Stumbling Upon a Surprise Gift

It’s been so long since I last wrote an essay for this blog. I checked the date of my last entry, and to my surprise, it was two months ago. Shocking! To think that about 5 or 6 months ago I used to have a daily entry. What happened to that habit?

Well, many things have happened since that time. Too many and long to put into one blog entry, but I will try my best to say something here. Ever since I arrived in Indonesia 4 months ago, I’ve moved around a lot. Way too many times for my comfort. I was sick and tired of packing and unpacking. Until now I still feel like I’m living my days out of a suitcase. I’m currently on my third city in Indonesia called Surabaya. It’s on the east part of the island Java, also known to be the capital city of the East Java province. I did not fit in with the other two cities, Makassar (my home town) and Jakarta, which is why I’m trying to make it here on my third try. I like it so far. I have a bigger support system here, but still manage to keep a sense of independence and privacy, unlike in my home town where I felt there was very little privacy sometimes due to the tendency of people there to gossip. Small town is equal to easy access to information, which leads to you-know-what. And Jakarta? Well, Jakarta is completely the opposite. It’s just too big, crowded, hectic, chaotic, and expensive. Anyone can easily get lost in that big city, especially if you live alone.

I’m in the process of securing a job position in this city too, teaching psychology courses at a small private university. The interviewing process however, is taking a long time and involving many steps, not to mention the time it’s taking for the paperwork to go through and the tests I had to do. I’ve been in this city for almost a month and I probably won’t even start until another month, if I get the job of course. Hopefully I can get the answer sooner than a month, but I won’t hold my breath for it to be sooner. It’s okay, though, because I can continue with my own process of healing and bouncing back, which is really why I come back to this activity that I used to enjoy doing tremendously, and still do, WRITING.

A topic has been tickling my brain since last week that prompted me to finally type on my internet browsing this morning. The idea has been itchy to be expressed, so here it is. During one of my interviews last week (I’ve had two so far and maybe two more to come), somebody said a sentence to me that resonated something in my heart and memory. Before I tell you what was said, let me lay out the setting a little bit first. The interview was a group interview where about 10 psychology “dosen” (from the word docent, the term more commonly used to refer to university teachers in Indonesia) were present. I was asked to make a presentation, followed by a Q&A. The whole thing took 2 hours. I don’t know how I managed to get through it because it started before and throughout lunch time and everybody was eating except me. One person kindly kept telling me, “Eat, eat,” and I responded back, also kindly, with a nod and a big smile, but how could possibly anyone in my position digest food at a time like that? The questions that were asked were not only about my presentation and academic/work background, but towards the end, they were going towards the direction of more personal. I tried my best to answer those questions without jeopardizing my privacy. To a certain degree, I could understand and accept the more-private questions because they were wondering why I made the decision to come back to Indonesia at this time in my life, which required me to reveal some information about me on a personal level. I was prepared, though. I knew those questions were coming, and I think I handled it well. If anything, I later found out that my answers sounded existential.

The whole thing went very well. So well that somewhere in the deep unconscious part of my mind, something kept asking me if the whole thing was real. It was. I did fine. Actually, I know I did well. It’s just that it’s been so long since I felt good about my ability and performance, hence the gnawing self-questioning. It probably went so well that two people happily stayed behind afterwards to accompany me and chit chat while I packed my laptop and belongings. Not that I minded their kind gestures, but by that time I kept taking a longing peek at my lunch box from earlier. The ‘pangful’ realization of how hungry I was just hit me then. Being a good person who’s trying to get a job, I of course had no choice then to entertain the chit-chat. And then suddenly, I heard ‘it’. One of them said the sentence that made me decided to write again.

*drum-roll please*

She said in Bahasa Indonesia that I translated here to make it easier, “Your life story reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love.”

*a pause…in silence, please. thank you*

Yes, I had a smile on my face then and an ever bigger grin right now. I felt like the dog in the bacon-doggie-food commercial where the dog runs around the house following the smell of bacon when the owner opens the food bag, panting with its tongue probably hanging out while screaming in human’s voice, “Bacon, I want some bacon, give me, give me bacon! Bacon, bacon!” No, I didn’t have my tongue out in that room in front of the two nice ladies, but I sure felt like I was the dog for a few seconds. Instead of jumping up and down, though, I politely said, “That book changed my life.” Now, you may say that I just made a boring and anti-climactic answer, but what do you expect? I was technically still in an interviewing process. As un-politically correct I would like to act sometimes in this world, my parents’ way of raising me always wins over my wishful conscious passing desire. Bummer.

Anyway, so there it was. It probably doesn’t even make any sense for some of you unless you know how much I LOVE the book. If you haven’t read it, please do find a time to read the marvelous book. If you loved reading memoir, if you are at a junction of your life where you are interested in the existential questioning of life, then you’d love this book. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert, told the story about a part of her life when she made a life changing decision to stop everything in her life at that moment and made a journey to three different countries that would forever change her. I won’t bore you with information regarding the book. I’m not paid to promote the book anyway, as you can tell by the fact that I’m still looking for a job. It has also been made into a movie by Hollywood, which by the way doesn’t do justice to the book. Better yet, you can summon your uncle Google to give you more detailed information about it.

I still remember when I first read that book and how it made me feel. I said the ‘first time’ because I have read it many times. I have even bought a few more copies and gave them away as a gift. The original book is still with me, of which I will never give away due to the many creased corners, underlined words, side bar notes, and even some coffee or chocolate stains here and there. See, I don’t come across that many life-changing books, so I kind of act like a book-dork around them when I come across them.

But it wasn’t just about the book that prompted me to write again. Maya Angelou, one of the few respected female role models I adore and idolize, once said and of which I have quoted many times, “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” What I felt at that moment when I heard the statement about my life experience was a simple…validation. I felt validated, confirmed, heard, and understood. I felt like I wasn’t judged, that I wasn’t making up stories, and that what I went through was real. It was a powerful moment. I’ve learned from my education in psychology how powerful validation is, more so than being heard, and that validation can come in many forms and ways that surprise us sometimes. Well, it came to me. The gift of validation came to me practically from a stranger, in a simple and short sentence, and during the time that I would not even expect it to happen. On that day, the power of that gift lies in exactly all of those elements of surprise.

My life experience wasn’t even that unique. Many people have gone through a transformation of some sort in their life. Many have moved to a far away place, a different country, and started over. Many have done things that cause people around them to raise their eye brows and ask why. Worse, sometimes they skipped the why question and simply said, “Are you nuts?” I know about that last part because I too have asked it…to myself. In terms of validation, I have received many. They have come from family and friends. I have never in my life before felt as supported as I have been in these past several months. My family and friends have been there with me throughout the ups and downs in their own ways. Some listened, some gave advice, some make me laughed, some asked me how I was doing with a genuine intent to want to know the answer, some said things that woke me up, and some gave me space but never strayed too far. Support comes in many forms. I appreciate all of them and feel validated by them. So what’s special about this particular sentence?

Not to undermine the support from family and friends, however, the surprise gift of validation from a stranger added another layer of support on top of the ones I have received so far from my loved ones. It’s an icing on a cake.

And I tell you what, an icing on a cake as powerful as that one truly DESERVES its own blog entry. Another thing, do you think it’s a good idea to take this as a sign that I may get the job? Is that too much to hope for? I sure like the atmosphere and chemistry I felt in that room on that day. If this is one of those signs that God and the universe is trying to tell me, then my eyes and heart are open. I’m listening with both. Keep ’em coming, please. 🙂


‎”Keep on going and the chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down.” – Charles F. Kettering




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