Monday, November 30, 2009

Shame on Me

There are a few people who have touched me in my life. Whose selflessness and sincerity shame me to the bone. I remember vividly, as if it were yesterday, the kindness of Gerwin van der Pol. A lecturer, writer, Amsterdammer, and inspiring teacher.

Fellow students Lena, Agne and I were invited for dinner over at his house one weekend. As we entered his living room, we were in awe of the ceiling length collection of books on display. Some people invest their money in stocks and bonds, some buy expensive handbags and show them around, intellectuals collect books. All of these are attributes to wealth. Quantifiable and interchangeable with pride. In other words, they are all tools for show-off.

But not Gerwin.

I eyed his book collection from Aristotle to Barthes. The picik that I am, I couldn't help wondering.

"Aren't you worried that everyone who comes over would go home with one of your books," I asked, "I bet it happens often."

"All of these are basically knowledge. If it goes to another person then the knowledge goes with them, the books are only physical," he answered, "I've read them all. So then it's good if they take some with them. Then the knowledge doesn't stop at me."

You see what I mean with shaming to the bone? Some people have such good hearts that their kindness rubs off on you. I remember what my Dad said when I told him of the story.

"Begitulah, Na. Orang yang katanya tidak beragama bisa lebih beragama daripada yang mengaku beragama."

There are a few people who have touched me in my life. Whose selflessness and sincerity shame me to the bone.


Please follow link. Sukses ya, Mba Titut.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Memories and the Amazing Partners I Call My Parents

Why do we remember certain memories and not others? I ask myself. Then I started reading (yes, anything but books that actually help me write my thesis).

Several theorists agree that our brains are conceptually similar to a blackboard. Try writing on it with a chalk while putting pressure on certain points and erasing it afterward. The pressure points will leave a mark while the ones written without pressure could be easily erased.

The same goes with memory. Freud seems to think that emotional turmoil are the pressure points and time 'erases unpressurised' memory. Therefore, the memories that are embedded with emotional meaning, be it despair, anger, sadness or happiness, will leave memorable marks in our brains.

Others argue that memories are tagged with major events. Memories of our life before moving to another place is more memorable than the memories obtained from the same environment since childhood to adulthood. Both of them make sense, I think (well, if they didn't make sense no one would cite them).

I have several childhood memories which before reading of these concepts of memory I had thought to be random.

I remember my parents taking me and my sister to NASA (I honestly can't remember if it was the museum or the visitor's centre) when we were little. I could remember the miniature rockets, cockpits and simulators. Our parents bought us pop up books of airplanes. Then on lunch, my Mom handed me over some funny looking cookies. There were three colours, pink, white and brown.

"What are these?" I asked.
"Ice cream for astronauts," my Mom answered.

I thought they tasted like sweetened talcum powder. I then decided that I didn't want to become an astronaut because the food sucks.

After the disaster dry ice cream I had suspicions that my Mom made up the story to make me eat them. But apparently my sister, who was then at an age where these fibs would no longer work, said that she was telling the truth.

And then there was the other memory. Reinforced through life values, which meaning is deeper and more instilled than I had originally thought.

I was around 4 years old. I remember what I wore, I remember where we were. I remember the humid weather and the bright flowers. I remember my Mom gave me and my sister strawberry bubble gum while we met with Tante Emi. And I remember, upon that generating of more saliva during the first few chews of the bubble gum, the best part, when it was still very sweet, that it dropped out of my mouth.

I cried like nobody's business and asked my mother for a new one, which was, I knew, not expensive. She patted my back instead and let me cry over the lost bubble gum.

When I was in my early 20s, I saw that picture (my guess is that my Dad took it, why I wouldn't know). The picture of such heartbreaking tragedy, and the memories came flooding back to me.

"I remember this," I said to her about a picture of me crying my guts out and my mom patting my back with a 'rolling her eyes' mimic on her face, "I dropped my bubble gum. Why didn't you just buy me a new one?"
She smiled and said, "You needed to learn that you can't get everything in life. Sometimes you just have to let go, sometimes you can't have it all. I did the same with Kainda. Mama inget dia pernah nangis-nangis sambil jongkok depan etalase toko mainan. Mama ngga tega banget. Tapi Dad bilang Kainda harus belajar ngga bisa dapet semua yang dimau."

These are my parents, whom I love with all my heart, whose names I mention in all my prayers. Whose kindness and selflessness will always shame me into doing the 'right' thing.

I love you with all my heart.

I love you with all my heart.


Friday, November 06, 2009

The True Milestones of Life

In various pregnancy and early childhood development books, the word 'milestones' often come into use. The first kick in the womb is a milestone of the second trimester - usually ending those nauseous days and beginning what is mentioned as 'the honeymoon phase' of pregnancy. The first step is a milestone taken during the turn of the baby's first year - officially no longer an infant and turning into a toddler. In my research as well, milestones are set to keep me following the tight 4-year schedule - seminar, first chapter for publication, exam.

There are milestones in every aspect of our lives. Personal and professional. Private and public.

The term got me to thinking of the true milestones in life.

When you measure your life's development not from the social achievements but from emotional and spiritual maturity, the milestones become a bit less distinct. I began reminiscing my life's decision from which I had learned a great deal.

It wasn't my graduating from school. It wasn't me meeting my life partner. It wasn't the 9 months of (attempting to) selflessly carry a human being wherever I go. It wasn't labour, it wasn't the promotions, it wasn't even becoming a mother.

It was more in the little, mundane, everyday tasks that I thought contributed most to my life's worth. The unmemorable, trivial events that had actually pushed me to my limits, overcome them, and set them higher.

It was in listening to Arya's day even after I had a very long one. It was in waking up at nights to tend to Malik's cries, despite having worked all day. It was in the sincerity of not wanting in return anything, aside from hoping that what I do for a living could in fact touch another human being in the tiniest little way. It was in my students' questions that urged me to know more - so that I could tell them more. It was in sighing with patience, when everything had gone wrong - and I knew still that life is more that I could ever deserve.

It is in the gratitude. The wanting to fight for a cause. The balance. The effort to be better.

The effort to be better for something bigger than myself.

To feel small and weak and yet the same time the actor of my own destiny.

To be more for other people than to myself. And not losing myself and my thoughts in the process.

I think life is not the obvious milestones that we decide upon. Not the jobs we choose, the acknowledgments we receive, not marriage and a family. It is in the most random things shoved in our faces unexpectedly, which mold us in ways that are surprisingly permanent. It is the things we take for granted every single day, as they are microscopically small for us to truly appreciate their worth.

As days go by with responsibility, it is very easy to only focus on the obvious and ignore the things that actually matter most. It is very easy to resort to blame when things don't go our way - and what is 'our' way anyway? - when in fact it isn't their battle. It has always been ours. That, I believe.

It was never about losing or succeeding in our set goals, it was about us simply doing better than the day before. A bit sharper, a bit wiser, a bit more patient, a bit more humble.

As lonely as it sounds, life is, at the end, a battle with ourselves. And that realisation, I think, is a milestone in itself.