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.


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