I have just come back a few days ago, from one of the best trips I have ever done in my life; a diving excursion to Raja Ampat Islands (in West Papua, Indonesia), one of the diving meccas in the world, living on board a phinisi (sailing ship) for six days and nights, in which all I did was eat, sleep and dive with 12 others. There was not a day in which I did not utter the words “Thank you God, for I am blessed to experience this”. A short vacation (after a vacation) followed in Makassar, South Sulawesi with a couple of friends.
But, this post is not about the trip–that will come later. This is about what happened after the trip, in what I can only describe as a roller coaster of emotions. A high from last week, to a really low point today. And the only way I can think of right now to deal with it, is to write.
Fragmented thoughts as they may be.
* * *
I was awake at 4 in the morning, in a hotel room in Makassar, on my last night there. I felt the need to check my Facebook feed for some reason.
I scrolled down the newsfeed and midway through it, saw a status update from one of my good friends, mentioning Rio, an ex-colleague from the bank I used to work for; Rio has passed away from a stroke. He was at work when the stroke attacked.
I was shocked and saddened by the news. While I was not close to him, he was one of those gentle, and kind person, a “teddy bear”—physically, he was huge, and sadly, I suspect his obesity contributed to his stroke. He was one of those people who taught me a lot about credit card fraud risk during my role in risk management, and was always helpful to everyone in the office. He was recently married, and I knew from his Facebook updates, that all the money he received from the wedding (as gifts in weddings in Indonesia) were donated to a charity. I could tell he was so much in love, and so happy with life.
A man with a big heart who died at a young age of 35. I felt the loss, shed some tears and sent a prayer to him. I wrote something on my Facebook update to say how I felt about him.
Mostly, my thoughts went out to his newly wedded wife. I had to, even if he’ll never read my message.
* * *
When Steve Jobs passed away, I wrote a tribute post to him. Not long after, one of the editors I used to write for, wrote his monthly column, along the topic of why people publicly expressed their condolences on Steve Jobs death, as if he was (suddenly) everyone’s best friend. He even mentioned that some people went as far as writing a blog post about him—I could only assume he was referring to me. Was everyone genuinely emotionally attached to him, personally? Or was it a case of trying to appear “cool”?
The thought stuck to me for sometime. I was emotionally attached, despite not knowing Steve Jobs personally. But I couldn’t articulate the reason behind it. At least until a few days ago.
On the last day of the diving trip, out in the sea, I heard the news about the actor Paul Walker, who died from a car crash. Many friends tweeted their condolences; one friend was clearly devastated from the stream of tweets she posted.
I never did tweet any condolences.
Then a few days later, which was two days before I heard the news about my ex-colleague’s death, the great and legendary Nelson Mandela passed away, at the age of 95. Almost everyone I knew was tweeting “RIP Nelson Mandela”, or something alike. Again, I never did tweet or update my Facebook about his passing away.
The same editor, who happens to be on my Facebook friends list, posted this, peppered with sarcasm, which to some, may appear insensitive:
But I could actually see his point, that maybe, just maybe, some people state their condolences to appear “cool”. Maybe. Who knows.
For me, I never felt the emotional attachment to Nelson Mandela, despite acknowledging he was one of the greatest men ever lived. Likewise with Paul Walker, despite my admiration for his looks, talent and kindness. I was surprised like everyone else at the news, but I didn’t feel the emotional attachment that would lead me to tweet or update my Facebook with condolences message. I didn’t feel the need to.
I told one of my good friends, who I was travelling with, on my editor’s comment, including on the topic of Steve Jobs. And the penny suddenly dropped after what he said:
“Steve Jobs touched some people’s life through his work. While Nelson Mandela, for some of us, especially in Asia, did not. We didn’t quite feel the impact of his work on anti-apartheid, at least unlike those say, in Africa and other parts of the world.”
With Steve Jobs, my life was profoundly affected, through all my Apple gadgets. My first laptop computer was a Macintosh. I love my current Macbook Pro, iPad and iPhone. My life changed for the better because of what those tools do.
And hence, I understood my emotional attachment when Steve Jobs passed away. I may not have shed some tears, but I felt the loss that I needed to write that tribute to him back then.
* * *
As if there wasn’t enough news of death in the past week, I was awake, yet again, at 2AM last night. And again, I felt the need to check, this time, my Twitter feed. I was dumbfounded when I saw a tweet that said, one of my friends from TEDx Jakarta volunteers team, Ical, has passed away. He was found dead in his dorm room, in Delft University, where he is completing his postgraduate study, on a scholarship. (The cause of death is yet to be confirmed as I write this).
I couldn’t believe it. A quick chat with our mutual friend who lives in Netherlands, confirmed that it was not a prank.
Tears were rolling down my cheeks as my memory started playing scenes from the past with him in it. I only knew him during those couple of years volunteering for TEDx Jakarta. But I remember him fondly—10 years my junior, a good looking boy with a bright future ahead. Smart and intelligent. One who loves Star Wars so, so much, that he came to the last TEDx Jakarta post-event party, before he left for Delft University, in his Darth Vader outfit, complete with his lightsaber, which he did let me play with.
We would talk about Jakarta’s nightlife; him, currently at the stage where I was 10 years ago, hitting the clubs partying. We’d talk about Apple and its products, and how he is an Apple-fanboy, yet he was using a Windows based phone; I teased him about it the last time we spent the weekend as a group at an ecolodge for a TEDx Jakarta meeting.
I remember fondly, how he said, that when he finally meets a girl who loves Star Wars as much as he does, he’d marry her (or something along that line). He did and I could tell he was so in love with her, long distance relationship and all.
I remember how he already thought of what songs he would have on his wedding during one of our drives back to Jakarta from that weekend. (I wish I can recall the song, but my memory fails me right now). This was the 22 year-old self of him. When most guys at his age would not even think about weddings or marriage.
I later found out he was an Aquarius, just like me. That probably explains his romantic side of personality.
I fell asleep somewhere between two and four o’clock in the morning, and woke up again at six o’clock, thinking it was all just a bad dream. I felt the loss, much, much more than I thought I would. And so for the rest of the day, in my own way of dealing with the loss, I sent various tweets and writing my condolences on his Facebook page, as well as looking at photos with us and the team.
The day felt heavy. I was teary for the most part.
When a friend texted me and say that “he is in a better place, an infinitely better place, where there is no need for TED Talks, and where no tear is or needs to be shed”, I broke down. Again.
And so I deal with death the way I know best. I cry. I write. And I cried some more whenever I thought of him today. Until someone from the team tweeted, that she giggled when she thought of how Ical would be planking up in heaven—planking pose was his signature style. He’d do it anytime and anywhere in the world he could, just for a photo.
Rest in peace, Ical. You have no idea how much you have touched my life in the brief time I got to know you. May the force be with you.
As I end this, I can feel the tears welling up. Too many people were gone too soon in this past week.
And I still ask, God, did you need that many angels in this past week, that you took away so many good people from this world?
Coincidently, someone actually asked on Twitter, as the ship docked to land from the diving trip:
“If you die tomorrow, would you die happy?”
I replied, with the thought of the diving trip I have just completed, and feeling grateful over everything that has happened to me in the last couple of years:
“Yes, I would”.
As Christmas is fast approaching, let’s remind ourselves, that life is short. That we ought to appreciate all the things that make our lives worth living.
Because in the end, everything is transient.