the enemy image

by Julia Lim

Feisty was the word that came to mind after the initial surprise of running into this old lady of about 70 wailing loudly in her wheelchair, pushed along by a nonplussed domestic helper and a middle aged man:

"Le duibuzu wa!(you do me wrong!!!! {in Teochew, a chinese dialect})"
“Wa tai lao ko le toi! (I will go jump off a building…I’ll show you!!)”
"Chao cheee bye!!!! (stinking vagina!!! {Nth degree swear word in Teochew})"

Silver-haired, gaunt, wearing a pained yet practised expression on her face, she flailed her arms while her companions carried on pushing her wheelchair stoically. They walked in my direction, so I witnessed how she went on wailing for a good fifteen minutes, echoes of her curses reverberating in the neighbourhood. Not once did she stop her cries. Loud, miserable and tired — repeating her treatise doggedly.

What could have caused such pain? Could she have been wronged by a lover? Her husband? A friend? She seems to fit the bill of insanity — engrossed in her world of this enemy who has given her so much pain she threatens to kill herself.

Why did she allow herself to sink into that pain so much that it seems to be all her reality?

Maybe no one really empathised with her even once? Maybe there is a pay-off for her to stay there? Is she mad or just more expressive than others who nurse enemies within, just quietly, invisibly? A shared madness…

This scene haunted my mind for days. For the past months I had been facing acute pain of my own and that of those around me. Her pain felt strangely familiar. Her cries could be mine …if I had the guts to do so. I imagine I know the outline of that darkness, that eclipse of life; where the most cherished of dreams lie dead and lifeless on ground and you just sit in the ruins, refusing to accept that it is no more.

I can also relate to the compulsion to externalise that pain and project upon an enemy image. To give the brokenness in life a culprit could perhaps make it easier for one to do what he needs to do.

Maybe it is easier to feel anger than devastation, to blame rather than introspect, hate others than hate yourself. A device for self-protection.

Creating an enemy image is actually a device for self protection. How many partners have left each other holding the stories of how deplorable the other person is? How many people tell themselves that is it okay to conduct painful attacks or leave without reprieve because the other party is a shithead? The self-protection happens when we are able to pretend to be integral and blameless within.

Pain is so central to the human experience…it is there in growth and change and the resistance and acceptance that comes with it. We want to stay safe and gratified in stories that we create that will bring us imagined happiness, stability and bliss.

Yet, when there changes to plots, reality disintegrates, reformulates and pain comes. Invisible, insubstantial pain I recall myself in excruciating moments facing the unwillingness to let go of stories and refusing to move on. Perhaps holding on to those stories is a way of saying I am afraid that reality has nothing to offer me. Also, it is a way of making the past “right” … afraid that all past effort and energies will truly be wasted with letting go.

Yet, much as I could relate to that pain of loss and the need to grieve it deeply — to howl loudly into the core of pain — I also experienced that pain is insubstantial on its own. Pain arises with thought and is created with thought… all those ideas that we create and hold onto about life and what it should be.

What if it is a natural process? When we are willing to see pain and suffering as part of the larger experience of being, where we are constantly interacting with changes within and without, maybe it will not be so feared. It is part of the natural process of life happening dynamically, as natural as a fruit splitting open in ripeness to spread its seeds.

When the fear of pain and discomforts leave us, what is left is perhaps an acceptance, a very natural flow of life. And perhaps a new appreciation of how joy and happiness could be found rather than demanded. If the old lady was not stalled in her pain, she could perhaps see the tenderness and acceptance of her companions towards her. If hurt partners stopped blaming how broken their companions are and how they deserved to be left, maybe they could leave each other in love and appreciation. If there are no exacting expectations of life, maybe the gifts of living will unfold as they should.

(C) Julia Lim