The Tale of a Calf and a Swallow

Last night I slept teary-eyed, feeling lost and heart broken. Well if you know me, you know it’s not something unusual, me shedding one or two tears. So I’m not trying to make any drama here, alright. I just read some news about people some kilometers away. Some peasants, some police officers. No one I personally know. The news has been slipping here and there in my Twitter timeline. Laying in my bed, I just got the time to read attentively.

Then my mind wandered to some days in May 2013. To Stasiun UI. I keep getting back to that moment because, hmm, that’s the only time I’ve ever encountered such scenario. Such mixed emotion.

People around the city is currently busy fighting about something else. I mean it’s not at all wrong, but nevertheless it makes me feel even more sad. I just.. have this little hope that our fighting spirit could reach.. wider.. beyond..

Ah, okay.

This morning I came across a song.

On a wagon bound for market
There’s a calf with a mournful eye
High above him there’s a swallow
Winging swiftly through the sky

How the winds are laughing
They laugh with all their might
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
And half the summer’s night

Donna Donna Donna Donna
Donna Donna Donna Don
Donna Donna Donna Donna
Donna Donna Donna Don

Donna Donna. You may know this song from the movie Gie.

“Stop complaining”, said the farmer
“Who told you a calf to be
Why don’t you have wings to fly with
Like the swallow so proud and free”

When I first listen to this song years ago, I thought it was about don’t be like a calf, be like a swallow. I was 12 or 13 years old, pretty innocent (ha). But after last night, I see this song in a whole different light.

I see it as a satire. What the farmer said was a pure ignorance. It’s like saying to people, “Stop complaining. It’s your own fault that you don’t try hard enough. You quit school because you’re lazy. You don’t earn much because you’re lazy. That miserable life, serves you right.”

Calves are easily bound and slaughtered
Never knowing the reason why
But whoever treasures freedom
Like the swallow has learned to fly

If you feel more like a swallow, instead of just ‘winging swiftly through the sky’, ‘proud and free’, how about caring for our ‘calf’ fellows? Listen to their mourning, look deep into their eyes, or just.. try to do something.

You might think that we can’t do anything to make it better. Like, after all, cows will never be able to fly. Cows would always be bound and slaughtered, that’s just how the world goes. But, mind you, I’m not saying that we should do something for them. No. We should do that for the sake of ourselves.

Ah. At the very least, please don’t be so indifferent like the farmer.

Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person

Alain de Botton beautifully wrote this piece in The New York Times website yesterday.

It’s one of the things we are most afraid might happen to us. We go to great lengths to avoid it. And yet we do it all the same: We marry the wrong person.

Partly, it’s because we have a bewildering array of problems that emerge when we try to get close to others. We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?”

Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.

Our partners are no more self-aware. Naturally, we make a stab at trying to understand them. We visit their families. We look at their photos, we meet their college friends. All this contributes to a sense that we’ve done our homework. We haven’t. Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating.

For most of recorded history, people married for logical sorts of reasons: because her parcel of land adjoined yours, his family had a flourishing business, her father was the magistrate in town, there was a castle to keep up, or both sets of parents subscribed to the same interpretation of a holy text. And from such reasonable marriages, there flowed loneliness, infidelity, abuse, hardness of heart and screams heard through the nursery doors. The marriage of reason was not, in hindsight, reasonable at all; it was often expedient, narrow-minded, snobbish and exploitative. That is why what has replaced it — the marriage of feeling — has largely been spared the need to account for itself.

What matters in the marriage of feeling is that two people are drawn to each other by an overwhelming instinct and know in their hearts that it is right. Indeed, the more imprudent a marriage appears (perhaps it’s been only six months since they met; one of them has no job or both are barely out of their teens), the safer it can feel. Recklessness is taken as a counterweight to all the errors of reason, that catalyst of misery, that accountant’s demand. The prestige of instinct is the traumatized reaction against too many centuries of unreasonable reason.

But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.

We make mistakes, too, because we are so lonely. No one can be in an optimal frame of mind to choose a partner when remaining single feels unbearable. We have to be wholly at peace with the prospect of many years of solitude in order to be appropriately picky; otherwise, we risk loving no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.

Finally, we marry to make a nice feeling permanent. We imagine that marriage will help us to bottle the joy we felt when the thought of proposing first came to us: Perhaps we were in Venice, on the lagoon, in a motorboat, with the evening sun throwing glitter across the sea, chatting about aspects of our souls no one ever seemed to have grasped before, with the prospect of dinner in a risotto place a little later. We married to make such sensations permanent but failed to see that there was no solid connection between these feelings and the institution of marriage.

Indeed, marriage tends decisively to move us onto another, very different and more administrative plane, which perhaps unfolds in a suburban house, with a long commute and maddening children who kill the passion from which they emerged. The only ingredient in common is the partner. And that might have been the wrong ingredient to bottle.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person.

We mustn’t abandon him or her, only the founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.

We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us — and we will (without any malice) do the same to them.

There can be no end to our sense of emptiness and incompleteness. But none of this is unusual or grounds for divorce. Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.

This philosophy of pessimism offers a solution to a lot of distress and agitation around marriage. It might sound odd, but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded.

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person.

Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

Romanticism has been unhelpful to us; it is a harsh philosophy. It has made a lot of what we go through in marriage seem exceptional and appalling. We end up lonely and convinced that our union, with its imperfections, is not “normal.” We should learn to accommodate ourselves to “wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners.

Anyway, I find similar strings of words presented in a video from The School of Life channel, with the same title too. But I don’t like the video as much as I like this article. Perhaps because the article gives just the right dose of pessimism that it turns out nurturing hope. It also addresses the main convict on this matter: a culture of romanticism. Plus that it says it’s okay we just need to face it. Yay.

I absolutely love this line: Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for. :))  Yay!

In this mortal life, we’ll eventually come across troubles one way or another. Might not (only) from the one whom we marry, might be from his family (too), or from.. I don’t know, anything’s possible. So almost anybody is fine (wait… what?) Let’s just team up with the most ‘not overly wrong’ person we can bear with. How’s that sound? :}

Those of you who have more experience in marriage (I obviously have zero :D) please share your thoughts on this issue. Like, validate or refute it, maybe? Is there such thing as ‘the right person’? Does this pessimistic view conflict with the concept of soulmate?

A Touching Ad & My Individualism

I’ve never believed in soulmates.
We’re born alone. Why can’t we happily live alone?
If we have to depend on others, how can we truly embrace our freedom?
The bonds we share can sometimes tie us down.
It seems like people never learn.
They just keep repeating the same mistakes.

But sometimes,
when people do things differently, they could get an unexpected result.
Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when it’s shared.
Surprisingly, our troubles seem lighter when we share them with someone special.
When we find someone else to live for, we find our life’s goal.
We may not all have a soulmate,
but we might find someone that we never knew we needed.

Aww.. :”) How sweet..

I find this ad personally touching. Not that I don’t believe in soulmates or aspire to celibacy, but I.. kind of share the ‘individualism’ value like that woman. My friends can sometimes find me saying things like “We’re born alone, live alone, die alone.” This ad proposes an idea that the presence of others will sparks our life.

But. Wait. Let’s look over the narrative.

Finding someone we never knew we needed? Isn’t that what happened to all of our ‘possessions’? I never knew I ‘needed’ a smartphone. I never knew I ‘needed’ a watch in a particular color and design, or a particular footwear. Now I ‘own’ them and I need them to the point I can’t imagine living without them.

And finding someone else to live for? Finding life’s goal through someone else? So what would happen if he/she dies? We lose our reason to live? Then what? Oh I know, let’s find another one to fill that hole. Great.

No, I don’t buy that. I believe that it’s ultimately important to maintain our individuality. Despite all materialistic and social attachment we bind in this world, we should always try to be whole within ourselves. Sure it would be nice to find a life partner to share happiness and sadness. But it’s irrelevant. Even without them, we still hold the responsibility to be a decent human being. Fulfilling our role as human should be the main focus in life. How others take part is not to be concerned.

I’ll continue living with this ‘individualist’ philosophy. It may sounds arrogant, and I might fail, but at least I’ll try not to. Because the only thing I can’t give up is my self.

Once Upon A Time, There Was A Hero

He was a very weak man. Matter of fact, he deserved the ‘hero’ status only because he’s basically weak. But he struggled through the weakness to save someone from making a foolish decision. Yes, even though it was hard as hell, even though the path was much more lonely, even though the status quo looked easy. That’s how it went. The one he saved lived on a relatively better life. And for the weak man, nobody knows whether it’s a better or worse life of his.

But for sure, once, he was a hero. I’m pretty sure if the man’s dead short after his heroic action, he’d get his personal monument. The monument of bravery and self control, perhaps. Sadly the man is alive.

Oh is it harsh, the word ‘sadly’?

Well it’s not actually sad, but that’s what make him no-hero anymore. Just a once-hero. Because he continues living. In fact, that’s how those people we respect as hero would end up if they were to keep living their life long enough. People will eventually show their flaws, disappoint their brethren. That’s how it goes.

Perhaps that’s also why I’d rather consider the man dead. So that he’ll live on as a hero in my mind.