I’m posting this story today as a birthday gift to my former high school friend Edwin Prasatya. I wish you a Happy Birthday and may you continue to share your true kindness with the world.
Each of the 13 stories in this series was a candidate for the main anecdote of my graduation speech. They are actually the top 13 out of over 50 anecdotes which I listed out, ranging from the first day I stepped foot into the school to the very last days of school. Even just hours before graduation, there were still events that took place that were worthy of consideration.
No matter what the criteria was, all the listed anecdotes inevitably had something to do with belonging and how belonging is important to my cohort. So that was what I was looking for when I was short-listing the over 50 anecdotes down to 13. But then came the difficult part of choosing that one winner.
This anecdote won because I felt that it was the best representation of the importance of belonging to my classmates. But moreover, I feel that this anecdote presents the kindness of some members of our cohort that is so extraordinary because it demonstrated something that, having attended many different schools in the past, does not happen often; it’s distinctly Class of 2013. Most importantly, the anecdote presents a side to us that would otherwise go unnoticed.
However, this story, like many of the other stories in this series, needs to be taken in the long and complicated context that is the Class of 2013 to be fully appreciated, a context which can never be described in words.
The first school day after the end of the IPEKA Computer Competition (ICC) which deprived me of both all nourishment and all noteworthy social interaction, I found myself to be so disconnected from everyone due to the past four months of work and the fact that that I was sitting at a table in the canteen alone was proof of that
From the school lobby a considerable distance away from the canteen table that I was sitting at, Edwin Prasatya approached me, followed by his good friend Garry Kusuma. I was too engrossed in my thoughts to see them walking towards me initially and when I finally did see them, it didn’t cross my mind that they were really walking towards me to approach me. They got closer and closer. These two tall, well-postured men walking ever so dashingly towards me made me think that I was dead. Of course I was. Edwin looks like someone who would be a school bully, at least in terms of his body. All I could think to myself was that I should begin to appreciate being alone because I think I’d rather be alone than bullied.
Edwin and Garry were two people whom I never really had the chance to get to know. At that time, the closest I probably was to any of them was when they worked with me as the “Super Team” on the ICC race. Before ICC, I don’t remember ever speaking to any of them, or ever having reason to speak to any of them, and if I didn’t remember it I don’t think it ever happened. Even during ICC, we only spoke almost professionally. I barely knew anything about them and it didn’t seem to be a problem.
What business could they possibly have to do with me? That is, if they were actually walking towards me.
But they really were coming towards me.
They then do the unthinkable: they look me in the eye, call me by name and one of them says to me “ngapain lw duduk disini sendirian? Duduk sama kita lah.”, “What are you doing sitting here alone? Come sit with us.”
Even to this day, I still don’t fully understand how and why that happened. Two people who at that stage had nothing to do with me basically came into my life. So that was basically how I sat with and got to know what we can now call the Blurred Lines Boys over lunch breaks.
Before anyone knew it, Trial Exams were over, the trials had been marked, and we were already entering the phase where we were just being drilled on past papers. It was very quickly September. The end was so near. The end was graduation, equal to basically the end of our being together.
So close to the end, one would want it all to end well. One would want the story of the cohort to have the happy ending we quite frankly deserved. But one day, when everything seemed to be smooth sailing, it started to crumble for me.
Tuesday, 10 September 2013
I came down to the canteen quite late that day because, as usual, I had to deal with my university applications. It had been a rough day for me. That day, Calvin came to school half-way into IBS class which was just two periods before the lunch break looking very pale and sick. His absence caused Irvan to feel an emptiness in the class and both Calvin’s absence and Irvan’s loneliness was enough to leave me lonely and emotionally drained.
When I finally did come down to the canteen with my usual packed lunch, I saw the table which I would sit at from a distance. The usual group of people I would sit with had already congregated together: Calvin, Irvan, Regie, Garry, Edwin, Christian. As I got closer and closer to them, they seemed to be in the middle of quite an important discussion. It was not often that I saw them speaking with hands on the table, making gestures as if they were planning something. It’s not every day that they seemed to be having quite a serious discussion.
When I finally got to the table, however, everyone and everything just stopped. There was an abrupt silence and everyone went on eating as I unpacked my lunchbox. Of course I noticed the anomaly, and so I asked Regie of what was going on and instead of answering me himself he asked Calvin if he could tell me only to have Calvin say no. Therefore, the silence continued, and in that moment, I realised one thing: that I was taking away their freedom. I took away their freedom of speech, their freedom to develop meaningful connections at the expense of my connections.
Wednesday, 11 September 2013
Not knowing that they were actually doing something good for me and still thinking that I took away their freedom, I decided that that day was the day that I would sit alone once again. I thought that that was the least I could do to give them the quality time with their friends that they deserved so close to the end. I felt so evil and yet guilty at the same time.
So that day I decided to sit alone again. But immediately after I took my place in isolation, Christian took noticed immediately, asked me why I sat alone and offered me to join them. I just said that I was fine.
Friday, 13 September 2013
The day before, I sat alone again and a similar incident happened only this time it was Irvan instead of Christian. It was the third time I was going to sit alone. With every day which I did, I became slightly more and more accustomed to it. Although that was the case, there was still discomfort both from the sheer loneliness which I was putting myself into and from the constant resistance of their attention. Even though it seemed like it had become a routine, it never crossed my mind that that day, yet another person would take notice of my personal solitary confinement. However, I would have never guessed that what would happen on this day was so bewildering, so mind-blowing and unbelievable that it would have such a lasting and touching impact on my life.
That day, the boys put an end to this. I saw the boys talking amongst themselves. Then, Edwin stood up, approached my table and asked me with the most serious tone I had ever heard him speak in say “lw kenapa sih? Ngapain lw duduk sendirian terus? Makan bareng kita lah.” “Are you alright? Why are you sitting alone? Please come join us.”
“I’m going to sit here with you then”, he said, and he grabbed his lunch, moved out of his table and sat with me.
In a matter of seconds, I found myself sitting with Edwin, just the two of us, in a place that could not be more public. I could only look down at the table because it hurt me so much to see one of the nicest and for that reason most popular guys in the school sitting diametrically across what was fairly called public-enemy-number-one without anyone else, all for the sake of public-enemy-number-one’s momentary sense of belonging.
It did not take long for Garry to join us at the table, concerned for the lengths Edwin was going to not for me but rather for my sense of belonging. At the end of that, I saw my very own Super Team doing the unthinkable. The same Super Team that began all this for me six months ago came to the rescue once again. I realised that day that when I called them the Super Team, it was to mean far more than the ICC race.
I really cannot think of a better example to demonstrate how belonging is important to the Class of 2013. It doesn’t take Game Theory for us to know that in life, all of our actions are determined by our objectives.
Is belonging really important to you? Because if it really were important to you, it would be reflected in things you do.
I believe that a sense of belonging is a human need, one which at that time I was missing. However, Edwin and Garry fulfilled that need of mine, and they did so because belonging was important to them.