One evening on December 2008, I went to sleep without knowing if I would ever wake up again. I was hospitalized because of several opportunistic infections, -including pneumonia, that could easily kill a person with HIV/AIDS. In a lot of pain, I knew that I was having my close encounter with the grim reaper. And friend, let me tell you, that wasn’t a nice feeling. Think about it. Lying awake with your eyes open, you’re forced to confront a certain conundrum: what is it on the other side? Not to mention the awful knowledge that you’re going to leave your loved ones behind. On that moment, I was petrified to learn that what I wrote in my letter to my son might actually come true. I might have been knocking on heaven’s door, but those forlorn hours at that night were a fiery hell that made me cringe in tears.
Now as you continue to read this, please keep that picture in your mind. A terminally-challenged HIV patient contracting himself in agony, drenched in a shiny film of sweat, tortured physically and mentally in his last night to live. For any one that could pass it and actually gets better like me, there are hundreds that did not make it to the morning. In fact, of all the 6 persons in the room where I was hospitalized, I am the only survivor. I watched them die one by one.
Fast forward to now. Within the last several days, a certain minister of our country issued some statements over Twitter about HIV/AIDS that I found insulting. Without trying to gloss over what I’ve already said in my answers to him, let me just say that his statements are typical to what stigmatization is all about. Also, it seemed to me that there could be no possible excuses that could explain how such statements are allowed. Personal opinion? Sir, you forfeit your personal opinion when you take that job. That’s just the cost of politics. Was merely quoting another person? Hey, how stupid do you think I am? Unless it was specifically stated otherwise, you just don’t get around quoting people without agreeing with their points.
I am not a mind reader. But to me, it was clear that the minister was displaying a cocksure braggadocio. Whoever he was trying to impress, to a common sense it will always be a lame attempt of bravado. Which is why I’m offering him a chance to turn it into a true bravery of a man.
Mr. Sembiring, let me repeat the invitation that I extended before. I would like to have a chance to meet you over a cup of coffee. And that’s the keyword: a cup. For if you dare to share my cup, our country would witness a man who dares to own up that he made a mistake, and is freed from any distorted thinking of bigoted stigmatization against people with HIV/AIDS. And don’t you worry, Sir. I’m a man too. While I have my differences with you, I will be the first to shake your hand and tell my friends that you’re a good man once we’re done with that coffee.
The question you have to answer is: Do you have to do it and accept my invitation? Of course not. But let it be clear that our country will take note of your response to this. If you do it, it won’t be about me winning or you losing something. No, the winner would be Life itself, with a capital “L”. Plus, you get the bonus of turning a previous bravado into a true act of bravery.
As I close this piece, understand that I’m not doing this for popularity or grudge. No, I am just trying to finish what I have started. Being a HIV patient myself, I know that there are too many punishments we have to bear. We don’t need another insult to our dignity. And if I get to be the one who do this, I’ll do it over and over again: I am fighting back. I rest my case.
“I tried to say goodbye and I choked,
tried to walk away and I stumble..”
-Macy Gray – “I Try”
As I tried to close my eyes and rest, I found that I couldn’t rest before I share a story. So here it goes, a story about a wonderful heart, a courageous spirit that forever will linger on my mind.
Today, I said goodbye to my childhood nanny. A simple, humble woman from Krian, a rural area just a little bit outside Surabaya, my hometown. What I will share is how mischievously deceptive her looks were. For inside that humble appearance, there lied a hero. And I kid you not. My babysitter was a hero in the truest sense of the word.
More than half of my years in Surabaya were marked by hardships. My father was hit by severe financial difficulties, and he fought high and low just to bring food to the table. Of course, over time my parents were not able to pay a babysitter to help us when, -in a somewhat cruel, irony twist of fate-, they had to work harder and leave us alone without anyone watching us at home.
This woman, however, is not your usual nanny. She steadfastly refused to leave us. She worked without any payment, and sometimes even bought us some meals from her own money. That is just the beginning, make no mistake. When we got so broke to the point that we had no roof to stay under, she offered her humble home for us to stay; while constantly treating us like a royalties during our stay. Can you imagine that? We stayed at her home, ate from her table, yet still she never allowed us to wash our dishes because in her words, “I remain your servant”.
At another point, when we stayed at a very simple home without any forms of entertainment like TV, she actually asked her husband to stay with us to play Chinese Checkers, -which brings a lot of amusement to our disheartened spirits. And as if that’s not enough, she made it a point that her husband will take us for a ride in his motorcycle, just to get us to laugh more.
And boy, it didn’t end there. When some die-hard debt collector started to play hardball with our family, she stood bravely between him and us, -practically daring him to do anything and saying “over my dead body” with her defiant stance. That lady was not just dedicated, she simply was ready to die for us. And remember, she did all those things (and millions others) without any pay.
When we had to move to Jakarta, she cried hard like she’s losing her own children. Faithful spirit as she was, she accompanied us during the journey, and stayed for a couple-of-weeks in Jakarta before finally returning to her hometown.
Without failure, anytime there’s one of our family had some business in Surabaya, she cooked our favorite meals and send it to us here. And I tell you, never had I thought that a mere dish of “sambal goreng tempe” could taste so divine!! This dedication, -no strike that, this love continued until her last day on earth. Even when we weren’t there, she defended us anytime there’s anyone in our hometown said something bad about us. And did I tell you that her laughter was so full of hilarity, -ever contagious?
So to a true Kartini, I shed a tear. To someone who taught me what it means to be courageous, I raised my glass. Mrs. Asih, allow me to give your soul one final embrace. You won me over long before anyone else did.
If I don’t know anything about afterlife, I would chance a warning here. A warning to St. Peter himself, no less. “You better unlock the gate, Sir. For heaven is gonna be a lot more exciting!!”
So there you go. My first piece of drawing after all those lost, turbulent years. Don’t expect too much though, my hands have already become shaky, and I don’t shade as well as I used to do. Still, I am hoping to achieve a good form with steady, regular practices… Enjoy…
– Derwent Dark Charcoal Pencil
– Faber Castell Graphite Pencils : HB, F, 2B
What a ride we shared, no?
Let me see, we met sometime in last year, if I’m not mistaken. And to me, you are a dear friend because we share something in common : our sensitive hearts. This had led to hours of laughters together, yet strangely, I believe this also caused the fracture in our friendship.
I do not pretend to know what really happened between us. What I do know is this. That I may have hurt you unintentionally, but so you may have offended me without knowing. But you know what? I think that’s okay. Because after all, we’re only human. And what other things that can strengthen a relationship better than a resolved misunderstanding?
So it is with this spirit that I write this simple, short letter to you. Deep down inside, I really know that I never did anything to hurt you in particular. I had my share of angry moments, but it’s all in the past for me. In no ways are those moments related to you. Or at least, I never meant it that way. I really hope that you are reading this, because for the life of me, I could not bear the thoughts of closing this year without making another try to explain this.
I believe that you also have a fairly good idea about what kind of man I am. And while I’m not saying that I’m your ideal man to be a friend, I honestly suspect that you understand what I mean by that. I’m hardly a person with malicious intent. Oh, you can accuse me of anything, like being dumb maybe. But hurting anyone on purpose? That I never do.
However, should you decide to close the page of our friendship, let it be known that I will respect your decision. It is my sincerest prayer that, -as we go our separate ways-, one day you will be able to think of me fondly as someone who once colored your days. Because I, for one, will do exactly that to you. Because to me,
“Years may come and go,
There’s one thing I know:
All my life,
You’re a friend of mine..”
Jam menunjukkan pukul 4.21 pagi sekarang. Siang nanti, ada sebuah meeting yang bisa jadi berarti strategis bagi keluarga saya. Tapi saya tidak bisa berhenti. Ada suatu hal yang harus saya tuntaskan sekarang juga. Ada sesuatu yang harus saya tangkap dari dada saya. Detik ini juga.
Inilah dia. “Perahu Kertas” membuat saya hampir mati. Bukan, ini bukan sebuah kritik. Sebaliknya, saya hendak mengatakan bahwa ia berhasil melumpuhkan saya. Habis-habisan lunglai karena badai emosi yang, – saya pikir, telah berhasil saya lupakan bertahun-tahun yang lalu. Lantas, bagaimana mungkin sesuatu seperti ini bukanlah hal yang buruk buat saya? Biarkan saya sedikit menjelaskannya.
Saya punya sebuah luka. Hati saya pernah sobek dan berhenti memulihkan diri. Permasalahannya, saya tak pernah tahu bahwa batin saya tak pernah sembuh seperti hati seorang anak kecil yang tersenyum gembira ke orangtuanya sehari setelah kena marah habis-habisan. Saya tak pernah sadar bahwa saya belum pernah berhasil mengumpulkan cukup daya untuk kembali membuat segenap diri saya untuk menjadi putih lagi, sebersih kertas yang tak pernah ditulisi.
Baru setelah saya menyelesaikan “Perahu Kertas”, saya gemetar karena manyadari hal itu. Saya tercekat dalam gempa hati yang seutuh-utuhnya. Segenap jiwa saya terjatuh ke dasar, menggelepar bersama potongan-potongan cerita masa lalu yang entah sampai kapan akan tetap ada di sana. Saya baru tahu, bahwa bangunan yang pernah roboh tak akan pernah terbebas dari puing-puingnya sendiri.
Pertanyaannya kemudian, apakah momen seperti ini harus dijalani oleh seseorang, siapapun dia? Tak akan ada satu jawaban yang tepat untuk semua orang. Namun yang saya tahu, bagi saya pribadi jawabannya adalah ya. Karena manusia hanya mengenal dua keadaan absolut : hidup atau mati. Jika ia mati, berakhirlah segalanya. Ia tak akan mungkin bangkit lagi untuk sebuah tujuan. Paling tidak, inilah yang bisa dilihat secara pragmatis oleh kita yang hidup di bumi ini.
Kuncinya terletak di garis yang berbatasan dengan kematian. Ketika kau hampir mati, di situlah ada sebuah kesempatan untuk dapat hidup kembali. Ketika kau berbaring dekat dengan ajal, sebenarnya di situ ada sepasang alas kaki baru untuk kau pakai berjalan kembali. Inilah titik yang saya tapaki sejam yang lalu saat saya menyelesaikan buku ini. Saya teringsut begitu dekat dengan ajal emosi.
Dan seperti yang saya singgung, “Perahu Kertas” kemudian juga menyelimuti saya dengan hangat. Berbeda dengan kebanyakan pembaca lain dari buku ini, karakter favorit saya bukanlah Keenan atau Kugy. Beliau, – dan saya memberi penekanan pada kata “beliau” -, adalah Pak Wayan. Melalui cerita beliau, saya diingatkan bahwa memiliki bukanlah analogi dari mencintai. Dan ketika hari ini saya mendapati hidup saya telah berbelok dari apa yang terjadi di masa lalu, itu adalah sebuah jalan terjal, tapi sekaligus laik untuk didaki.
Sesaat kemudian, ketika mata saya bergeser ke istri dan anak saya yang sedang tertidur lelap, saya mendadak sadar bahwa saya punya sepasang alas kaki istimewa untuk melangkah ke depan. Saya memiliki segala yang diperlukan untuk merendam diri dalam cinta yang menyembuhkan. Ijinkan saya mengatakan kepada dunia : buku ini membuat saya jatuh cinta lagi kepada istri saya. “Perahu Kertas” menggemakan kenyataan bahwa istri saya adalah sayap yang diberikan Tuhan kepada anak-Nya yang harus belajar terbang kembali. Jika kamu ikut membaca ini, Leonnie, terimalah air mata saya yang meluap dari rasa syukur bahwa kamulah yang sekarang ada di sebelah saya, – dan bukan orang lain.
Untuk Dee, terima kasih atas “Perahu Kertas”. Terima kasih untuk hentakan yang saya perlukan untuk melihat bahwa ada sesuatu di depan sana. Sebuah garis akhir perjalanan yang tak hanya mungkin dicapai, namun juga tak terlalu jauh untuk digapai. Yang harus saya lakukan hanyalah berjalan kembali. Sepelan apapun. Selangkah demi selangkah.
P.S. : gambar diambil dari blog milik Dewi Lestari dan diunggah ulang ke situs pribadi saya. Maaf kalau tak meminta ijin terlebih dahulu J
I never paid much attention to my own birthdays. There is a question that I used to ask silently to myself, “What are birthdays but a mere passing of the years of your life?” That question stayed with me for a long time because I just simply never had it in me to underline the significance of my birthday to myself. I would attend some birthday parties, – and I even encouraged some birthday celebrations to be held for those remarkable souls I know; but it stops there. What I felt can may be summed up by a simple sentence : What have I done that is so significant to deserve a celebration ? None, nada, zilch.
Enter 12 July 2009. The night before, on my birthday eve, my wife took me out for a special dinner that she’s been planning for a quite some time. So I dragged my lazy bum out there, and deciding that I needed to appreciate what she did for me, I put on my batik shirt ( which I only wore once before in my whole life, by the way ), wore the best pair of shoes I have and went out for the night.
The dinner was great, mind you. I had probably one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my poor food repertoire of my life. Yet as I enjoyed it, my mind was always hard-wired to the fact that here I was, sitting demurely celebrating the best gift of my life, – which is my wife. See ? This was a typical method of mine in approaching birthdays. I counted all the blessings of my life and say a thankful prayer for them all. I just never happened to ponder, – let alone celebrate, my life per sé. It just never held a special significance for me.
Later on, we went to a dear friend’s place to have a game of scrabble. Little did I know that my wife had conspired with her and several other close friends to throw a surprise birthday shower for me. One by one they came unannounced, each with their own authentic ways to congratulate me on my first day of the new year. The hostess, for instance, has graciously given me a chance to go berserk in her personal library to pick books that I like as a birthday gift. Others bring their deliciously home-made delicacies that they know I like. One even had painstakingly gone his way to acquire a fresh bucket of real, live sunflowers for me. And as the night passed, I found myself slicing a birthday cake; thinking that on that very night, I must be the richest person in town to have wonderful friends like them.
The day after that, another beautiful soul braved the Jakarta traffic to come to my house and drop me a special birthday present, because she thought I deserved it. Her accompanying handwritten note reads as follows :
Happy Birthday, Fajar Jasmin
This small gift is nothing compared to the friendship I have received from you and your family. Still, I hope you would kindly accept this gift and I hope it can be of use for a great writer like you. Not much I can do to return all the kindness, but to pray for all the blessings to come upon your family.
Happy birthday to a very fine gentleman.
Happy birthday to a dear friend.
Happy birthday to a great brother.
My straw broke. That night, without anyone knowing, I shed some tear knowing that maybe I need to start to celebrate the life I have in me. To start relishing, – and cherishing, myself as a person. Not because I am a great man that have done many things in my life. Far from it, I need to start celebrating because no matter how severe my limitations may be, I can still refuse to buckle my knees to the pressure and inspire others.
You see, bad things do happen in our lives. Just recently, a terrible bombing incident hit the city I live in. As grievous as it is, I am taken aback by the fact that it is ultimately up to us to choose how we respond. It is up to us whether we will resort to unfruitful anger and blame game, or take it as a wake-up call to stand tall and do whatever we can to make sure that it won’t happen again.
So there you go. My birthday and the bombings. Two very different occasions that involve two very different emotional responses for me. Yet, they strike the same chord in my heart when I got reminded of the simple, but profound lines written not by Tolstoy or Dickens, but by Chumbawamba. So today, let us hold our chin up, defiant to whatever problems we have, and sing those lines with me :
I get knocked down, but I get up again;
You’re never gonna keep me down.
P.S. : Watch this space for an update for a link to the pics from my birthday celebration. Again, I’m lucky to have such friends.
UPDATE : Here is the link to my Pics Album of the Birthday Bash. Enjoy !