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’.
The man who suffers the most is the one reborn without the ability to overcome the flesh
J. P. Sanjaya
In the beginning, man created questions
Then he fashioned them
and used them,
for a Rebellion
Oh, how brave he was!
Never in life have I seen a tower
standing so tall and proud
“I hath killed Him,” said he, coldly
No, surely not!
Verily, verily, He was dead
but is alive
For how can Light be killed?
The Light came forth
blinding his vision
begged the wolf to the Lamb
Look now, he kneeled
Once mighty and brave,
he was crumbling into pieces
A leper has been cleansed
But, alas, a wolf’s a wolf
The pack came back
“Dear friend, where hast thou been?”
and gave thirty pieces of silver
Another day, another Judas’ kiss
“Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here”
He spat on his own feet;
and then the rooster crowed
(But still the Light cometh forth,
for he is considered precious
“I love you, son,
do you love me?”)
Eu acredito! (I believe!)
Dear courteous reader, I am sorry if this starts to annoy you. I thought there would be no part three, but what can I say? Watching the drama of yesterday’s penalty shootout sent shivers down my spine, bringing me back to the memories of my own penalty shootouts. Well, for your convenience, I promise I’ll make this one a tad shorter than the second part.
The referee blew the whistle. It was the end of 120 minutes of nerve-racking conflict between two equal sides. Everyone knew what it meant: the dreaded penalty shootout―a lottery contest to determine the winner and the loser. The horror of failing to qualify was plainly written in the Brazilian players’ faces. Captain Thiago Silva covered his face as he couldn’t bear to look at the massive yellow crowd in front of him. Poor him! I don’t need to explain how great the pressure was on the players. It might take another sixty years before Brazil would host the World Cup again. Every Brazilians were dreaming, dreaming of winning the World Cup in their own land, and now that dream hung heavily on the shoulders of the penalty takers.
The scoreline read 2-2. Up stepped Neymar, Brazil’s fifth penalty taker. He knew if he missed this one, that dream would be very likely to shatter to pieces. A nation’s dream, Ladies and Gentlemen! Imagine the suspense, listen to his heart thumping as he walked from the halfway line forward. He put the ball on the white spot. His complexion changed. Just a minute ago he was agitated and uneasy. Now, though, he seemed very composed and so sure that he would score. He looked intently at the goal and made up his mind. He ran forward. He swung his leg…
It is never easy for me to fully believe in something. I don’t know why―maybe it’s in my DNA―I always open some rooms to suspicion. This doesn’t help me at all when I am searching for that Hand in darkness. No, don’t misunderstand me, I do believe in Him, but it just feels agonizingly hard for me to surrender completely to a God that I don’t know really well. There’s always the doubt that there is nothing at all up there. I have asked numerous times for a conclusive proof to settle this once and for all―call me Thomas if you’d like―but nothing has been given yet.
Things get rough when I am having a navigational problem. As you have probably known, my ship had been struck by a heavy storm. Even without a storm the voyage itself is already frightening me a lot, and now what happened? A heavy storm, Ladies and Gentlemen!―as if the wave itself is not enough. It is not surprising, really, that I then looked for the Hand. Sadly, though, I don’t know Him well enough. It was very hard to be assured when one doesn’t know Him well.
It is frustrating to realize that no matter how hard I tried to suppress it, doubt always manage to arrive (rather on time, unfortunately). The result is predictable: I become afraid. Although fear is a normal thing during situation like this, sometimes―if it is allowed to grow larger―it can impair one’s ability to fight back.
The Brazilians are not the only ones dreaming. I am dreaming too. Without any offense to His omnipotence, I think I won’t get there with doubt still lingering inside me.
My friend once asked me on how to take a penalty―I had a pretty good record on penalties. Straight out, I answered: “Well, first of all you have to ask yourself whether you’re ready or not to take it. If you’re not ready, don’t take it. If you’re ready, take it. At this stage it is okay to have some doubts in your heart, but once you step up to take it you have to be 100% blindly sure that you will score. This won’t make your leg stronger, but somehow it will condition your mind to give its best. That’s the art of penalty taking, to achieve a state of mind where doubt no longer exist.”
When I watched yesterday’s penalty shootout I can understand how it was like to be in Neymar’s shoe at that moment. Somehow I could relate his tension with my own tension, and zap! It occurred to me that maybe living is―to some extent―similar to penalty taking: let no doubt take away the goal, the dream.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Katharina von Schlegel
P.S.: After Chile’s last taker of the shootout failed to score, Brazilians in São Paulo lit up fireworks to celebrate the thrilling victory. I hope one day Jakarta would be doing the same.
P.P.S.: I apologize yet again, dear courteous reader, for I can’t keep my promise. This post is longer than the second part.