Monday, November 15, 2010

Losing someone you love

Today a superior in the office told us he lost his mother over the weekend. He couldn't go to her funeral, he was ill and she had to be buried fast according to the customs of their faith. I am sorry for him, for I can't bear the thought of not being there to hold in my arms someone I love and pray the divine mercy as he/she breathes his/her last, to be at his/her bed side to say the final goodbye, and to be at the funeral to throw flowers when he/she is lowered to the final resting place. May God have mercy on her soul and may she rests in peace.

His story of his mother reminded me of my mom.

My mom is 80 years old and barring some ailments to the legs which we have been trying to ease with glucosamine and chrondoitin with some small success, she is healthy, praise the Lord, thank you Lord. However for the last few years my mom has been talking about death, wondering when the Lord will take her. There is no fear in her, she is always eager, always ready to meet her Maker. Last year when we visited my father's grave, she said, "you are happy dear, you are already with the Lord". She had given instructions for whatever savings she has to be used for her funeral expenses, including for buying her casket. We just smiled at her, refused to be drawn into her eagerness to meet the Lord.

When she dies, I will be grateful that she has lived a long life, that she is happy, that she got to see her children married, bearing and raising children, that she got to see her grandchildren successful and happy. Above all, I will be happy that she has become a devout Christian and like her, I burst with hope that she will see the beatific vision upon death.

I will grieve, for even now tears came to my eyes as I thought of what she had gone through. My maternal grandma was ill with leprosy, she lived in a leprosy centre in Kuching, leaving my mother and aunt bereft of a mother's love and care. My mom was motherless at the age of about 10 years old. My maternal grandpa did the best he could to bring up his three children, but nothing could replace the love of a mother. My mom married at about 18 years old and bore five children - Jacinta, Patricia, Martin, Lily and me. I am the middle child, for my Iban name she named me Sarimah, after the film star Sarimah, her idol.

My mom was widowed in her forties. She raised us three youngest siblings, gave us the best she could offer, always ensuring there was rice on the tikai bemban - no, not on the table, but on the straw mat, as we could not afford to buy one. There was just this round marble-topped table but that was used for my study table. The table was bought during better times, when my father was still alive. The marble table top is still with us, kept by my eldest sister, Jacinta, with whom my mom is living now. I guess it keeps her connected to the past, its joys and pains. On most days the rice was served with daun ubi, changkuk manis, paku, kemiding and several times a week, fried eggs and fish. My late uncle Jangin was an avid angler, he always gave us some portion of his catch. Meat was a luxury, we had it on several occassions a month, after Jacinta sent money home - Jacinta was a teacher. My children ever asked me whether I missed the good food, etc. I told them I didn't, for how could I miss something I never had.

Even with the little we had, mom always ensured that I brought money to school, enough for me to buy meehoon, kuih or nasi lemak. In those days, a packet of mee and nasi lemak cost 30 cents and kuih, 20 cents. A packet of mee and a piece of kuih was enough to see me through until I got home from school by about 1.30 pm. Together with my aunts, sometimes mom worked at the pepper garden of our Chinese neighbours, earning RM5.00 per day. Out of the meagre sum, she made sure there was some money for me to buy books. I was so much in love with reading English novels. Apart from borrowing books from the school library, I bought Women's Weekly novels, then priced at RM1.00 each. It was ironic - we were poor but my mom ensured that was a luxury I kept. It bore fruit mom, for the things I read made me curious to know the world, it fueled me to be successful in my studies, so that one day I could eat the food described in the novels, I could wear beautiful dresses like the ones I read about, I could see places mentioned in the books. I passed my passion for reading to my daughters mom, and like me they found the immeasurable joys of reading. Today my shelves are overflowing with books. Thank you mom, for feeding my passion for books.

We went to church every Sunday. I was in the choir. In those days I liked to sing and I sang at the top of my voice. I seldom sing now - well only karaoke during Gawai at the long house where folks are not too bothered with whether you got the pitch right or hit the high notes well. When I was in Form 2, I particpated in a talentine competition, nama utai ulih, nadai lumor wai, keruan enda ngemuaska ati ti ka belagu. It was only in my late teens that I realised I was no Uji Rashid material, one of my favourite singers in the 70s. Yes, some people learnt late... Mom never complained about my singing, I guess she allowed me to express myself, unknowingly nurturing the budding of my self-confidence.

When I was still studying in Niah, I helped mom with the farm works on Saturdays and school holidays. Like most folks in Niah then, we planted pepper and paddy. Working was not unpleasant for my aunts took me under their wings. They told stories that made me laughed, they helped me carried the raga - the rattan basket - when it was full and heavy with ripened pepper berries. After school, I made sure our house was spick and span you could lie down on our anak tangga without having to worry about dirtying your body or clothes.

After I graduated from university and started work, I invited mom to stay with me - I wanted to care for her like she cared for us. However she said no, she couldn't leave my sister and my nephew & niece - she was looking after them. Then a few years ago I once again asked her to stay with me, again she said no, your sister, brother in law and Ann-Marie need me, she said. I will move in with you after Ann-Marie starts to walk by herself, mom said. That's my mom, always humble, always giving of herself, but finding joy in doing so. Truly the faith is alive in her. May God continue to bless you mom.

If I am God-fearing, hardworking, dependable and loving deeply the people I care for today, I credit it to the values I learnt from my father, mother, aunts and relatives. I am grateful for my religious upbringing. I am proud to have come from hardworking stock. I am proud to belong to people willing to sacrifice for the happiness and wellbeing of others. I am proud to belong to people who when we love, love deeply, till the end. My aunts, like my mom, were widowed young and they never remarried. People were mostly fooled by their appearance - they saw them tough on the outside but didn't know they are gooey inside. My aunts brought up my cousins well and for more than two decades, my aunts never had to work again, for their children took them in, loving and taking care of them in return...thank you Lord.

When I heard and saw how some mothers and mothers-in-law are meddling, I vowed to myself not to be one, I vowed to be like mom, always giving of myself, always nurturing, always giving joy to the people I love.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Jogja Girl

No, Mami, I will not go to Solo. Our posting at Banjarnegara ends tomorrow and my friends and I will return to Jogjakarta. I will stay put at Jogjakarta. See it from my point of view Mi, I am training to be a doctor, I am in the business of helping people. It just won’t do for me to blah at the first sign of trouble, she said. Furthermore the uni is strict, I don’t want to have to repeat my posting to Ops if I take leave. Yes my housemates have all been evacuated to Solo, but I will stay with friends. Don't worry about me, I’ll be safe, I know what to do. That's what my daughter told me over the phone last Friday, 5 Nov. She was away in Banjarnegara, interning at a health facility there - its 3 hrs drive from Jogjakarta - so she wasn't among the Malaysian students evacuated to Solo and flown home over the weekend.

What can I say in the face of her resoluteness? To plead with her to come home would make a travesty of my faith, of what I believe in. So I pulled the greatest cable of all times - I pleaded to God. Early Saturday morning, Maie and I went to church and I asked Father Michael, our parish priest, to offer mass for her safety, and the safety of Malaysian students at Jogjakarta. I was comforted, for during the sermon Fr Mike said not to worry, not to allow events to control us, rather we should place our trust in God, that God will see us through.

Her university had suspended classes for 10 days to organise aid to villagers in evacuation camps and the injured are taken to the Sardjito Hospital, the teaching hospital where she is doing her internship. She told me most are suffering from burns, one man at ICU is still unidentified – he was burnt real bad.

In her 1st year at medical school, she expressed her desire to work in poor countries after she graduates. I told her you don’t have to go far to serve the sick, there's plenty of help needed at home… ba ulu sungai, ba rumah panjai, tak mungkang bebai kantung kita tiga menyadi ila ngubat urang ke begunaka tulung ku aku. So I guess the Merapi eruption has given her an opportunity to witness first hand how its like to bring healing and comfort to people in need.

Sudan has always been determined, in many ways she is like me. But she is also a bit quiet like you know who. When she was in Form 5, she saw me coming home from office, tired. So she told me, I will study hard Mi, so that I get good results and obtain a scholarship, then you don’t have to work any more, okay? Au, ku aku. See, she has a view that mothers should stay home, raising children. Pahai aku kasak anak aku nya, study high high tang nyu ka nyadi indai fulltime. Ee, ukai nadai ama deh, pia ku aku nyaut.

She is not beyond doing something outrageous, well, outrageous by my standard. Two years ago she came home for the holidays, with streaks of blonde and plum colored hair. Ngapu aku. Anang nganu Mi, I was so stressed during the exam, I needed to destress by doing something extraordinary, pia ku iya.

The next time she came home, she told me she wanted to have a tattoo. No, absolutely not, over my dead body, ku aku. She is not my child without knowing that in that tone of voice I really, really mean business. So she went back to Jogja, opened her Bible and looked up where in the Bible that says Christians can’t have tattoos. She thought that its against the teachings of the faith to have tattoos and that must be the reason why I forbade her. She found the appropriate verse in Leviticus 19:28

You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead, nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD”.

Oh, no wonder Mami said no, ku iya. I didn’t know she went to such length until early this year when the family was holidaying in Phuket. We were in the MPV and talking about Iban tattoos and Igat, who has been fascinated by tattoos since he did an assignment on that subject in high school, told us he wishes to have bungai terong tattoo on his shoulders one day. Oh, aku rindu amat ka pantang bungai terong, ku aku, remembering the bungai terong that my late grandpa and his Batang Rejang relatives spotted. When she heard that, she thought I was okay with Igat's plan. She roared from the back seat. Mami! Enda asi! Aku enda di asuh nuan bepantang, Igat di asuh di! pia ku iya. ‘Igat, you can’t have tattoo, its forbidden – its in Leviticus”, she prompty told Igat. That’s how I knew she looked it up in the Bible. Igat’s reaction was so vehement – “why do you have to tell me that its forbidden! I’d rather not know so that I can do the tattoo. Now that I know, I won’t dare to do it”, pia ku Igat. Nama ga kita enggai enda madahka aku nya enda tau. Uji anang madah, lak ka aku ngereja nya. Tu aku nemu nya enda tau, nyu enda aku ulih bepantang, pia ku Igat, naka pengerenjan iya ngelabuhka jaku. Keh keh keh, ga iya chali chali bala anak aku… kasih amat, ka amat bepantang….

Well the Catholic position on body tattoo is like this – Body art as a form of adornment that is ordered to the ultimate good of the person and humanity, if it observes modesty and avoids vanity and if it respects the fundamental integrity of the human person – including integrity of the body – that kind of body art can be morally permissible. Eyebrow tattoo would seem to be morally permissible. But that is quite distinct from many of personal mutilation that many of today’s extreme tattoos and piercings entails. We are to discern which form of tattoo is sinful and harmful and which is acceptable and morally neutral. For Christians, the guideline we should follow is aptly expressed by Scripture,

Your adornment should not be an external one, but rather the hidden character of the heart ..which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

In a nutshell, don’t do at all, for you may not be able to discern well, or you may be motivated by vanity – an inordinate self-love related to the sin of pride - this makes it sinful. This is the reason why the Church warns us against the incipient moral danger associated with extreme forms of body art.

From the context of Leviticus 19:28, Catholic bible scholars view the prohibition as part of Jewish ritual laws, not moral laws for which Christians are bound. As Christians, we are bound by moral laws contained both in the Old and New Testaments, but we are not bound by Jewish ritual laws.

Tang, Sudan, Igat, the answer is still NO!!!

PS I love you my Jogja Girl, more than words can say. Stay safe, stay smart and don't forget the Evacuation Plan... di asuh aku nyimpan gari, ai irup enggau pemakai handy ba kerita, ambi ulih ngebu ka diri ma Merapi tak meletup enggau balat. Iya madah sida ka lari ka tunga Parangtitis, mua ka selatan Jogja (Merapi mua ka utara).

Tu gambar ke dilekatka Igat ba assignment iya suba. Minat amat Igat ka Ernesto, nanya aku sekalika aku nemu sapa Ernesto. Nemu aku ku aku, lawyer baka aku iya. Pandai amat iya neh Mi, pia ku Igat. Au. Asai ka bisi studio iya ba KL din, kelimpah ari ka ba Kuching, pia ku aku.