Sun, 02 Feb 2003

We all live under the same sky

Three weeks ago, I found myself at the very lowest point of my life. On the same day I lost my best friend to malaria, I was informed that my wealthy cousin's house had burned to the ground in a big fire that swept through a housing complex in the Rawasari area of East Jakarta.

Two tragedies had hit me in the same day.

I'm not saying that one tragedy can be easily compared to another, but what was so depressing was that my friend and my dear cousin each had incredibly different ways of coping with the unexpected.

I felt like I had been thrown into two extremities of life, compared to my oh-so-ordinary one at present. The life of my cousin is one full of prosperity, shining hope and with many helping hands around him, while the other life, that of my poor friend, is full of hardship.

I still remember the last message my friend sent me on his cell phone's short message service (SMS) while he was lying in bed in the hospital. He had asked me if it would be possible to lend him Rp 1 million in case he needed money to pay for his medical treatment.

I could not hold back my tears at the time, thinking how panic-stricken he was: As a freelance journalist, he had no health insurance or steady income, his wife was pregnant and their son was barely two years old.

Thank God it was not so difficult for me to get help from all my friends. We collected some Rp 2 million, which was, of course, still far from enough. I was going to hand it to him, while telling him not to hesitate to ask if he needed more help.

But still fresh in my mind was the memory of how his wife held the envelope tight after I gave it to her, as she cried outside the hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The doctor had just informed her that they might be too late in trying to save his life.

My best friend passed away with only his friends around him less than a week after he went into the hospital. His family, who lives in a remote area of Sidoarjo, East Java, had not been able to come and see him.

He died on Jan. 15, the same day a big fire burned down my cousin's house, although it was more of a mansion. At that time, only his pregnant wife and small daughter were inside.

Perhaps I'm not a good relative because I only went to give them my sympathies three days after the incident. But I think my absence would not have had any bearing on their loss, as he still had his family, parents, siblings and a lot of other people coming by to ask if there was anything they could do for him.

When I went to the home where my cousin and his family were living temporarily until they could move to a newly rented house in Cibubur, East Jakarta, my aunt was crying as she described the fire, which burned down more than seven houses there.

She was crying as she described how my cousin's wife could not save anything but her daughter and herself and then watch the fire devour the house from a safe distance inside their car.

My aunt was still in tears as she recalled how her heart broke when she found her charred jewelry. She wept even harder as she thanked God for sending her family so many people who offered help to my cousin, his wife and daughter, by donating new clothes and millions of rupiah. From my aunt, I learned that my other cousin -- who is an engineer -- immediately provided trucks to move my cousin's belongings: furniture, tea sets and other items, to the rented house, pending its renovation.

I held my aunt's hand tightly to calm her down, but suddenly a series of snapshots flashed through my mind.

As she told me how the family cried while they looked for the burned collection of jewelry, ceramics and their daughter's Barbie dolls, I tried not to break down in tears as I remembered how another friend and I went around the city on motorbike in the extreme heat just to find liquid quinine for my sick friend.

As my aunt talked about the trucks, I remembered how my best friend's wife cried asking for our help to find an ambulance to move her husband, who was in a comatose state, to another hospital as the previous one did not have the facilities to give him a blood dialyses, and how they finally managed to transport him late in the afternoon.

I again remembered the hands of my best friend's wife as she clung tightly to the envelope containing just under Rp 2 million, while my cousin spent hundreds of thousands of rupiah to buy some new shoes for his daughter so that she could go back to school. I also recalled how my cousin talked about his plan to renovate his house as soon as possible when I could not even think of how my best friend's wife was going to be able to pay the next monthly installment on their house.

And while my cousin's wife was crying as she remembered that some photo albums were destroyed in the fire, I remembered my friend's wife who cried over the loss of her husband and the father of her children.

I'm not questioning you, God, because I know we each have our own destiny in life. But since we are all living under the same sky, couldn't things be a bit more fair?

-- Lazarus --