1uThere are places you associate with different chapters in your life. The 1 Utama Shopping Mall in Bandar Utama, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, is one I will always associate with a very difficult chapter in mine. It was a time when it was just the three of us: me and sons Stephen and Andrew. I spent a lot of time there.

Stephen, Andrew and I ate there frequently. One of our favourite spots was Pizza Hut. We usually had a set, which came with four bowls of soup. Dad had to take the fourth bowl, which would amuse the boys to no end. This was a time of my life when I had lost a lot, but I had the boys. Spending time with them was special and one of the few bright lights in a dark time.

I hung out at 1 Utama a lot. There was retail therapy; usually books from MPH, computer peripherals, music CDs from Tower Records, and comics from Mind Shop (before they moved to Centrepoint). Then there were the movies at the TGV (Tanjung Golden Village) Cineplex. I watched the movies on my own and saw key movies there like Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, at least two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and some of the Harry Potter shows. I was also buying groceries for the family and found it strangely soothing to wander the aisles of the Jaya Jusco supermarket. I also frequented the Guardian Pharmacy and of course was friends with the pharmacists and many of the tradesmen in the mall. I treasured my solitude and would eat alone, while reading and journaling at Delifrance or one of the other eating establishments. The eating establishments would also function as my offices where I would meet folks who wanted to see me for counselling. I hung out at 1 Utama a lot.

I moved on to happier chapters of life for which I continue to be profoundly grateful. I continued to visit 1 Utama on and off. My visits became infrequent when I moved to Singapore. But I always had mixed feelings when I had to go to 1 Utama. By then Stephen was in Australia and Andrew wasn’t always with me so many of these trips I made alone. In the early days, I would be overwhelmed with intense feelings when I went. The memories, joyful and painful, were very powerful and I often felt swept away by an oppressive maudlin nostalgia. It was different when I was with Bernice. But it was tough when I went alone.

I was pleasantly surprised that when I visited 1 Utama with Stephen and Andrew last week, there were no oppressive echoes from the past, no flashbacks, no “funny, forgotten, familiar feelings”. We enjoyed a good lunch. Yes, we talked about the past but we also talked about the present and the future. There was a lot of laughter at the table. It felt good. We had all moved on. 1 Utama had moved on. We were having our meal at the new wing of the mall. The old wing had been refurbished. One could hardly recognise the shops from the early days. The Jaya Jusco supermarket, for example, had moved to another part of the mall and was now four times the size of the original. And Jaya Jusco was now Aeon. The Tanjung Golden Village Cineplex was gone. (There was now the Golden Screen Cineplex in the new wing.)

Stephen and Andrew had moved on. They remembered the past, the times of joy and pain. But their eyes were on the present and the future. Stephen in Melbourne, working, active in his church, engaged in meaningful relationships, making a life; Andrew, finished two years of his undergraduate programme in Canada, looking forward to an exchange year in England, at home in his photography.

I guess I was most pleased to discover that I had moved on. It had taken time, the grace of God, the love of Bernice, and the opportunity of a fresh start in Singapore, but clearly substantial healing had taken place. I was grateful. Maybe Thomas Wolfe is right and you cannot go home again, and maybe sometimes that is a good thing.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)