At the end of October 2017, I felt the urge to return to Maluku, specifically Ambon and Banda Neira. I couldn’t tell myself why, but it seemed that something drove me to be in those places and see. Just see. And I did.
Meeting schedule in Jakarta limited me from venturing to Banda Neira. But, after meeting several people in Ambon, I found the answer. Better yet, I found the question. It was, “Will a scar (ever) hide the wound beneath?”
I met Amrin, a thirty something Ambonese from Couchsurfing. Like most people I met in eastern Indonesia, he was honest, straightforward and open. When I asked about his memory on the sectarian conflict back in 1999, his was squinting, his lips were puckered and his jawbones were clenched. Despite this sudden gesture change, he repeatedly said that it was okay to talk about the conflict.
I wouldn’t go into details of our conversation. It was similar to what I had six years ago. Amrin has been all positive about the conflict; that it should not happen at all, that it was nobody’s fault, that everyone including him were in peace today. But his gestures – tightened face, straightened posture, muffled but heavy voice, rushing breaths, while his head was constantly turning around as if someone would pick up his words – spoke differently than his words. His gestures tried to tell me that something about the conflict was not yet right.
Later that night, I reread Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages of grief and tried to draw a relation to my dialogue with Amrin. Was it denial? Anger? Bargaining? Depression? Or, was Amrin – and maybe most people in Ambon and Maluku – has not yet made acceptance to the conflict?
As I went on with the book, I found that acceptance was the last key to moving forward from grief. Acceptance was not passive, it was actively realizing that a scar had been permanently stamped on our face but it was okay; that the scar might be visually scary (ring a bell?) but it would remind us not to return to the same dark emotions that caused it; that the scar might reduce the quality of life but life itself was in the future and not in the past. Acceptance was actively realizing that the scar might be permanent but the wound should be a thing in the past.
It’s certainly easy to talk about the scar when you do not have one snapped on your face. But one has to decide whether to curse the grief or take it as a stepping stone to move forward.
The next morning I texted to thank Amrin for the precious discussion we had the other night and that he could contact me if he ever needed a listener. But I jokingly said that this listener was not a passive one. This listener would actively show him that the painful truth might be what he needed to move forward.