Tomorrow the week against loneliness starts. The picture below is, for me, an image how loneliness looks like. A woman, possibly infected with ebola, is brought into quarantine. For now people are walking with her, already part of the others, their outfits making them almost inhuman. In a few moments they will be gone as well. To be excluded from a group, from society – in this picture as sad as can be and inevitable – happens every day, under all sorts of circumstances. The picture is usually not as clear as in this one, the feelings are quite similar.
There are quite some days and weeks to bring attention to causes or problems that have to be solved. In an attempt to give some guidance, dedicating a day or week for extra attention, is about all our secular governments can do. What once was the domain of churches, mainly empty now, is not claimed by anyone else. Every human being has, luckily so, the freedom to choose. In joining the tendency to “say whatever you like and reject whatever authority, even authority founded with wisdom and experience, one brings it on oneself to find ones way in loneliness and undermines, in more than one way, the “we” that could soften or even erase that loneliness.
Alain de Botton has a remarkable reasoning there. For many rules and rituals that churches once declared as vital goes that, with pronouncing the death of god, the inevitable conclusion is that those rules didn’t come to us in a supernatural way but were made by people. The strange paradox de Botton is pointing at is that those rules are often declared invalid, apparently because they came from people and not from a god. He pleads for looking again at those rituals and rules, useful for thousands of years, and to find a translation in our secular world.
“We and they”, there are quite some interpretations. Here in Bali I belong to the ‘they’, the bulu, the tamu – the whites, the guests. Fat chance it will ever change. My luck is that the image people have of ‘they’ is not necessarily negative, no accusations there. It’s different when you’re a Muslim in our western societies and are, by a large number of people, put in a corner as forever ‘they’, a whole lot of prejudice as a bonus on top. In a weird way of reasoning you’ll be, based on a religion – no room for nuances that only confuse – accused of the fact you’re no “we”. Try to defend yourself then… The best you can achieve is to be named as “A Muslim that is okay” or, “not so bad for a Muslim”.
It’s also the week of peace but let me not start on that, I would talk more about “we”.
Something very different: the bats here are no happy family anymore. They live under the roof on both sides of the house and, that’s the way they do things, when darkness comes they leave to come home again in the early morning. My home in fact but they don’t know that. Since a week or so their departure and return is accompanied by terrible screeching and squealing. There is an argument going on, it sounds like war. A mediator or a psychologist? Yesterday Zoef the dog stood in front of me and offered his paw. Something was wrong I understood; indeed, a big hole in an antique carpet. Behavior therapy? George the goldfish from Australia is doing well I read, he is recovering from brain surgery, they removed a tumor. Quite a difficult job, the vet let us know, and I believe him. With a memory lasting about three seconds, those brains can’t be real big. Today I received an email, a request for financial help. A cat in the US needs surgery and it will cost thousand of dollars. Get your priorities straight
W. is angry, upset and almost in tears. The story comes in little pieces, a puzzle not easy to solve but finally I manage. From some sort of saving scheme she was supposed to receive a certain amount. Her former employer knew about it and, as it turns out, his widow as well. It was she who picked up the money and deducted an earlier loan, including a lot of interest. Today she came by and handed W. the tiny sum of 150.000 Rupiah, according to W. it should’ve been millions more. A dispute about money; it’s not a totally new phenomena. What surprises me though, apart from the fact that they gave the money to someone else, is the answer to my question ‘Why it was so much less’. ‘No, I can’t ask that, it’s an important family you know, I can’t contradict them.’
A feudal society; we and they. And privacy is, also at government offices, unheard of. Someone next door wanted rent out his land – he found an Australian who was willing to pay the price, so he had dollar signs in his eyes already. No, it won’t happen, his brother, deceased in the meantime, used the deed to get a loan from the bank. The bank only returns after the debts are paid.
The small things that sometimes become ingredients for big wars. Nevertheless, they are small, very small. Laniakia is a cluster of galaxies of which our ‘own’ milky way is a small part. 1000 years, 24/7 in a jet with 1000 km per hour – no, we won’t stop for lunch, we’re late as it is – and you’re not even half way of something that’s part of a much bigger universe. It’s not something I found out, I have it from a newspaper. It’s an amazing accomplishment that we, often, manage to see ourselves as the center of that very same universe.
*Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists. Hamish Hamilton, London.