“When I see things from the present, life seems like a maze of doors. One door was closed, another one opens up for you, and another one, and another one. But when I look back, it all happened for a reason—choices that I made and what I ended up doing.” he smiled.
Let me tell you a story about a guy I know. Let’s call him John.
Today was just another day for John. He woke up in his ripped red shorts and worn-out white shirt. He would look at himself in the mirror, as usual, in his primary school uniform – which, for him, was the only outfit he had. He would eat up half a plate of rice topped with drizzles of sweet soy sauce and a garlic cracker for his breakfast.
“If I could have half a fried egg on top of my rice, it would be the highlight of my week” he said.
As always, he would eat up alone. His eldest sister and second brother were away for work and his eldest brother was in Bandung for college. John's mum was rarely home, traveling back and forth for work in Mojosari, a little town that was a 3-hour bus ride away. Meanwhile his father slept the whole day and gambled the whole night.
“You know those trucks in the CBD? The ones that little village kids secretly climb up from behind and shout excitedly just because it’s fun? I used to be one of them.” he added.
His school wasn’t too far away so he walked. Sometimes he would see his classmate along the way and walk together, brushing up against each other and giggled. They often played around giving piggy-back rides to one another. That should have been easy to do; John was as light as air and he never had books with him because he could never afford one. All the things he had in his mended bag were found somewhere in the corner of his classroom. But he didn’t mind.
“I remember how embarrassed I was when a friend invited me to their birthday lunch. I always hesitated to go because my school uniform was the best outfit I had.” he chuckled.
He was supposed to finish Grade 5, but his marks were so poor that he couldn’t move up to Grade 6. Usually, when his mum returned to Surabaya, she would spank him and lock him up in the bathroom for hours after looking at the red marks on his school report. This time was different—he was actually failing. His mum begged the principal of the school to let him have a month of probation in Grade 6 and see if he could continue.
Afraid of disappointing his mum, John started to fix his grades and began his involvements in school extracurricular activities, including basketball.
This was the starting point of his journey. When he entered high school, he was recruited in a basketball club. In Year 11, he became a national basketballer. This is the sole reason he could stay in school despite his financial constraints as he attained a scholarship by working for the team. But this was also the reason he had to juggle with school and travel around the country for the games every week.
After he graduated, he started dating a lady he met at high school.
“The first time I saw her was when we had mixed-class exam. Her cheeks were very rosy pink. I was there and I was wondering how could someone be as beautiful.”
His intention to marry her led his pursuit of a better and sustainable job. This was when started working as a labourer at a textile company. A couple of years after, he was promoted as the cashier. And a while later, a salesman.
But of course, having to juggle between basketball, relationship commitment and work, he needed to rethink his decision. After a while, he finally left basketball for good.
When he was 25, he married his now wife. Ten years after, he offered his director with a business proposal to be partners in establishing a new textile company. Rejections after rejections, he finally approved. Now he’s a co-founder and owner of 15-branch textile company around Java.
John is my dad. His real name is Anton.
Every once in a while he would talk to me and say, “what are you most grateful for in life?”. What is it, indeed?
Any other day he would tear up thinking on his own—with all that he has had now, why can’t he be completely content with himself?
“I remember when my happiness was only playing in puddles with my friend and taking a bar of soap and running outside naked when it was raining so I could wash myself in the rain.” he said. “Who would have known a silly kid like that can teach me something greater than what I know now—joy and gratefulness.”
When do we ever feel enough? How do we start to receive by giving instead of demanding to receive and receive?
How many people out there who are down to do anything to be in our place? To have good education? A loaf of bread with peanut butter and jam? I even have a relative who teared up smiling when she touched my iPhone for the first time.
I once asked my dad, “papa, what can I do to be as successful as you?” He laughed and said, “What is success to you?”
In that moment I realised--what more of a better success than being content? And being content leads you to do your best because you know that’s the least thing you can do to express that? And what you achieve is only the fruit of it and not the other way around.
What have we really done as a contribution of our own thankfulness of what we have had so far? It’s too easy to think that it’s only us and we don’t have enough to give.
Since people love numbers, I will conclude with this:
According to Social Policy Research Centre (2016), Australia's poverty line for a single adult was $426.30 per week. That's way above the internationally accepted poverty line of about $2 per day. Even with this high of a poverty line, only about 13.3% of the population were living under the line.
According to Asian Development Bank (2015), Indonesia's poverty line, based on its government, for a single adult was USD 25 per month, that's about 82 cents per day. When that line was used, about 11% were living in poverty. If the internationally accepted poverty line of $2 per day had been used, 40% of the population would have been living under the line.
“If you ever had the chance, go. Go and try wearing their shoes. Try walking their walk. See how they think when you ask these little kids what they wanted to be in the future and they answered back ‘I want to be a president but—it’s impossible’ and laughed at their own dream. Then you will appreciate your place.”
We often think we give to give but we end up receiving. We often think we teach to teach but we end up learning.
Asian Development Bank 2015, “Summary of Indonesia’s Poverty Analysis”, ADB Papers on Indonesia, No. 4, October, Philippines.
Social Policy Research Centre 2016, Poverty in Australia 2016, Australian Council of Social Service, Strawberry Hills, Australia.
Just some random thoughts worth sharing.