Friendship is one of the most precious things in life. A true friendship lasts a lifetime and real friends never grow apart.
True friends are those who are invited to look closely under the veneer of a seemingly smooth and tidy life, to feel the contour of your life’s cracks and crevasses, and accept its scruffy lines and raggedy edges. They’re part of your life. Through days and years, play and fears, laughter and tears.
It was one of those moments where all ends didn’t really meet. Exhausted, she was too tired to do anything. She strolled slowly to nowhere. Her eyes were telling no stories, or perhaps, too many stories.
It wasn’t sadness. Nor sorrow. Nor pain. Nor anger. She just felt at lost. Just too many things happened. Too many things to handle. Too many uncertainties. She whispered some questions but no answer was heard.
Several weeks ago, a beautiful 11 year old girl named Josée died in a sledding accident at the hill at the Mooney’s Bay, a park where I walk regularly. This was her first winter in Ottawa. Her entire family moved from Lebanon just 6 months ago, to build a new life in Canada. The story broke my heart. “Life is so unfair,” I told J. “Life is cruel,” he replied.
The day I heard about what happened to Josée, I planned to record my part of “A Quiet Place” from TAKE 6. For most a cappella singers, singing Take 6’s song is likely an item in our bucket list. The original music of the song itself is simply beautiful. But what makes Take 6’s take extraordinary is its marvellous arrangement. To sing each part alone does not make sense, it comes with much suffering for those who overhear it. But once all voices are put together, they culminate in richly textured and exquisitely woven harmonies. Beyond that, its altered chord progressions are not only eargasmic, they also fit the message and the lyrics so wonderfully.
Typically, it’d only take about 8-10 minutes to do such a recording. But this time I struggled to find a place to sing it from. And, yet, as I started singing, I found that place. My quiet place is neither religious nor sacred. It is a place of love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness in my heart that I always go to, especially whenever my soul is crushed, and my hope crumbled. There, my faith in humanity is renewed. Life can be cruel. Thus, there’s more reason to be kind and loving to each other. To let yourself love others and be loved in return. To add sparks of hope and beauty to life, to the world.
My Edoens soulmates Fani, Rino, Bram, Ben, and Novel l thank you not only for helping me checking off my bucket list’s item and harmonising with me, but also for creating our quiet space together and emboldening me to embrace each day as a new day with love for all mankind.
I walk following a particular route in my neighbourhood three times a week. Passing small streets and rows of houses. Making the same turn on the corner of a small neighbourhood park. Crossing the road at the same intersection. Walking over the same bridge and climbing the same hill. Over and over again. I have done the walk, Merlyna’s solitary walk, over a thousand times. But the walk never gets old.
I walk the same walk in all four seasons. In the spring, when little birds begin to sing, and the buds are bursting out. In the summer, with the warm sun casting on my bare shoulders and grass needles crunching under my feet. In the autumn, when the leaves are in their last line of life, and my heart leaps into a sombre mood as they wither and drop away. In the winter, when every breath I take is turned into a tiny drop of misty cloud, embraced by frigid-fingered air as cold as death.
I walk the same walk in many seasons of the heart. When love is in the air. My heart bursts with joy. A smile on my face. Butterflies in my stomach. When sorrow reigns. My heart is bleeding. My soul is crushed. Drowning in tears. My feet follow a near-identical circuitous route. But each walk is distinct. Each is always worthy. It never fails me.
But there’s nothing more solemn than a solitary walk in the snow on gentle winter days.* I simply walk on the field, looking at the vast space of emptiness. There is no one soul on sight. Treading on the snow that is as white as powdered chalk. My footprints follow me like a shadow as I walk. Trees that once had leaves are bare, stand like skeletons against the sky. The plants and shrubberies are in deep slumber, hidden under a soft snowy blanket.
At that moment, my whole universe seems composed of one thing and one thing only, the snow. I become one with its solitude and quietude.
It’s pristine, it cleanses.
It’s serene, it nourishes.
It’s tranquil. It heals.
m, Ottawa, 02.01.2022
Photos from my walks over the Mooney’s Bay Park, viewing the same bridge. Top: on the last day of 2021; Bottom: on the first day of 2022.
* *This writing is largely about a walk, my own solitary walk. It isn’t about a comfortable walk on a magnificently beautiful weather. In fact, Ottawa winter isn’t comfortable. It’s harsh, severe, and miserably long. But one finds a way to survive it. I consider the winter is gentle when it is warmer than -5 Celsius degree. My favourite is when it is just about zero.
I was truly in doubt whether to post this or not, but eventually I promised my students that I’d do it. This was originally written in response to Inspiring Girls International’s invitation to participate in #ThisLittleGirlIsMe campaign. Also to mark the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11th. The day to remind us on the need to address the challenges girls face and to promote girls’ empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights.
The little girl on the left loved book, excelled in school, and exceptional at math and science. And yet was labelled “naughty” because she asked curious questions, made funny comments, and occasionally skipped school out of boredom (then went to public library instead).
This little girl wrote poems, composed songs, and drew endlessly to escape her daily reality in Dayeuhkolot, Bandung – Indonesia. In this industrial flood-prone slum located near one of the world’s most polluted waterways, children faced poverty, chronic illnesses, early deaths, and violence. At a young age, she was subjected to multiple forms of abuse that led her to believe that she was unworthy of love and happiness.
This little girl was a dreamer. She often wondered whether she was good enough and which path to take because the road wasn’t always clear, but she never gave up dreaming. Of a happy place. Of a voyage around the world. Of being loved. Of a better life. Of being useful. Of making others happy.
Knowing she is worthy, she is overjoyed to discover that life will only get better as she ages. Above all, she is most grateful for the privilege of being able to contribute to the well-being of others.
This little girl learned a few things growing up, here are 10 to share with other #littlegirls:
1. Be kind and do good, always. Even when it is hard.
2. Cliché but true: Be yourself, always. You’re worthy.
3. Love and relationships come before material possessions. Treasure your loved ones, always.
4. Sh*t happens, even when you do the right thing. Stop blaming yourself for everything.
5. Never give 100%. Save some for tomorrow. Also, sleep and fun are important, too.
6. Dream big (or small). But don’t forget to wake up and act on it.
7. Don’t take yourself seriously. Have a sense of humour, always. It keeps you sane during trying times.
8. It’s okay to dress up and get dolled up. Doing it doesn’t make you look less smart.
9. Find your space of tranquility–music, art, or else–and be really good in it. It’ll help finding your light during the darkest times.
10. Takes time to enjoy small things in life. And be grateful, always.
This little girl is me.
Why am I telling you this? I have never considered myself inspirational, but in recent years, I have felt increasingly compelled to encourage girls and young women to pursue a bright future of their own. The research found that 70% of girls feeling more confident about their futures after hearing stories from women role models.
Thank you for the invitation InspiringGirls. I am humble to add my story to #ThisLittleGirlIsMe campaign.
Saya ragu ketika diundang untuk berpartisipasi dalam kampanye #ThisLittleGirlIsMe ini, tapi berjanji pada mahasiswa2 di kelas bahwa saya akan ikut serta. Saya posting tulisan saya di sini, pada Hari Anak Perempuan International. Hari yang mengingatkan kita tentang perlunya mengatasi tantangan yang dihadapi anak perempuan & mempromosikan pemberdayaan dan pemenuhan hak asasi mereka.
Gadis kecil di sebelah kiri suka membaca, berprestasi di sekolah, dan cemerlang dalam bidang matematika & sains. Namun dicap “nakal” karena sering melontarkan pertanyaan aneh, bersoloroh penuh canda, dan kadang bolos sekolah karena bosan (lalu kabur ke perpustakaan umum untuk membaca).
Gadis kecil ini suka menulis puisi, mengarang lagu, dan menggambar tanpa henti, untuk melarikan diri dari kenyataan hidup di Dayeuhkolot, Bandung-Indonesia. Terletak dekat salah satu sungai paling tercemar di dunia, di kawasan industri tekstil ini anak-anak menghadapi kemiskinan, penyakit kronis, kematian din, dan kekerasan. Di masa kecil, dia mengalami pelbagai bentuk kekerasan yang membuatnya merasa tak layak mendapatkan cinta dan kebahagiaan.
Gadis kecil ini seorang pemimpi. Meski sering meragukan kemampuannya sendiri dan tak yakin akan jalan yang harus ditempuh, dia tak pernah berhenti bermimpi. Tentang: tempat yang penuh kebahagiaan, kehidupan yang lebih baik, mengelilingi bumi, dicintai sepenuhnya, menjadi manusia berguna & membahagiakan orang lain.
Dia selalu merasa cukup dan yakin bahwa kehidupannya akan senantiasa menjadi lebih baik seiring bertambahnya usia. Di atas segalanya, dia sangat bersyukur berada di posisi yang dapat berkontribusi pada kesejahteraan, pertumbuhan, dan kesuksesan orang lain.
Gadis kecil ini belajar beberapa hal tentang kehidupan & kini berbagi 10 tips untuk gadis2 kecil lain:
1. Selalu bersikap dan berbuat baik, bahkan ketika hal tersebut sulit dilakukan.
2. Selalu menjadi diri sendiri. Kamu berharga.
3. Cinta dan persahabatan lebih penting dari harta benda. Selalu utamakan orang yang kau cintai.
4. Tragedi terjadi, bahkan ketika kamu melakukan hal yang benar. Berhentilah menyalahkan diri sendiri.
5. Tak perlu memberi 100%. Sisakan untuk hari esok. Tidur dan bermain juga penting.
6. Bermimpilah. Tapi jangan lupa untuk bangun & bertindak.
7. Selalu sediakan ruang untuk humor. Ia akan membantumu di masa-masa sulit.
8. Berdandan dan bersolek tidak membuatmu terlihat kurang pintar.
9. Temukan ruang kedamaianmu—bermusik, melukis, menari, dll—dan kuasailah. Ia akan menerangimu di masa-masa kelam.
10. Luangkan waktu untuk menikmati hal-hal kecil dalam kehidupan. Bersyukurlah senantiasa.
Gadis kecil ini adalah saya.
Mengapa saya berbagi tulisan ini? Saya tidak menganggap diri saya inspirasional tetapi saya telah terinspirasi untuk mendorong anak-anak perempuan untuk mengejar masa depan cerah mereka sendiri. Riset menemukan bahwa 70% anak perempuan merasa lebih percaya diri tentang masa depan mereka setelah mendengar langsung pengalaman wanita dewasa.
Terima kasih atas undangannya @inspiringgirlsint. Semoga sumbangan cerita saya ke dalam kampanye #ThisLittleGirlIsMe ini berguna.
I took this Italy trip after the Dutch police called me that I needed to leave the country by early October or otherwise I’d be deported. The full story is complicated, but in summary: my plan to pursue a PhD fell apart due to errors caused by the university’s administration (on a departmental level) and made worse by the Dutch’s immigration.
While walking along this bridge, I told myself that I’d be back to Europe to get that PhD.
I didn’t tell anybody this story, not even my parents and my best friends. And then lived in nomad, quite literally, all over the globe within the next 1.5 years; financially supporting myself with various freelance projects and fellowships. I came back to the Netherlands to start my PhD in 2003 with scholarship and completed it in 2005.
Thanks to the administrative and immigration screw-ups, I had not-so-easy yet interesting, colourful, and rich 1.5 years of nomad living.
“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her … She liked taking deep breaths here. She liked watching the locals who drove with pointed courtesy and parked their latest model cars outside the organic grocery store on Nassau Street or outside the sushi restaurants or outside the ice cream shop that had fifty different flavors including red pepper or outside the post office where effusive staff bounded out to greet them at the entrance. She liked the campus, grave with knowledge, the Gothic buildings with their vine-laced walls, and the way everything transformed, in the half-light of night, into a ghostly scene. She liked, most of all, that in this place of affluent ease, she could pretend to be someone else, someone specially admitted into a hallowed American club, someone adorned with certainty.”
— from: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chapter 1, p. 1.
One of my best friends thought this passage could have been written about me. Ah, I guess she is right :-). I spent nearly a year living in Princeton where I always felt that I, as Merlyna Lim, did not quite fit the place. It was not only my feeling, in fact some Nassau Street shopkeepers really treated me as if I didn’t belong there. In contrast, my Princeton credential allowed me to enter the circle of elites. I have to admit, from time to time I secretly enjoyed how well people treated me once they found out that I worked at Princeton, as a professor, no less. And yet, while my Princeton privilege always worked like a charm, I was never at ease with it.
About the image, it’s an ice cream shop at Nassau Street Adichie was writing about. Thomas Sweet Ice Cream is the legendary ice cream parlour of Princeton. I stood outside this shop frequently, but wasn’t a frequent customer. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. Growing up, I ate ice cream very rarely, not even once a year. But I do appreciate high quality home-made ice cream, such as one made at the Thomas Sweet. The first time I was there, I could not decide what I wanted. Just like a little kid who entered the ice cream shop for the first time, I was overwhelmed by the choices. How do you decide? There were tons of colours, flavours, and blends. Not to mention toppings. I was amazed that some kids in the shoppe seemed to really know what they wanted. I eventually settled with the combination of what’s familiar with a layer of newness, which probably resembles what I always choose in life when I am exposed to many pathways.
Looking back, it was a sweet memory. An overwhelmingly sweet memory.*
Image: Thomas Sweet Ice Cream, Nassau Street (by Princeton University) – Princeton NJ. Sketched 2014, coloured in 2019, by merlynalim.
*This post and the sketch is dedicated to my wonderful colleague Linda. We both share a special memory of Thomas Sweet and beyond that, we also are bound by a special connection and beautiful relationship — despite the fact that we first met in such a horrendous situation. Thank you, Linda.
Early this month, I called my mother on her birthday. After wishing her well and chit-chatting about this and that, I told her about a recent award I just got. Unlike many previous research accolades I was awarded which were too “abstract” for her, she was actually truly interested in this one. She said, “Oh, that’s a good person award.” I replied, “Mom, just want to let you know that I am always trying to be a good person…not always easy, but I am trying.” “I know you are” she replied back.
So, this award is dedicated to my mom, a loving beautiful soul who always taught me to be kind, generous, and yet, honest and fair. I think the world needs to know that about her. <3
Standing in front of the mirror of my parents’ cabinet, I’m seeing the shadow of myself. I am definitely much older. It’s been seventeen years since I left this house for good. Now I am a different person with my own life, different than and separated from the life I had in this house. The old mirror. It is the only full body mirror in the house. It is the same one I used when I was a little child. Looking through this mirror, I realize that I am changed and, yet, everything I had in Dayeuhkolot remains the same. Continue reading “Dayeuhkolot and me”→
After standing in line for hours, it was finally my turn. I was one of thousands of high schoolers who were queuing to register for the national entrance examination for public universities. I wished to be admitted in the best technical university in Indonesia. My very smart eldest brother, who applied to the same university a decade earlier and wasn’t admitted, already warned me not to keep my hope too high. He said, “I know you’re smart and everything, but remember, we are classified as ‘non-native’ (non-pribumi). While others just need to score around 80 (out of 100) to get in, we need to be near perfect”. It was only later in my life I learned that during the Suharto’s New Order era there was indeed a very narrow quota for those who were classified as “WNI Keturunan Cina” (people of Chinese descent in Indonesia or Chinese Indonesians) to enter state universities. Having said that, my brother encouraged me to try anyway.
The admission officer checked my documents and asked, “Where is your proof of citizenship? Where is your change of name document?” “I am Indonesian and never changed my name,” I replied. Continue reading “Being Lim”→