We, always

Dear all,

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.

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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.

Love, Frank.

*Alain de Botton, Religion for Atheists. Hamish Hamilton, London.

Grey tones

 

“To put yourself in the position of another person is an admirable human ability that, unfortunately, quite often went missing.” And “Our national interests are more than ever intertwined with the interests of others on our continent and in the rest of the world.” Words from the “Schoo” lecture, this time spoken by Timmermans, minister of foreign affairs for the Netherlands whom, contrary to the speaker of last year, does have a vision.

Dear All,

When last Monday, after a full day of grinding and polishing, I got home I heard that the husband of Ibu Putu died that morning. The night before we talked about him; that he was very ill and old, so very old… and that in fact he was tied to his bed, unable to do anything, and that, maybe, it would be better if… Between her and her husband it has been difficult years, it’s only the last months that she visited him more often. (It was a room, she once said, where she didn’t come anymore but now it was necessary, he needed her.) His other wife (he had two) is also ill, very ill. “Good death whose gentle tones pierce through a muted life” is what a Dutch poet, P.C. Boutsens, wrote.

Because I got home at four I was too late for the (temporary) funeral. It was already over. How the rules are in a case like this I don’t know and I decided to bring myself. I bought a bunch of roses, wrote a card to it and the next day I went to see Ibu Putu. And it was good that way. Astonishment and that melancholic gladness, like it can be in sadness. We talked for long and the conversation she started about so much that wasn’t – black and white tones – turned to what is, turned to the grey tones that are so common in life. A sincere “it was good you were here”, and that I don’t hear often from a Balinese.

I learned something new as well. According to Balinese the deceased doesn’t know he’s dead for the first three days, he’s dreaming and sleeping and doesn’t know …

You have two life, wrote Steven Sotloff * in one of his last letters; the second starts at the moment you realize you have only one. And although Balinese have a different point of view there – re-incarnation – Sotloff has a point. Getting older is, for me, probably part of it. To wish death to be far from today implicates awareness although thinking too much about the day that will once come creates problems.

To realize that every life, every day, is a one-time experience and possibility is what Sotloff means. Add another word from that same letter “Hug each other, every day”, and his last letter becomes a simple and effective recipe for a better tomorrow.

The grey tones. When I read the newspapers on the net it’s clear, they’re gone. Black and white stories only. No need to guess where’s black and where’s white, it speaks for itself. Black and white, it may be a way to keep the world simple and understandable, it also reinforces hatred and keeps us away from real solutions. Believing it all is having oneself fooled with an image of the world that’s just not accurate, is blocking much good in oneself and becoming an instrument of war. In fact Timmermans pleads – tongue in cheek – for more empathy with the other, for a willingness to see the grey tones in the story. That willingness, like in daily life with its small problems as well, seems to have disappeared.

Rasmussen, S.G. of the NATO, knows all about what the Russians do with certainty, he sees black and white. He ‘forgot in the meantime that during the abolishment of the Warsaw Pact, the West promised that NATO wouldn’t move one inch eastward. Things went differently and if it’s up to him, Ukraine becomes a member of NATO as soon as possible. And knowing with certainty? As an M.P. of Denmark in 2003, he knew for certain that there were WMD in Iraq. “Believe me, it’s black and white.” Yep.

No, I’m not trying to talk politics, I plead for understanding and empathy, for stopping the black and white pictures and talks. The, rightfully so, pitch-black coloured accounts about what Isis is doing; we need to know. But at the same time we’ll have to look further to become credible and find a solution. There must be causes. Isis pulverized within three years? Good! But how about the sentiments that created it?

(A good thing that Saudi Arabia is part of the coalition against Isis. Every alley is welcome, or…? Indeed, last month 19 beheadings within 20 days in that country. Credibility?

Over the terrace sounds music from Africa and I can’t but wonder where the problem can be. Seen in black and white Africa was not good for me… That street, that city, that country, the whole continent…? How far do I want to go? But I know the grey tones, I know of so much that is good, beautiful and soft.

I know of all those Muslims that are honourable, beautiful people. I know, with Sting, that the Russians love their children too. I know about the disasters haunting this world, forcing people to flee to a better future.

“Hug each other, every day.”

Love, Frank

* American journalist, another victim of Isis.