What Is Love, Actually?

Issue 22  // 

Recap: It is the tenth death anniversary of sixteen-year-old May’s mother. As May and her father pay a visit to her grave, May learns more about love through the life her mother lived.

My thoughts were interrupted by a loud sniffle. Dad had seated himself on the side of the tomb, gazing at Mum’s picture as silent tears rolled down his wizened cheeks. It had been a while since I took a good look at his face; the years of being in the sun, honking that all too familiar horn and calling out for discarded goods as a karang guni man had definitely aged him.

I reached into my backpack and handed him some tissue paper.

“Thank you, Ah May. I really miss your Ma.”

“Me too. But I’m glad she doesn’t have to suffer from cancer anymore.” A few moments of silence passed between us.

“Um … Pa?” I paused.

“Yes, May?”

“Why did Mum choose this verse for her tombstone?”

“Your Ma loved this verse because she lived by it…” Tears welled up at the memory. Dad wiped his face and sat up. “She was the kindest woman I’ve ever met. She was always smiling, always loving everyone around her, and always putting other people’s needs before herself. Your Ma was the one who showed me Jesus’ love in a very real and personal way.”

I was stunned by Dad’s sudden eloquence. It was as though he had repeated this line to himself in countless rehearsals, so when it was finally spoken, it flowed out with firm conviction and tender fondness.

“How did that happen? Tell me more,” I gently pressed.

“Hmm. This was even before you were born, Ah May. We were just married and were on our honeymoon in Kota Kinabalu. Your ma loved nature and we were at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Tanjong Aru beach, because she wanted to see the sunset.”

“But you know me la, I don’t like nature, I like creature.” He guffawed at his wit. I slapped my forehead in mock horror and laughed along.


“So, as I was walking around picking up shells and looking at the things people left behind on the beach, suddenly I heard a scream. I quickly turned to see what was happening — wah! There was a little girl struggling in the water a few metres deep into the sea. As I was running to help, I saw someone already inside the water swimming towards her. Guess who it was!”

“Was it Mum?” I widened my eyes.

“Yes! But you know what’s the funny thing? She doesn’t know how to swim!” He chortled.

“Oh no! Then how?!” I gasped. “I don’t know how, but she managed to kick her way to the girl and grabbed her. Then, as though your Ma suddenly remembered she couldn’t swim, both of them started to scream for help!”

With a smile, he shook his head. “Thank God, somehow I knew this would happen and I just ran and swam over to them, and managed to pull both of them back to the beach.”

“That must have been really scary! What was Mum thinking if she didn’t know how to swim?”

“Ya it was scary! The high tide was coming in very fast, and the little girl got scared because she can’t swim well. She shouldn’t have been swimming at that time also! Now that I think of it, it was really quite dangerous lah.

But you see, this is your Ma … She saw someone who needed help and straight away went to save her. If your Ma knew how to swim, of course it is right that she should help. But your Ma couldn’t swim, and she still risked her life for people she doesn’t even know!”

“And you both just got married!” I said. “How did you feel after everything happened?”

“I felt a bit angry that she would do such a thing when we only just got married! What if she drowned and left me behind? But she said to me, ‘Seng ah, every life is precious … Can you imagine how sad the parents would be if they lost their young daughter?’

I said that I would also be sad if I lost my wife, but your Ma said, ‘Well, we have God who loves us and our lives are in His good hands no matter what happens. Even if we die, we have eternal life and will meet again with Jesus, right? So, don’t worry, we are free to love our neighbours and even give up our lives for them!’

Wah, I tell you, after she said that, I was even more sure that I chose the right woman to be my wife.”

My heart swelled with joy as I listened to Dad share about Mum. Even in her death, her faith lives on in the memories she left behind. How did she love God with all her heart, soul and mind then? I couldn’t wait to find out.

The spiritual legacy of May’s mother continues in the next and final part of the story, to be published in the next issue of Kallos. Stay tuned!

Benita Lim
Benita recently moved to LA to further her theological education, and is constantly amazed and humbled by how much love and grace God continues to show to this world — and herself.

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