Do You Believe in Destiny?

It’s kind of strange to look back at the younger me back when I was starting college and to know that there are so many things I am familiar with these days that I had almost no knowledge of back then. Several TV shows and anime fall into that category. And one of the strangest things to realize is that each show has shaped me into the person I am right now.  This ended up being much longer than I originally intended, but here is a exposition on the shows that have influenced me–and what each one has taught me.

A:tLA

Avatar: the Last Airbender — Integrity

A:tLA was probably the first TV show that I fully got into. I kind of was introduced to random bits and pieces of Doctor Who throughout my first freshman semester, but it wasn’t really until most of the way through my second semester that a couple friends managed to get me hooked on it. As a result, watching A:tLA towards the end of my first semester in college makes it the first time I really followed a show.

What did I learn from A:tLA? I learned that while compromise and making allowances for what must be done are important, preserving one’s integrity and remaining true to the beliefs one is grounded in is also important. Without honorable integrity, Zuko wandered far from home. When Katara lost her integrity and sought vengeance, she lost her footing until she found herself again in the eyes of the first (and presumably only) firebender she bloodbent. Aang held onto his integrity and, while it made him an abrasive little git for a while near the end of the show, it made him also someone worth honoring.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who — Bravery

I was first introduced to Doctor Who through the episode The Angels Take Manhattan (rather than the more typical introductory episodes Rose or Blink). Sadly, this episode still remains almost the only one I ever liked Amy Pond (the character) in. While I think that Karen Gillian is an awesome actress and hold nothing against her personally, Amelia Pond is one of the characters I have a hard time enjoying and accepting. Her personality is, to me, brash and uninspiring compared to those of Donna Noble and Clara Oswald. But I digress.

What have I learned from Doctor Who? I learned that fear is important and that it is okay to be afraid. The moments when you are afraid are the moments when you can be brave. You can be the smartest person in the room, but that intelligence is useless if you are also the most yellow-livered person in the room. You can be the most powerful person in the room, but that strength is wasted if you are also the meanest person in the room. Courage is important.

A:LoK

Avatar: Legend of Korra — Identity

After watching A:tLA, it was only natural that I would follow A:LoK as it aired. I loved Korra and I loved the show . . . mostly. The romance aspects of it were generally in poor taste and appealed frequently to the baser drama instincts of the younger teenage audience, and at times the story line was weak, and I definitely still dislike the last 5 minutes of the show, but Korra as a character still stands out in more ways to me than Aang ever did.

What did I learn from A:LoK? I learned that in this world you can easily get lost (both physically and psychologically) if you lose sight of who you are. Korra struggled with self-doubt about being a “half-baked Avatar” when she had issues learning airbending. When Amon locked her bending, Vaatu destroyed the past Avatars, Zaheer ruined her health, and Kuvira cast doubts on the Avatar’s relevance to the world, Korra came close to losing herself, and it was only by finding her center again each time that she got back on track.

RWBY

RWBY — Duty

Since I am listing these shows in chronological order of when I at least started watching them, RWBY comes next, though in many ways it and Doctor Who form the foundation of my show experience. I have been a RWBY fan since shortly after RoosterTeeth aired the four well-known trailers (RedWhiteBlack, and Yellow). At this point, the characters are so dear to my heart that I can channel most of them with little prep work required, and I am eagerly awaiting the next volume.

What have I learned from RWBY? I learned that no matter how much you might question yourself and your world, making the world a better place lies in your hands. For those who choose that route, there will be doubt. There will be seemingly useless death. There will be companionship and there will be intense isolation. And maybe, just maybe, in the middle of all of that, love and hope and faith can still bloom.

Code Geass

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion + R2 — Self-sacrifice

This was a show that I had had strongly recommended to me by a couple of friends. After being badly scared away from anime by other friends attempting to show me episodes from the shows Nichijou and My Bride is a Mermaid (the latter show is especially horrific and I would never try to introduce anyone to anime with it), I finally agreed to watch Code Geass. I was glad I did–seeing Lelouch vi Britannia (aka Lelouch Lamperouge) rising and falling helped me to understand a lot about human nature that I as yet had not understood.

What did I learn from Code Geass? I learned that putting your own life on the line is often necessary to get anything serious done. As Lelouch says, a king should always be willing to fight and die alongside (if not before) his soldiers. And sometimes what others need from you is something strong enough to override any personal desires. Sometimes the only way to make the world a better place is to put yourself on the line.

Angel Beats!

Angel Beats! — Compassion

This show is bittersweet for me, because I was introduced to it by someone I am no longer friends with. It was the most awesome thing I’d experienced back then, but the quick fission of our friendship after that (due to other factors) now makes some of the music hard to listen to without feeling the pain of loss.

What did I learn from Angel Beats!? I learned that it is worth it to give others reason to desire to live through showing compassion. Compassion is a powerful gift that can change an entire world that has not known the full extent of love for a long time. And when you change the world with compassion, you may be the one to suffer the most . . . but it will be worth it all in the end.

Plastic Memories

Plastic Memories — Loyalty

Being introduced to this anime fairly soon after rewatching Angel Beats! caused a bit of an emotional storm in me, since there are a lot of points at which Isla, the main female lead of Plastic Memories, seems very similar to Tachibana Kanade, one of the two main female leads of Angel Beats!. Not only are they animated similarly, their personalities are not too different from each other.

What did I learn from Plastic Memories? I learned that even if you know that you have limited time left with someone, that is no reason to push them away from you. If anything, it should make you want to stay even closer to them. Watching Mizugaki Tsukasa summon his courage to stay loyal to and smiling for Isla all the way to the end is an extremely powerful moment for me.

SAO

Sword Art Online — Companionship

Yes, I know that SAO is often classed as one of the low-quality anime. And to be fair, I’ve only really watched the Aincrad arc in the first half of the first series. However, I enjoyed that arc and my only beef with it is the overuse of time skips. Other than that, I really do like Kirigaya Kazuto and Yuuki Asuna, at least as they are in Aincrad. This is partially because they do remind me, in that series, of many of the other characters from other anime and TV shows that I’ve loved so far.

What did I learn from SAO? I learned that loneliness is rarely the solution to making oneself powerful. Even introverts like Kirito need companions like Asuna to help and support and strengthen and complement them. It is especially easy to seek isolation when it seems like allowing oneself to become close to others will only serve to hurt or destroy them in the end, but through Kirito and Asuna I learned that we all need someone with us.

Your Lie in April

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso — Perseverance

This anime, also known as Your Lie in April, was another one recommended to me by the same friends who got me to watch Code Geass. I am so very glad they recommended it, since I can deeply relate to Arima Kousei (the male lead) as a pianist, as someone struggling with depression, and as someone who often communicates his emotions most clearly through playing music.

What did I learn from Shigatsu? I learned that once you find your way to speak out, you should never let go of it. I learned that even when great obstacles enter your path, it is worth it to struggle through them, for sometimes it is the struggle that can teach you the most and propel you forward the farthest.

Charlotte

Charlotte — Humanity

Like Plastic Memories, the anime Charlotte is a recent production. However, in my opinion it holds its own well, even surpassing Angel Beats! (which was actually made by the same company and suffered, from what I’ve heard, from a production accident which cost the series half its content too late in the timeline for the lost content to be remade). One of the things I loved about watching Charlotte was its use of communication through music, a theme very fresh on my mind after having just watched Shitgatsu wa Kimi no Uso.

What did I learn from Charlotte? I learned that as awesome as it might be to use the talents you have been given, and as powerful as those talents might make you, it is always crucial to remember the things that make you human. Watching Otosaka Yu struggle with the slow departure of his humanity, and his desperate fight to find something to hold onto, and the way that the final ability wielder helps him remember what it means to be human, was a powerful experience for me.

AnoHana

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai — Self-Forgiveness

I nearly chose not to watch this anime, simply because the first episode has several extremely awkward moments (due to one character not thinking about the consequences of the fact that all of the relevant characters are currently in the midst of adolescence). However, once I got past those moments, I found AnoHana to be a very powerful and emotional show. And since I watched it only a couple months after graduating from college, the themes of people moving on (or thinking they have) and of time freezing for some while flowing for others really struck home to me.

What did I learn from AnoHana? I learned that it is important to learn how to forgive oneself even after something that seems so destructive as to seem unforgivable. Watching Yadomi Jinta and his friends (especially Hisakawa Tetsudo, once his backstory was revealed) come to terms with the past and with each other and understand how to begin moving forward again taught me a lot about how I need to learn to forgive myself for things I’ve done to others in my own past.

Shokugeki no Soma

Shokugeki no Soma — Soul

I almost decided not to include this show, because it is an anime that I cannot comfortably recommend to most of my friends. It is an anime about high schoolers learning to become top chefs, but the show is so full of unnecessary fanservice (especially during the first season) that I almost stopped watching it myself. While I am often able to look past and ignore such elements, this show almost degrades itself by rubbing it in your face. However, if you can deal with those aspects, the evolving of the characters (especially Yukihira Soma and Tadokoro Megumi) is quite well-written.

What have I learned from Shokugeki? I have learned that technical skill is not the most important when one’s service to others is at stake (or at steak, to make a Shokugeki-themed pun). And one cannot depend on a single specific talent, such as a refined sense of taste or smell, or expertise in a specific cooking style, to rise to the top. It has not been lost on me that the three strongest characters in the show right now are characters who are defined not by a specific skill but by their ability to make their cooking contain foundational elements of who they are. For Megumi, that is her compassion. For Aldini Takumi, it is his creativity. And for Soma, it is his ability to rise to any occasion.


Are these the only lessons that can be drawn from these shows? By no means! This is just what I have drawn from each of them. I am glad that I’ve experienced each one of them, and I hope to continue learning many things from many more shows as I introduce myself to them.

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Mirror, Mirror

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For the first time in nearly five months, I am finally returning to my blog, which I had almost no time to write for throughout this whole semester. It was a long semester, full of multiple emotional blows and academic shortcomings. Pretty much the only thing that went close to well was my internship, and even that was fraught with ups and downs.

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To put it simply, this semester was the semester I lost two friends in ways that affected me deeply. One friend (I’ll call him W, for privacy’s sake) took his own life, right at the beginning of the year, and I haven’t returned to full emotional stability since then. I had very few good days this semester–most of them were either horrible or else just okay. The other friend (who I will call Q) is still alive, but in the aftermath of W’s death, while I was emotionally adrift and needed someone solid and firm to give me a sound anchor in the midst of the storm, Q became instead manipulative, demanding, and negative. Instead of finding something fixed to hang onto, I found myself being dragged deeper into the maelstrom of my emotional chaos. And in the end, the only way for me to prevent Q from dragging me under was to cut all ties with him.

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Losing W and Q in the same semester has really done a number on my emotional balance. W’s death made me realize just how deeply I feel driven to want to protect others. He wasn’t a close friend, but looking back, W should have been one of my closest friends. I still sometimes feel guilt for never having been there to protect and minister to him in his times of spiritual weakness. I still sometimes find myself almost in tears while listening to songs like See You Again and Sound of Silence. I found myself wishing he’d been there to celebrate one more Easter, to be snidely cynical on one more Singles’ (*ahem* Valentine’s) Day, to attend one more pre-finals dorm event, to watch one more graduation ceremony. Because of W, I have learned not only what it really means to be anywhere close to a grenade (in the metaphorical, John Greensian sense), but also how much we really don’t appreciate while we have it. I was well within the emotional blast radius when W exploded, and I didn’t appreciate him until after he was gone.

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Cutting ties with Q, and the leadup to the decision, made me realize just how broken I am already. A lot of people might look at what they can see of my life and tell me that I don’t have it all that bad. That I should be happy for what (and who) I’ve had in my life and for the ease with which I’ve gotten it. Yet that doesn’t cancel out the fact that I’ve been deeply hurt and rejected and looked down on by people I came to trust and to believe in. And each piece of damage, each crack in the vessel that is me, has made it harder for me to trust people and open myself up to them. I find myself isolating myself from people more and more, unwilling to be vulnerable.

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Graduation was also a strange experience. Looking back on the commencement ceremonies, it is saddening that I felt like walking across the stage was the only dream I had had left. And now even that is gone, and I am struggling to not feel like I am about to disappear any minute, vanishing into nothingness as if I were a character in Angel Beats. All I felt after graduation was a sense of relief, and a sense of having nothing more to look forward to. I haven’t found a new dream yet, and I desperately need one.

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In the soundtrack for RWBY, there is a song called Mirror, Mirror, which in Volume 3 has been given a sequel called Mirror, Mirror: Part II. These two songs have resonated with me since I heard their lyrics, and these lines especially keep playing in my head: “Mirror, Mirror, what’s behind you? // Save me from the things I see. // I can keep it from the world; // Why won’t you let me hide from me?” Yet in Part II, the singer responds to herself saying, “Some believe in fairy stories, // And the ghosts that they can’t see. // I know that I could do so much, // If I could just believe in me.” Maybe that’s where I am. Maybe I just need to stop believing in others and start believing in myself a little more often. Maybe then I can find the confidence to start dreaming again.

Darkness & Light

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In an unprecedented move, I am going to take keystrokes to blogspace twice in one day. Fairly soon after completing my previous post, I had a conversation with a friend about why some of us fall into depression and despair over the fallen state of the world, even though there are many of people working to set the world to rights. During our conversation, we discussed the idea of stars in the night sky. How for many people, the light of the stars is not overcome by the darkness of the night sky and, in fact, makes the night beautiful. Yet for some, the darkness drowns out the pinpoints of light, rendering to us a world draped in ominous shadows and oppressive darkness.

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The thing is, people like me want to see positive progress in the world. But it’s easy for us to look and see the darkness like a massive swamp, sucking all of the moments of light into its murky depths. We know there’s light out there, but it seems so small and weak compared to the darkness. We long for the victory of light, but the power of darkness drives us to despair of that victory. We become discouraged. We lose hope. Some of us keep ploughing on out of a sense of duty, or because we’re afraid of the effect we’ll have on those around us if we give up on everything. And some of do give up and lose hope completely. It’s all too easy to be pushed dangerously close to that breaking point.

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Soon after the conversation with my friend, I happened across a picture online that contained a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In it, Samwise Gamgee tries to encourage Frodo Baggins thus:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”

This is a quote that I keep returning to, because of how often I need it as a reminder. For me, the darkness both inside and out often threatens to extinguish the light. I often am left holding on to the weakest of sparks, trying my best not to let it go out. At times like those, it’s hard to be reassured that the dawn is coming. It’s hard to keep pushing forward in the hopes that the adventure will end in victory and not in defeat and death.

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I am more fortunate than many, though. For us, it is not enough to be told to hope. Hope is nigh impossible for those of us who doubt the strength of the light. It is not enough to be told to hang onto the light. Sometimes we’re afraid to even admit that our light is almost gone. We long for company, for support, for help in replenishing our fire, yet we cannot bear to ask for that assistance. And I think that is something that those who have not faced our doubts sometimes struggle to understand. It is not enough to answer our questions as you would want them to be answered. We often seek for a deeper assurance, a more compelling reason to have confidence, than most do. We are searching for the strength to stand in the dark, and it does not come easily.

Why I Will Live


Ever since I woke up this morning and remembered last night, the day has felt like a nightmare. A slowly degenerating nightmare that I expect every second to wake up from, to find that what I heard was just made up in my mind and that you are okay and alive, still out there for my second chance at being a friend.

But I don’t wake up that second time that I so deeply desire. The thoughts keep swirling around in my head. It’s my fault. I should have talked to him. Maybe I was the one who had the key. Why? Why did it have to happen? What did I miss out on? I can’t break the cycle. I can’t stop feeling the guilt.

We never talked after that year we were working together. It’s not like we even talked then. You wrote your stuff. I wrote mine. We came to the same meetings, talked to the same people who gave us tasks. And then our paths divided, but I found you on Facebook. And never said anything to you.

A year later, I heard that you weren’t doing okay anymore. That people had seen you change and become a person very different from the glimpse I’d seen of you. But I ignored what I’d heard. I didn’t care. I didn’t stop to ask you how you were doing. Out of the many friends I did stop to keep up with, you were one of the few I didn’t but that I could have.

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I forgot about you for the years after that. All that time that you were sinking and searching. The years that people tried to reach out to you, but somehow never quite got there. The years that I began to go through some of the same struggles and questions. The years that we could have talked and tried to encourage each other. The years you were alone.

Could I have said something that would have changed it all? Something that could have given you a lifeline to hang onto in the midst of the pain and the nothingness? Something to anchor you into the love of God that is still present in this world, even as the Archenemy tried to consume you and nullify you? Did I fail you?

I can’t stop asking. I can’t stop feeling like there was something I should have done. I can’t stop missing you more and more, even though I never knew you. I can’t stop wishing that you weren’t the one to head the list of “friends of mine who sleep and, perchance, who dream.” I can’t stop dreaming that maybe, just maybe, somehow I’ll find you and we’ll battle our way through our regrets and our failures in the Afterlife, just like in Angel Beats. I can’t stop mourning your passing, even though there are many who would say we weren’t close enough for me to need to grieve so much.

I always knew that going out in this way would be like releasing an explosive. What I didn’t know was that it is more like experiencing a nuclear bomb than experiencing a hand grenade. You wounded me by leaving like that. You left a hole in someone who shouldn’t have been touched, someone who shouldn’t feel your passing so deeply. But I do.

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And that’s why I have to live on. No matter how much I hate my life, no matter how much pain and unfairness and doubt and despair conspire together to torture me, I’m going to keep on going. For you. I’ll fight for you, for me, and for those like you and me who are desperately seeking the answers to questions we don’t even know fully how to ask. I’ll fight to find the answers you weren’t able to find. I’ll live the life you weren’t given, count the infinity of numbers you weren’t allotted. It’s the least I can do after failing you like that.

And it’s the least I can do to honor your memory. I’m not going to remember you as someone who simply gave up. I’m going to remember you as someone who tried to push on until there was nothing left to push on with. As someone who tried to bear more weight than he could handle, and in the end was crushed by it. I’m going to remember you as someone strong, not as someone weak.

It’s not just my life anymore. It’s your life too. And the lives of everyone else in our position. I’ll fight to try and make it so that no one around me, no one whose life I am allowed to touch and whose life touches mine, will ever have to despair again like you did. It’s why I will live. Because you didn’t.

I miss you, Ben. Goodnight, my friend.

Down the Rabbit Hole

JewelIt’s 1 AM, and I have a 9.30 AM class. By all rights, I should be asleep right now, regaining my strength for the morning. So why am I instead sitting here in front of a dimmed computer screen, quietly but desperately hammering keys on my laptop keyboard in an attempt to write something coherent?

It’s the start of a new school year. The university has filled up with students, both young, wide-eyed, enthusiastic freshmen and sophomores bustling back and forth from class to chapel to lunch to class, and older, more experienced, jaded juniors and seniors sauntering across campus from one required location to the next. I’m an extrovert by nature, which means that all of this human energy should be propelling me forward with abundant drive. So why did I collapse into my chair earlier this evening, unable to do any of the tasks that really need to get done, lacking the energy and willpower to get back up and set things to rights?

It’s not hard for me to find friends to talk to right now. Some of my oldest and most confidential of friends are only a couple clicks and keystrokes away from my fingertips. Many of my current set of on-campus friends are busy but still willing to take a few hours on short notice to talk about important, deep issues. And I’ve made a couple new friends among the new freshman class already, friends I know I can be open with. So why do I feel lonely and walled in away from everyone right now?

There are so many questions I could ask to point out the discrepancies between what should be and what is right now. My energy is gone. My drive is unreliable. My ability to sleep is wrecked. My ability to connect with others is constantly flickering between ON and OFF. I can’t sleep and I can’t stay awake. I can’t stop thinking about certain topics, even though they are the topics I hate most. I can’t stop pushing myself forward, and I can’t hold up under my own pressure. In short, right now I am even more a bundle of contradictions than usual.

I have many friends who will recognize exactly what I am talking about. Friends whom I have been given the grace to be there for in their hours of pain and uncertainty. In hours of prayer and tears and wrestling with God.

Anyone who knows me well, or who has been following this blog, knows that I have been, from the beginning, deeply averse to accepting or admitting that I am struggling with depression. There is still a part of me that rebels against the idea. But the evidence has been growing, and I cannot ignore it any longer. As my vision of the world around me becomes more and more distorted by thoughts and feelings I cannot control, I am retaining enough clarity to finally admit that the world is no longer clear to me.

So what am I going to do? Primarily, I am going to fight to give my trials into God’s care and to not give up on continuing to pursue Him. A friend recently reminded me that as long as I maintain my focus on God, and not on myself, I will be able to continue pushing through and to continue being there for the people I care most about.

And I’m going to trust my friends to provide a safety net for me when I inexorably stumble and fall down. I don’t have any illusions deceiving me into thinking that the road ahead will be easy. I’ve seen depression at work. I know the ugly things it does to people. And I know that there will come days when I feel like I’m at the bottom, only to have, the next day, the bottom shift and fall out from underneath me and send me downwards yet again. But I have friends who are committed to being there for me in the way that I have been able to be there for them before.

Am I ready? No. I don’t think anyone ever really is ready for depression. But at least I’m not unprepared. God has set both me and my friends up for some great things, and my journey through these next few years will be someday a story worth telling, in this short period of life perhaps and definitely in the eternity we have waiting ahead of us.

Truth, Beauty, and the Arts: A Reflection

piano guysThere is something about the piano and cello in the hands of musicians that makes the individual timbres of the instruments twine and meld into something amazingly beautiful that delights me every time I hear them. This particular cover is only one of several different cello/piano duets that I frequently listen to.

A friend recently mentioned to me that he is always amazed by how people can make their instruments speak volumes more than the people might ever say themselves. And I think part of it because when you play an instrument for the music…it allows you to open up. To be vulnerable and to express emotions even when you aren’t intentionally doing so. When a musician plays for the beauty of the music, and not just to give a public performance, the instrument becomes almost an extension of himself or herself.

Sort of like how a true warrior doesn’t just master a weapon. The weapon isn’t just a tool for that person. It becomes like a part of that person, a way for him or her to envelop himself or herself in the beauty that comes from the knowledge and art of that weapon’s use. There’s a reason that we call certain styles of fighting “martial arts.” They aren’t just processes and procedures. They are expressions of the warrior’s inner person.

Or how a true poet doesn’t just write words to make them rhyme and fall in certain patterns. In the hands and mind of a poet, the words become vessels of meaning. Packages of beauty, almost. Little quanticized bits of the poet’s vision of the world.

And that’s to say nothing of the artist. There is a reason that even the chaos and mediocrity of certain pieces of “modern art” deserves some respect. Not in the sense that we must all look at them and say, “This is beautiful.” We can respect them in the sense of understanding that some of these artists are not just seeking to throw random objects together to create something that sells. Some of them are truly giving us a snapshot of how they see the world around them. I used to dislike modern art. I still do in many cases. But I’ve learned that I can respect modern art without compromising my views on what is and is not pleasing. Because art doesn’t have to be beautiful or uplifting. It can be full of pain and grittily realistic. It can remind us that the world is not what it could have been. A true artist is open about how he or she sees the world. Whether that is seeing a world that is dark and implanting seeds of light into it, like Van Gogh did, or seeing a world that is crying and broken and that needs our attention, like so many artists and modern iconographers all over the world do.

The point of that entire exposition is that artists speak through their instruments and art because art isn’t just a performance. It is an exposition, a revelation. It can cut, and it can heal. It can laugh, and it can weep. It can sweep one into a world of beautiful hope, and it can remind one of a world of stark realism. And it can do all of these at the same time. Because beauty is like that. It is joy and pain, hope and suffering, wounding and healing, all at the same time. Beauty can be found wherever you look, because God created this world fundamentally beautiful and nothing that man or Satan can do will ever change that.