A leap of faith

CULTURE has always fascinated me because of the quiet, unassuming way it saturates our lives.

It infuses its fragrance, and at times its stench, into our thoughts and actions. It often bends us into submission without us ever realising it, and only when we jump out of our fishbowls do we begin to realise there are so many different ways to live.

A few years ago, I visited the Great Barrier Island in New Zealand. Miles away from the mainland, it was a beautiful place. Dolphins swam into the bay and the white cottony tails of rabbits flashed by during morning walks.

My accommodation was lovely, nestled in a harbour that basked in deep pink and orange hues every sunset. But in the middle of the lawn, standing tall and immoveable, there was my nemesis.

It was a large tree with a trunk too big for my arms to wrap around, and branches that flung into space. On one of the branches, swaying lazily in the sun, a thick rope hung.

It was the island child’s plaything and this Malaysian girl’s dream. Every evening, children gathered at the big tree to play on the rope swing. Taking magnificent leaps off the branches, they would swing between the earth and sky.

I stood on the safety of solid ground below, and wanted the fearlessness they had. I wanted to feel the rush of the wind in my face and see the clouds beneath my feet.

But I was so afraid. In the culture I grew up in, the way to battle fear is avoidance of any opportunity to feel fear.

We are taught to take minimal risks, to not give ourselves the chance to be vulnerable, to always be safe. Although there are always exceptions, this approach of avoiding fear seems to be a shared experience among many of my Asian peers.

There was an Asian man I became acquainted with who was visiting the island with his family. A father of four, he was a man who prioritised safety above all else.

For him, family walks meant making rounds daily on the well-maintained lawn instead of exploring the surrounding trails and creeks. He barred his 12-year-old son from looking over the edge of the floating dock in the harbour.

He was afraid his son would fall in, but the waters were clear and clean. The father’s fear amused the locals, who tried to convince the man to let his son see fishes at play. But the man stood his ground.

If the young boy had been able to step forward, he would surely have felt fear. But he would also have felt the thrill and joy of seeing a whole new world below him.

The truth is that in never feeling fear, we do not only rob ourselves of the joy of new experiences. We can grow to become afraid of fear itself.

I realised this as I stood under the big tree, so I decided to give it a go. I climbed up the trunk and readied myself for the swing.

But my mind simply refused to make my body move; my fear held me back.

A small crowd led by the children had gathered to cheer me on, and it was terribly embarrassing. But my hands were trembling and eyes smarting with tears.

After sitting on the branch for half an hour, I finally took the leap. It was one of the most terrifying and exhilarating experiences I’ve had. But I was so happy, because on that day I stamped out a stench of my culture and found a different way to live.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com