Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Before there was 'I', there were 'them'...

(this was written back in 2013, after the passing of a dear friend, supporter, business partner. Someone who I will forever feel grateful to...who was gone too soon...). 
As one grows old, one will begin to be left by those who have made a difference in his or her life, and begins to leave his or her own footprints. 

That’s obvious, isn’t it.

Though obvious, I guess that is also one among the hard stuff of growing old (apart from raising kids, having to pay the bills, and the list go on!). I didn’t actually realise the magnitude of ‘being left’, until it really happened. 

I always thought that being left, cause of leaving: death, by those people who have left footprints in your life, is something that is sad yet life will go on the same way. Apparently, I mislooked the fact that if that person has left such a strong footprint, then your life will never feel the same though it may operate the same way.

My first taste of that, was about 10 years ago. 

It was a good day in the office. I was working peacefully in my room when my mobile phone rang. Someone gave me a shocking news. A friend, a mentor, a motherly figure, passed away after years of fighting cancer.

That day, reminded me of the same day I received the news of the passing of my late father. The world suddenly came to a complete stop. I was trembling. I couldn’t even utter a single word. I put the phone down, didn’t quite know how to react. Till suddenly, something inside swelled and just got bigger and bigger. Just like a snow ball going down hill. And I broke into uncontrollable tears. 

Sarah Styles Robson. I first met her when I was still a newcomer in the market research industry. I was scared of her first: a big, loud, Australian lady with long strides who always spoke in sharp words especially when checking reports!.

Yet as years gone by, I’ve grown quite fond of her. Her passion in research was also contagious. She was another person that I knew back then, who looked at research in a different way: that we are not just data deliverers, but we are responsible to put data into a good sense that clients know what to do afterwards. Simple, you think?. Well, not that easy, I tell you. 

She, was amongst a few people who have taught me a lot about being ‘brave’ with clients. To not hide bad news behind words and numbers. But put it up front – big and bold; and substantiate that with good reasons. 

She taught me how to question and challenge – client’s as well as my own point of views. She was one of those people who have shown me that being in research, doesn’t always mean you’re at the bottom of the pyramid. If you are brave enough to take a stand for what you firmly believe in, based on what you believe consumers react and behave, then say it and earn the respect. 

Ibu Sarah, as everyone called her that time, was a firm and yet a very kind hearted lady. She may scare you with her screams especially when she was exasperated with your report, but she would also listen to you for your personal problems. 

We’ve grown quite close. When Sarah moved to Melbourne, I was very sad. Losing her as a source of great learning, and some kind of comfort to know that she was around, had a big impact to me. But she still came to Jakarta once in a while as a consultant, to train us on some things.

On one of her many visits to Jakarta, I remember she pulled me from my cubicle to an empty room. She looked at me in the eyes, and asked me, “Now. Tell me. Why are you so unhappy?”. I was startled. “What do you mean?”. “Oh you know what I meant Riri, I know you too well. You’re one of those people who cannot hide what you feel. And I know you’re unhappy. Why?”. And I smiled at her. “Bu, you never stop surprising me”. 

Then we talked for almost an hour. She left me with, “This is your life, Riri. Nobody says you have to stay. So think of what’s best for you and get on with it”.

The next time we met, was in Melbourne. She was already fighting cancer for some years by then but still had the same zest of life. I was happy to see her still swinging and loud and cheerful as ever. Though I knew that there were painful moments she had to face because of all the chemotherapies and what not. Still, I saw the exact same woman. Her spirit never withered. 

We had coffee near Victoria Market, and she said, “I can see you’re happy now. Hope you’ve made the right decision and enjoy the new road you’re taking next. I’m happy for you”. And that was the last time I saw her. Still thinking of others so much. Still caring for others even at times when she needed all the attention, perhaps.

After that, we only exchanged emails. She no longer came to Jakarta due to her health. To occupy herself, she apparently studied again. She enrolled in a program – I wasn’t sure what. But she became a student again!. At the age of 50 something, with cancer. That was just Sarah being Sarah. 

Then that phone call.

I never knew losing not just a friend, but someone who’s made a difference in my life, would feel that way. 

Of course losing my father suddenly was hard – but that was like, of course it hurt, right?. I mean, losing someone who’s given you the right to use his name. Whose blood flows in you. Of course it hurt to lose that person. But I never experienced losing a meaningful friend until Sarah’s passing, and it hurt like hell. 

That pain of losing. I lost a mentor, a great friend. Someone who’s helped me to shape what I love doing, and doing what I love. Someone who’s shown me that life has a lot to offer if you don’t let all the downs, let you down.

But then time has this magic ability to make you forget about that pain. Until, a similar situation happens again and it’s dejavu. 

14 February 2013. A valentine’s day. Though I’m a hopeless romantic for some things, but valentine’s day is never my thing. It’s just another day to me. What made it different this time, was that this would be a date that opened up the same wound.

I was working peacefully at this cool place. I just listened to a very interesting discussion. And I was ready to work on a report. Then, a phone call. The caller said that he ‘was struck by lightning’ upon getting a bad news and thought if I’d known anything about it. Of course, I didn’t and I couldn’t believe my ears when the news was finally confirmed. 

And the same thing happened again. The same uncontrollable tears. That pain, came again. The pain of losing not just a friend, but a person who’s made a difference in my life.

Erwin Azis. I first knew him in 2003. I was working in a company which used the service of the company where he worked. My first impression was a friendly, good looking, cheerful, and very nice person to talk to. 

Later as I climbed the corporate ladder, I got to know him even more. This was a man of his words – what he promised, he would deliver. He had integrity that I instantly admired. He had, something, which somehow I knew would make him a great partner to work with.

Around 2005, we thought we should ‘tease’ him with an idea. To set up his own business to further support us. We had the needs, and we believed he was the right person to do it. He had the skill, which was field operation, and most of all, he had the integrity and attention to quality that we highly valued. 

He was unsure of the idea. I could relate to that. After years of being an employee, having your security by monthly paycheck, of course the idea of having a venture of your own could be a bit daunting and threatening. And he was a father of four. So he was uneasy.

But we kept pushing him. I gave him my word that we would never abandon him, that we would always have business ready for him because our needs were at that time great. 

And so he did it. He set up a company. And together, we grew.

There were hard times but he somehow survived. I was happy to observe the growth of his company. Happy and admired him for the work ethics that he’s set up. The examples of good work that he laid out for his team to look upon. He was, a natural entrepreneur as it turned out to be. And he was a good leader from what I observed. 

Then it was my turn. My turn to be at that crossroad between staying on as an employee, and starting my own venture.

Since 5 years ago, Pak Erwin was amongst those who kept on telling me I should start my own. Not only that. He went on saying that, “Don’t worry about support, I will support you Bu. So why don’t you just do it”. And I kept on laughing on that idea, scared of it. 

Until almost 2 years ago when I finally said that was it. I’ve had enough of working with another company. I wanted the freedom to do what I think should be done.

And getting him as a partner, as a sole supplier, was a big part of the plan. A man that I could trust would help us deliver the quality. And again, in all of our meetings he kept on stating the same thing: not to worry, he would back us up in any way that he could possibly help. And now, for almost 2 years, he stayed true to his words. 

I didn’t owe him money. But I owe him my gratitude. For believing that we could do it and put a bet on us. He took the risk too by assisting us. I thank him for, with others around me, pushing me out of my comfort zone. And like Sarah, and a few other people, he was also my example that if you work with integrity, you can always survive even the toughest time in your working life.

At the age of 48, still considered young, Pak Erwin passed away yesterday. At the time of his company’s tremendous growth. At the time when he seemed to have lots of plans going. And at the time when we had plans going to strengthen our partnership going forward. Alas, God has own will and God’s power over us is as always tremendous. 

I again lost not only a good friend, but another source of inspiration. Sarah gave me the inspiration for being strong and LIVING even at times when the smell of death is so near. Pak Erwin was my inspiration for building a confidence over what I’m good at and what I can do with my skill. Among other people, they’ve made a mark in my life. In my heart.

People say  that time, heals all wounds and stitches all holes in your heart. But they never really close properly, don’t they. Those holes stay there forever in your heart. Not bleeding anymore, yes, but they stay as reminders that there were people leaving footprints so deep that your life is not the same anymore. 

I’m glad that I’ve had those people in my life. That there were these people leaving their legacies, on each and every path that I’ve taken.

And once they’re gone, I know I’ll still cherish, thank, and keep them here with me. They did not just leave memories of friendship. More than that, they’ve left a trace of living a good life with good values. 

May they rest in peace. May their good deeds guide them to the best place. And may their wrongs be forgiven by The Owner and Taker of Life. Amen. 

(The value of thanking those people who have done something good, will never be lost in this life. That much, I believe..). 


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