to hold on, nor are we told what or who he is holding on to. I know.

I clung on to Christ for dear life. Only to discover that He was holding me tight.

On a night like this I understand again why friendship is such a key theme of my life and ministry. I understand again why I want so much to help people understand and experience the grace of God.

On a night like this I understand why Psalms 37:23-24 is so dear to me.

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” ESV

As I saw BLACK RAIN again, I saw, again, the story of a down and out policeman:

—who suffers terrible losses —who experiences spectacular failures —who at his darkest moments, finds friends in unexpected places —who learns how to function in a new world —who doesn’t give up

—and who finally moves out of a victim mind set to a place where he takes moral responsibility for his life.

May be more to the choice of this movie than meets the eye. Whether in VHS or on DVD.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan