How I learned to be a woman

It’d been a while since the last time I entered Eyang’s green-painted room—she was already at the hospital then, probably a few weeks left before she’d pass over to the other side. It was weird, to say the least: being in this room without her. It feels wrong. She had been bed-bound for roughly 6-7 years, so ‘visiting Eyang’ is practically a synonym for going to this room.

Today, May 13th, is Eyang’s birthday. It is also a few days after the first-year mark of her passing. If you didn’t already know, she was a parent figure for me, one who shaped me into the woman I am today. I could not have overstated this even if I wanted to. My existence, everything I have achieved in life—it was all her (well, other than my parents, of course).

And it recently dawned on me how I never fully shared her story.

  1. She helped me discover my permanent love of learning
    Legend has it, we were walking home when I saw a Majalah Bobo on a stall, and how I wouldn’t go home without it. So she got me one—it’s the origin story of how I was able to read since I was barely three years old. Reading, as it turns out, is a key that opens the gate to the abundance of knowledge that I have been soaking myself in for the past 30 years. It was the lens through which I inch closer to understanding the world, a well that fuels my journey. But the ‘force’ didn’t happen as a defining ‘moment’, no—rather, throughout my childhood and teenage years, she has consistently guided me through every curiosity, question, idea, and opinion. She never told me to shut my ever-ticking brain. She loved singing to her grandchildren (we know today that it helped stimulate our brains). She made loving learning alright.
  2. She showed me how to be badass
    After I got divorced, she didn’t rush into telling me to find another man ASAP. She casually said, “Nggak apa-apa juga kalau sendiri,” which was not what I expected. Indeed, since her husband (the late Eyang Ngget) passed in 1992, she never remarried. She said she’d rather channel all her love to raising her grandchildren. She didn’t make our existence as a woman to revolve around the men in our lives, that we could lead the life we want. In her more productive years, she was Ketua RW who made changes to how things were done, and she led many of ‘penyuluhan’ sessions for the women in her hometown (and where I was born), Cianjur. Even after she couldn’t walk and had to use wheelchair everywhere, she didn’t want to depend on others if she could afford it.
  3. She introduced me to a God who’s reasonable
    I’d like to think that everyone’s spiritual journey is unique, and largely depends on who first introduced us to God. I was extremely lucky to have done so through Eyang. While I don’t always share her conservative views, in the big picture, she always told us that God would understand. Yes, we shall pray five times a day and fast during Ramadhan, but if we weren’t able to, God would not be petty about it. We could do it later, combine them, or pay in lieu of doing so. When I was 16 and told her I wanted to wear hijab, she asked if I were sure and that it’s okay if I weren’t. She told me I could always do it later, when I would understand better about what it meant, along with all the consequences. (Although she’s very adamant about not wearing sleeveless shirts, because Islam fundamentally required women to dress modestly.)
  4. She enabled me in being competitive
    For every math, language, cerdas cermat, debating, model UN, and what-have-you competition I went to, she would wake up at four, do her shalat subuh, and prayed into a glass of water for me to drink. She wasn’t superstitious per se—she simply believed that prayers matter in determining the outcome, and this ritual manifest the spiritual into the physical world. She’d make sure I drink that glass of water before I left the house. Yes, I ended up winning many times but I also lose; it’s not quite about that—it was more about how I understood that these competitions mattered to her. Even more important than the prayers, she would come with me to the event and sat through it all. It was like she held my hand when I was answering the math sheets, or on the stage, all the way to the end. Her presence made a huge difference.
  5. She taught me to share
    Every family has a different relationship with money. Ours had been one where we didn’t have that much to waste any of it, but also that it was imperative to share and help others when we can. As a child, I have observed her be responsible with every Rupiah that she has, she would note her expenses down and all before the age of excel or apps—but she also never hesitated to share. Whenever we have a little more rezeki, she would allocate ahead for different members of the family. It’s how I knew gift giving was her primary love language. She was always full of gratitude whenever I bought her things—not because she was materialistic, but because she understood the effort that goes into it.

Above anything else, I learned the importance of being consistent. In learning, in being self-reliant, in worship, in working hard, and in sharing. Way before James Clear, my grandmother taught me how creating systems and habits made all the difference. She would know exactly where things are stored and made sure that we put everything back. She always wakes up early, and had a whole routine every single day.

She was the matriarch we all respect, look up to, and love.

I miss you her much, to the extent that I badly hope the afterlife is real because I really want to hug you and kiss your forehead again.

At the risk of sounding ultra cliche, I know that she will live on in our hearts. I know that every now and then, I will ask myself, “What would Eyang do?”

Happy birthday lagi, Eyang sayang. I hope I have done you proud.


Why I said ‘yes’

This is not a love letter to my groom-to-be per se (sorry to disappoint), but I write this mainly as a reminder to you—my future, overthinking, ever-anxious self—of why. Of what went on in your head when you made this call. Because it’s one thing to love someone, but a whole other level to commit to a marriage. I know us too well to guarantee that you’re going to have doubts and second-guess your own decision (perhaps because we did it once, and now we’re a lot more risk-averse). So let me tell you this—your expansive brain would again run around to different corners, dark and light, playing and replaying scenarios of the best and the worst things that could happen, but in the end, you’d come to the same conclusion: that it only makes sense to be with him. No matter how many times we do this.

(Unless of course you’re presented with new data points that fundamentally changes the outcome, we’re too Bayesian to ignore that.)

So here are five reasons why—hold on to them whenever that fear comes to visit:

  1. You were both whole before you met each other. He wasn’t looking for someone to fix his life, and neither were you. You and he are only doing this because you both genuinely believe that being together makes it possible for you to go farther than you would on your own (even though that would’ve probably been fine, too). You weren’t under any pressure to get married and therefore could walk away at any time in the relationship, yet you both choose to be together and for the right reasons.
  2. You’re fundamentally compatible. Things that other people find difficult about the two of you are what you enjoy about each other. Your shared ‘logic base’ a.k.a. the ‘container’, makes it not only easy but also rewarding for you to think things through, even when the ‘content’ a.k.a. our interests in life tend to vary. On Day 5, he made an excel sheet to score himself against your random list of 60+ criteria you want from a partner and passed with flying colors. (Not to mention all the scary similarities we share—down to Di Pematang and Anugerah yang Indah.) On Day 6, both of you spent three hours in the most beautiful braindance you’ve ever done with anyone and come up with a whole framework just because you disagreed with how people thought you were moving ‘too fast’. On Day 25, he told your friends your overthinking was actually what he loved about you (although he had yet to understand the full extent of it haha). You have to really make an effort if you want to offend each other. Being with him is easy because you could talk about anything—menial and principal, you never had to translate your soul, not really. You never had to perform, but you allow the space for ‘mutual impact’ and for the other person to grow individually—all the while growing together.
  3. You have the toolbox to overcome anything. Even when things go awry—as they have, and they will again—the two of you have what it takes to deal with them. Your superpower is in how you communicate: you take turns in being grounded when the other person’s triggered, and on rare occasions when you both were, you love each other too much to try your best to be the one staying on the ground. He told you he never had to be a different person even when you’re emotional—he could say what he means and it is precisely his reasoning that fixes the problem (which sometimes ended up making things worse for others). Is this what they mean when they say, being with the wrong person would make small problems big, yet with him, even the biggest problems seem chewable? On Month 1, he kept you calm through something that otherwise would’ve panicked you big time. You don’t always agree on everything, and this is the part that bothers you the most, but as he would always remind you—you could just talk it through. And the two of you have talked through a lot of things, you know you’re pretty good at it. Through every fight, he knows that it’s never the two of you against each other, but it’s the two of you against the problem. You love how you always resolve your fights, and hopefully, the record will stay this way.
  4. You make an effing great team. You’re both terrific problem solvers—when you think about how life gets so messy sometimes, it calms you to know that he’s got your back, and you hope that he knows you got his. No matter what. Professionally—which is not why you’re doing this, but also something important to both of you independently—you have complementary skillsets: he knows many things that are in your blind spots, and you his. He taught you about things you never thought about, and you’d like to think that he learns a thing or two from you. You love how you would strategize together you before going into a battle, how you both provide a safe space (the ‘castle’) for each other before you leave to your respective wars.
  5. He loves you the way you want to be loved. You know how other men have told you they loved you before and you always had a hard time believing them? You haven’t quite figured out why, but when he tells you this, you believe him. Maybe because you feel that he understands you. Maybe because he loves you as a verb, the way you want to be loved. How he protects you, takes care of you (especially when you’re sick), builds you up (though also teases you down, sigh), how the look in his brown eyes makes you feel seen. You hope that he knows that you love him so much too, even on the days that it was difficult to.

More importantly, you’re a much better partner now—more self-aware of your own issues and baggage, more compassionate about your and others’s struggle. You have significantly evolved from the first time you said yes. You’re still not a perfect partner by far, but for now, you’re pretty convinced that this relationship/partnership/soon-to-be-marriage is important enough for the two of you that you will put all the work necessary into it. It will not always be easy and rosy, but as long as we commit to always learning (about and from each other) and growing, things will work out in the end.

TL;DR; because maybe—just maybe—we have what it takes. Bismillah.

A full-course meal that is 2022

I genuinely thought I was done with 2022 when the year abruptly turned itself around.

On November 23, I posted a reel (“And with that, the 2022 season comes to an end…“) concluding the year to be that of family, friendship, community, celebrations, explorations, and self-acceptance—all orbiting a core defined by losing Eyang.

On November 26, little did I know, I met someone who thoroughly reoriented the rest of the year, like a sonata selfishly engulfing the rest of the song.

I knew that 2022 was supposed to teach me about how sorrow and joy could co-exist—almost reinforcing each other even—but man I had no idea that a whole other level of happiness existed before you. There’s no way I could have anticipated finding this much comfort again, not after all the pain and loneliness I’ve familiarized myself with lately.

In Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Hawking talked about how the positive energy yielded out of The Big Bang is inseparable from the negative energy dispersed throughout the universe. The former could not have existed without the latter.

I’d like to think that your existence is the culmination of every bit of misery I’ve ever had to go through before this point, because how else could I deserve this overflowing sense of contentment?

(In my head, you would say that I deserve all this and more.)

Writing this is a conscious effort to remind myself that this year has been that of a full-course meal, no matter how much more convenient it is to focus on how it’s ending. The journey was kicked off by Sorrow, followed immediately by Wonder, and finished with Joy—so, so, so much Joy.

First Course: Sorrow

I thought I have mastered the art of losing in 2021—but it was dwarfed by what I experienced this year. The universe seemed committed to making sure I did not have a half-baked lesson and let me experience an even deeper loss, that of the woman I love the most in the world. A loss that floored my entire being and completely changed the way I looked at the world.

If you’ve never had a significant other passing away, please know that no matter how prepared you think you were, you could never really be ready for it. The first time I entertained a real possibility of not seeing Eyang in her green room at my parents’ again, I cried so hard I had to gasp for air. Then when Mamah called me at 6AM in the morning, saying that Eyang finally took her last breath after four months of intensely fighting against her failing kidneys, all I could do was sit in silence. When I finally saw her again, all wrapped in white kafan, all I wanted to do was hug and kiss her forehead for one last time, knowing how much I will miss doing that forever. As they slowly lowered her into the ground, all that’s left was peace, imagining her smiling face of reuniting with her beloved husband and daughter again.

Today, seven months later, she is still on top of my phone’s ‘favorite call’ shortcut. I badly miss our weekly calls, her voice when she picks up my call saying “Assalamualaikooommm”, asking me about my latest work trip, me wishing I could take her around if she wasn’t bound to her bed. I miss how she would joke that my jodoh would be both handsome and rich, and how she would brag about me to all of our relatives.

It helps to think that she continues to live in all of our memories, remember how she’d led a full life, and try living by her values every day. I am grateful to find the rest of the family (Mom, Papah, Pap, Mamah, Kakak, Dede, Cici) ever more resilient after going through that together.

Alfatihah untuk Eyang—we all love and miss you so dearly.

Second Course: Wonder

After over two years of staying put at home, 2022 is also a year of (re)discoveries: making new friends, delving into new hobbies, bathing in new forests, strolling through new cities, and accomplishing a major dream.

  • Opening myself up to new friendships has been one of the most rewarding things this year; met a few souls whom I will treasure for a really long time (if not life). The kind that inspires you, that will stick around during bad times (including when you fall sick), that made you grateful it happened instead of fearing that it won’t last forever.
  • I let Dinar drag me to new activities—did muay thai a bunch and was pleasantly surprised to find how my body reacted to beat and music. It turns out I enjoy learning dance moves and didn’t mind that I looked silly while doing it. The dopamine rush that followed was pretty great, too. I happened to also unlock a new capacity to fully appreciate good meals (‘living to eat’ from ‘eating to live’), coached by Florida.
  • Reconnecting with nature has fulfilled my soul. Spending time in the forests (or beaches, alternatively) of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Lombok has given me that singular feeling of being connected with Mother Earth is something I will always yearn for. It’s the year I finally understand that ‘grounding’ myself (in a literal sense) is a necessity for my being, a reminder of why I do what I do.
  • On the flip side, I have marveled over what humanity has been able to achieve—particularly in Madrid and Seoul. Learning the histories of their people, taking pauses to appreciate art—the peace that comes with being a nobody in a whole new city was one of a kind, a privilege that I never want to take for granted. Vaguely in between all of that, I tasted the fleeting feelings of belonging.
  • Finally, after quite the delay, Menjadi got published. Putting on a new onion layer as an author, having all of my good friends at the launch party, and traveling around to discuss the book have brought me some serious wonderful feelings. I’d love to tell my 13 year old self that she’s doing alright—accomplishing her dream(s), one at a time.

I hope to do more of all of the above next year (including a possible second book?).

Third Course: Joy

[Enter: you.]

You should know that we met at a point when I was done with wanting to be with someone. I was perfectly happy alone; you told me that you were, too. Neither of us expected to walk down a road that leads us here. (Read: nggak jelas banget anjir kamu tiba-tiba muncul entah dari mana mendadak bikin kesengsem dan butuh ketemu tiap hari.)

When people asked us how it started, we would tell them about the dog park. We were temen seangkatan di kampus who somehow reconnected. But I think it started all the way back—it might have even started the days we were born. The scarily similar families we ended up with, where we’re both firstborns with two younger siblings from the opposite gender. Where both our parents decided to call us ‘Dit’ at home and gloriously combined their names as our middle names. The separate but parallel journeys we took that led to the way we think today (gimana ceritanya we both decided to give ourselves a new name made out of the acronym of our full names, or started a business as teenagers, or bought properties just five minutes away from each other in the same year).

When people asked us why, we would tell them how it just makes sense. But I think it also doesn’t make sense how you tick practically everything on my kriteria mangga list. I never dared to think that the imaginary person I created in my head existed, and yet here you are. It is pretty crazy to think how many telepathic moments we had, how you help me with what I actually need not just what’s expected, quite unreal that you often just knew what I was thinking before I said anything.

When my friends told you that I’m difficult, you would tell them that being with me has been the easiest, most natural thing to do. For me, falling is easy when you responded “She overcomplicates things.” with, “That’s actually what I love about her.” Falling is easy when you’re a fierce problem solver—from daily mineal things to bigger, more consequential decisions. Falling is easy when you bring focus to my chaos, clarity to my anxiety, and calm to my worries. Falling is easy when you cooked me fried ox brain ‘just because’ or serenaded me on the piano in the morning. Falling is easy when being with each other’s families immediately felt familiar.

When our friends reminded us that this might just be a honeymoon phase, we would tell them that we are perfectly aware of it. But we also couldn’t deny this is no ordinary ‘honeymoon phase’ by far. I never felt this strongly about anyone, not in the first month of getting to know each other. I never gravitated towards another person this much; I typically would have needed to ‘use the restroom’ during dates just to get a break from hanging out with someone. With you, it still feels like I haven’t had enough, even after spending a whole week together. The intensity, passion, and overflowing joy has been unparalleled.

When our parents would (eventually) ask us when, we would tell them that we are taking our time. Because there is no shortcut to test endurance. You haven’t seen me at my worst, and neither have I you. But to the extent that you have sat with me when I was confused, afraid, jealous, and angry, I am already convinced that you have what it takes. I’d like to think that I have been able to provide you that space to be vulnerable, too.

The fact that two careful people who weren’t ready to (re)commit with anyone else before couldn’t help but talking about forever—just weeks after getting to know each other—is rather unusual, to say the least.

It’s weird how the year started with me crying a lot, and ended with me smiling ear to ear almost every day. Never did I anticipate to find myself being able to be ridiculously in love again, after what I’ve been through.

But that’s life, I guess: nothing’s quite permanent, including this state of happiness. The only thing left to do is to cherish it while it lasts.

The thing about loneliness

I see the irony, all right.

This post was written out of a cafe at the heart of bustling South Jakarta. To my left is a case of youth camaraderie—it was someone’s birthday so there was a (white and pink) cake involved. To my right, are two female best friends giggling while taking each other’s picture just because. Oh, buzzing friendships. Sparks of connection.

For a brief moment, from where I sat, it seemed like there was no such thing as loneliness. But of course there is, because how else would you explain this growing, hollowing feeling inside my chest?

What I know for sure is that it has nothing to do with being alone.

I have loved spending time with myself since I was a little kid. I would always prefer to be left alone with my Kumpulan Cerpen/Dongeng Majalah Bobo than playing with my friends. Growing up, I spent a lot of time being inside my head and was never scared of it. It’s when I am alone that I could be free, exploring every single corner of my mind. A healthy dose of being alone fulfills my soul.

So, is it a byproduct of rejection(s)?

Is it possible that, as a child, I was wholly and utterly protected by my parents’ love, that I thought of the world as this ever-accepting place? Then adulting hits: the inevitability of making mistakes that hurt others, who sometimes forgive, but other times leave. It often means wanting to be with someone(s) who may not see you the way you see them. Who chooses—or is forced—to not be with you. It’s discovering that people have expectations that you do not always meet.

Each time that happens, my heart’s corner chips away, bit by bit, perhaps slowly taking into a whole new shape that fits better with solitude.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we will never be able to please everyone—even ice cream can’t do that. But it does not necessarily mean that I don’t feel a pang of pain after each ‘no’; some cut deeper than others. Not to mention the losses that happened beyond our control: the deaths that took our beloved away.

Ultimately these things lead me to the sobering awareness that during those times I went into my cave of solitude, the world is not always there with open arms when I got out of it. At some point, the cave might have stopped being an option and started becoming an unescapable dead end.

Not having a constant—someone or something to go home to, to belong to—kind of puts the nail in the coffin.

As a child, my first constant was of course my parents and brothers, even today, I know that they will always be there, and I am forever grateful for that. When I entered my teenage years, it became my friends at school and university. Then it became work, what I thought was a lifetime of craft that I love. Then it became, of course, my ex-husband. But since last year, I don’t quite have anything. I was suddenly untethered. Afloat, with no anchor to ground me.

Maybe I lost faith that I could ever belong to anything ever again. Or maybe I’ve gotten too acquainted with the hurt that comes with it.

Now I live in an oscillating state of being afraid—both of belonging and of not belonging.

What will come after this? It feels overwhelming just to hypothesize.

[Just to clarify: it’s not like I don’t have friends who are there for me, whom I cherish and appreciate. But the kind of loneliness I’m talking about runs deeper than just lack of (even really great) companionship.]

Here’s a prescription that a wise friend gave me:

  1. Embrace loneliness as an inseparable part of being. Maybe, just maybe, loneliness has always been sitting there in the corner of your heart (we were born alone after all). It’s just that only as adults do we have the courage, or maybe mental space, to observe and acknowledge it.
  2. Do not take connection with someone for granted, celebrate even the most impermanent/short-lived ones. Once we accept the above, we will see the beauty in those rare moments of being understood. We will treasure those relationships—romantic or otherwise—as memories that make life worth living. When they end, do not resent them, but be grateful that you got to experience them.
  3. Find that constant within you. While everyone would come into and out of your life as they please, know that you could always count on yourself. We have been conditioned, through fairy tales, that we were supposed to find that someone-ever-after, who will complete our soul and being. Speaking from experience, you certainly could still feel lonely while being with someone. Heck, you might be sharing a bed with them and still feel unseen. So here’s to appreciating yourself for being there for you.
  4. That said, let others in, still. Give chance for that spark and connection to happen. I know that putting a heart on your sleeve is scary because you will find yourself hurt. But it’s the only way to make life worth living—by giving friendship, or any other kind of relationship, a shot. You will bleed, from time to time, but every once in a blue moon, you will come out victorious, and it will all be worth it.

Thank you for making my lonely world a little less lonely by reading this. I love you guys so much.

Wijaya IX, 16 Oct 2022

Eyang Iib & Kekuatan Doa (1936-2022)

Katanya, seseorang yang tiada akan tetap hidup dalam memori mereka yang terus mengenangnya. Maka sesungguhnya Eyang Iib akan abadi, karena bukan hanya saya dan keluarga kami, tapi begitu banyak orang yang telah disentuh kebaikan hati beliau insya Allah akan senantiasa mengingat.

Dalam mengingat Eyang, saya terkenang sosok yang senantiasa berdoa. Begitu khusyuk, begitu setia, dan begitu konsisten. Saya mengingat Eyang yang mengenakan mukena yang selalu beliau pakai sejak saya kecil, menengadahkan tangannya untuk meminta dari Allah—dulu pada sajadah beludru birunya, lalu setelah sudah tidak bisa berjalan di atas tempat tidurnya yang ditegakkan—bukan dari ego atau rasa berhak, bukan pula dari ketamakan.

Eyang justru meminta agar bisa lebih banyak memberi.

“Ya Allah, berikanlah kami rejeki agar bisa beribadah lebih baik lagi di jalan-Mu, agar bisa membantu orang di sekitar kami…”

Begitulah hidup Eyang, sebisa mungkin agar menjadi manfaat bagi orang lain.

Dari cerita saudara-saudara, saya belakangan tahu bahwa dulu setelah menikah, Eyang diminta Eyang Husein (suaminya) untuk berhenti mengajar. Tapi siapapun yang mengenal Eyang Iib tahu bahwa mustahil membuat beliau diam di rumah. Meski tidak bekerja, Eyang kemudian aktif berorganisasi di desa, memimpin penyuluhan bagi perempuan-perempuan di Cianjur, bahkan sampai menjadi Ketua RW (pun setelah tulang kaki Eyang patah dan harus menghabiskan banyak waktu di tempat tidur, beliau terus berkegiatan ini-itu). Bagaimana tidak, kalau ibunya dulu juga seorang aktivis pejuang kemerdekaan.

Kalau hari ini saya juga aktif memperjuangkan isu lingkungan dan berorganisasi, itu karena darah mereka mengalir pula di nadi saya.

Eyang selalu membanggakan prestasi cucu-cucunya. Eyang banyak bercerita ke para penjenguknya selama beberapa bulan terakhir hidupnya tentang saya yang sempat diundang ke Istana Bogor untuk ikut diskusi bersama Jokowi. Yang Eyang tidak ceritakan, adalah betapa gigihnya doa-doa beliau untuk kami, dan bahwa aliran doa-doa itu pula lah yang membawa saya, anak-anak, serta cucu-cucunya sampai bisa sejauh ini.

Salah satu memori terawal sekaligus terkuat saya adalah Eyang yang bangun jam 4 pagi untuk berdoa bagi kemenangan saya di lomba-lomba sejak SD—baik itu matematika, IPA, cerdas cermat—tidak ada hari kompetisi di mana saya berangkat meninggalkan rumah tanpa meminum ‘air doa’ dari Eyang.

Ketika sudah tidak tinggal bersama pun, setiap ada kesempatan di mana saya membutuhkan keberuntungan—baik itu lomba, wawancara, atau aplikasi beasiswa maupun kesempatan apapun itu—saya pasti akan telepon Eyang untuk meminta doa beliau.

Hari ini, tanpa Eyang dan doa-doanya, saya merasa lemah—seperti prajurit tanpa baju zirah.

Dari banyak doa yang Eyang sering sampaikan, yang paling berarti dan membekas di hati saya adalah doa agar “Nenk Dhita banyak yang sayang.” Saya sering didoakan orang untuk senantiasa bahagia, atau sukses, atau banyak rezeki. Tapi cuma Eyang yang mendoakan agar banyak yang sayang. Mungkin Eyang tahu bahwa hidup pada akhirnya adalah tentang rasa sayang dan cinta kasih di antara sesama manusia.

Maka beruntunglah kita yang hidupnya telah disentuh cinta kasih Eyang.

Semoga kita bisa meneruskannya ke lebih banyak orang, sebagaimana Eyang harapkan.

Amin ya Rabbal Alamiiin.

Selamanya cucu pertama Eyang,
Nenk Dhyta