Oftentimes I find the concept of “eternity” difficult to comprehend. Suppose you’re a painter, with what colors do you paint eternity? Suppose you’re a songwriter, in what chords, what progressions, what tonality do you compose?
It’s just over midnight when I decide to have a short walk before sleeping. I find all the boys are sound asleep except one.
“That your wife?”
“Uh, no, sir,” he replies while swiftly tucking a photograph of a beautiful young lady inside his pocket.
“You’re a lucky guy.”
“I guess so.”
“How long have you two been together?”
“Wow. That’s quite a long time.”
“Not without our ups and downs.” He chuckles nervously.
“Have some trouble sleepin’ in the dirt?”
“No, sarge, it’s just I don’t feel like sleeping already.”
I sat down next to him. It was full moon and I could see his weary face clearly. There’s a momentary silence as his mind begins to wander.
“I really miss her,” he says, out of nowhere. Then another silence follows.
“Do you think the war will soon be over, sir?”
“I don’t know.” I know that sort of answer would not give him relief but I honestly don’t know. Personally, I’m tired of this war.
His face becomes solemn. “When I go back to Jakarta, I will propose to her.”
“I’ll cut your throat if you don’t invite me.”
He chuckles again. This young man has a contagious kind of jolly and warm chuckle which immediately lifts your mood up.
“Tell me, do you believe in heaven and hell, private?”
“Yeah, I do. What of it, sir?” He turns his head towards me, interested in my unexpected question.
“I never get it.” I pause for a moment. “It’s funny, though, how temporary our lives here on Earth seem to be.” He looks intently at me, waiting to hear my next sentences.
“This war makes me think again, deep inside. I’ve seen plenty of deaths already. A grenade falls, bang! You’re dead. Just weeks ago we’re hit by an ambush. We were eating! There was this man, he hadn’t even finished sayin’ his prayer yet.”
“It’s horrible,” he says. He looks upset. Now he turns his head back, looking to the darkness in front of us. The darkness seems to stare back, as if mocking our complete inability in knowing when the war will be over.
“Sarge, what if this war won’t be over? What if… this war continues forever?”
“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talkin’ about, kid. What’s ‘forever’? What do you mean by that?”
“Uh, like, forever, sir.”
“I can’t make sense of ‘forever’. Guess that’s why I have trouble believin’ in heaven and hell.”
“I too, sir, have a difficulty in making sense of it. But dare I say to you, it might help if you look at it from another perspective.”
“Yeah. I mean, ‘forever’ is almost crazy, right? You have this stretch of time,” he stretches his arms wide open, “and it has no beginning and no end. But then again, if you think about it, there is no time there.”
He is silent for a while, trying to find a way to communicate his idea. “Oh, now I’m blabbering.”
“No, no. Please continue.”
“Are you sure? My friends would be bored whenever I start to talk about things like this.” He chuckles again.
“Right. So you have this concept of a place where there is no time. How can a man make sense of a place without time? It’s very puzzling! We’re so used to the concept of time. All our lives, we cannot escape from time.
“But I try to approach it from the other direction. In my attempt to make sense of the ‘forever’, I’d think first of the ‘never’. The two are somewhat similar, in a sense that they’re both timeless. There is no time also in the ‘never’. I’d ponder about things that hasn’t happened yet, and extrapolate it so that it would never happen. Like, what if we’d never land on Mars, or… or, what if I would never marry her. Well, that knocks my brain!”
We look again into the darkness. Sometimes I have the feeling that I would never see peace again. This war has been going for three years I almost forget my previous life. Experiencing so many horrors sets a new normal in my mind.
“And then I’d compare those images of ’never’ with images of ‘ever’: the image of me living in Mars, for example. Or, the image of my wedding day. Well, even though ‘ever’ isn’t exactly the same as ‘forever’, but it helps, you know.”
Now it’s me who chuckle. “Funny. I compare the images of war and peace side by side. I can vividly imagine this war going on and on and on, but it just no longer makes sense to me that we can have eternal peace. Guess I’ve been here for too long.”
“Uh, in our original context of heaven and hell, it does make sense, sir. If I’m asked to imagine a place where there is torture forever, I cannot do that. But if I am to picture a place where no one can ever see Peace and Love, well, I can do that. Same goes for the opposite.”
The darkness in front of us is pitch black. It is a terrible thing to have no light at all. I get up, quietly thanking in my downtrodden heart for the full moon above us.
“It’s a helpful technique, sarge,” says he, with a cordial smile on his face.
“It is. Go to sleep, private, it’s almost one.”
As I walk back, I’m reminded of a story my grandmother used to tell me when I was a little boy. It was about a really bad man who never did any good during his life. He stole, he beat people up, he lied, he cheated. As the story goes, one day he was arrested and sentenced to death. No one would even dare to think that he could be forgiven. But on his last day on Earth, he said to the man beside him, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” And as the story goes, that criminal be with him in paradise.
All of a sudden, the ‘never’ becomes ‘forever’.
It’s called winglet. The curved part on the tip of an airplane wing that reduces vortices so that aircrafts can be more efficient.
I used to see this kind of curvature on my little cousin’s paper airplane. I would laugh at him—poor him—whenever he made that final fold on the wing tip. “Why do you make that silly folding? It would have no effect at all on your airplane’s performance. HA HA HA!”
He would stick to his design and nervously threw the airplane into the sky. Of course it made no difference. Of course no noticeable effect would be observed given the shape of the wing and the very small surface area and the very low traveling speed. But aerodynamics aside, in this humble post I want to underline how much I was struck when I realized that more and more modern airplanes are using this kind of ‘silly folding’.
The date was August 17, 2015 and I was about to take-off on a Boeing 737 from Kualanamu International Airport after attending one of the best wedding in God’s green Earth. My seat was located right beside the wing and I can see the wing through my window. All of a sudden a curiosity was aroused when I saw the curved part of its tip. “Why is it curved?” I wondered. Surely it will result in more drag? Surely it will make the wing heavier? So what’s the point of having this silly upward-bent piece of aluminum?
The itching curiosity made me look it up on the Internet, albeit the impending departure of the aircraft. A stewardess had to remind me to switch my mobile phone off. I felt like yelling to her, “But this is curious, Miss!” Thank God I got the answer just before the airplane finished taxiing.
Ignorance is bliss, they say, and how blissfully ironic it was when I scoffed at my little cousins. Not that I was aerodynamically wrong, but this reminds me of my ignorance that it might be a good idea to apply that curve to a jumbo jet. With better attitude to my younger cousin I might learn something new and, better still, he could have been inspired to pursue an excellent career in aerospace engineering. Who knows? Inspiration can carry a man to places he doesn’t even dare dreaming about; he might be the next Igor Sikorsky, for Pete’s sake.
There are countless stories out there—I have even heard some from my friends—about how youngsters’ ideas are neglected just because those ideas come from “a cheeky young sod”. Okay, his idea may be a bit odd. An inexperienced man he may be, but surely it doesn’t hurt to listen to his idea?
It is good for a country to have a great older generation, but it is even better to have great youngsters. Great youngsters are not born, though. They are nurtured and taught by their seniors.
Imagine what would happen if 87 years ago there was no one from the older generation listening to what the youth wanted to say and helping them. Or worse, if the seniors scoffed and discouraged them instead. Probably there wouldn’t be an event called Sumpah Pemuda. But luckily, the older generation listened to their roaring voice and they rocked the country and 17 years later Indonesia entered a totally new phase in her life.
So herewith I would like to humbly re-declare it. With no disrespect to the event that took place 87 years ago, I reiterate the Pledge: that we are going to rock this country again. As young Garudas cannot fly without proper nurture from their parents, it is also the same with young men. So you old men, please guide us youngsters to fly.
And to you youngsters of Indonesia, let us toast for this emerging golden period. Let us nervously throw our paper airplane to the sky. Let us have a good time. Let us have a really, really, GOOD time!
Selamat hari Sumpah Pemuda. Mungkin 17 tahun lagi kita akan berpesta.
*For those of you who are ready to highlight the irony regarding my use of English in this post: sorry mate, I have my own consideration. I still use Bahasa Indonesia on my regular daily conversation. Better use your time to figure out a way to launch spaceships to Mars.