“What do you want in life? You don’t know what you want!” Jody screamed into the phone. “No,” I responded sharply, “I know exactly what I want!” I have always known specifics of what I wanted, places I wanted to visit, things I wanted to accomplish, relationships I wanted to create. But now as I look back on my past pursuits and look ahead into the field of unknown, one thing I do know for certain is that I want to experience all that life has to offer. I have long loathed the prevalent belief in that life is nothing but a constant pursuit of happiness or contentment. For me that notion irrespectively reduces an otherwise expansive and multifaceted life into a two dimensional black and white concept.
What do I want? I want it all. I want the highest of highs and lowest of lows. I don’t care to be happy nor am I addicted to sadness. I don’t care for an easy life nor do I want pointless turmoil. I want to feel everything in its most raw state. I want shed every piece of clothing, callus, pretense, stigma and expectation in order to experience and connect to things, people and events in a visceral way. I want to be a jellyfish without an exoskeleton, a nerve net ready to detect every stimulus.
I’m proud of the life I have lived. I’ve experienced highs and lows. I have pursued and accomplished things with conviction. I learned about myself and created meaningful relationships along the way. The world can be full of despair. Think of the waste, pollution, poverty, inequality, injustice, famine, disease, conflict and war. It’s barely a place you’d want to bring a new life to. Yet at the same time the world can be a miraculous and full of resilience. Picture joyful reunions, the birth of a new baby, first green in the spring and sunrise over ancient ruins. What will be will be. I can’t make a swiping judgment on the world but I do believe in the strength and kindness of individual human spirit. Each one of us has tremendous capacity to love and be loved. I’m not here to change the world or leave a lasting legacy. I’m here to experience life, all that it has to offer.
And now, more so than ever, I want to share and pass on those experiences to my children. I want to introduce them to their first orchestra concert, musical, opera, play, etc. I want them to see the beauty in nature and appreciate the vastness of all that is knowable. I want to have the wisdom to install in them the deep desire to explore the world and I want to have the strength to let them go on their own to satisfy that desire. And above all, I want them to experience the love and trust we have for each other.
When I first started teach guitar lessons to young children I felt an indescribable sense of satisfaction knowing that they are going to grow up knowing certain things, however small or insignificant, in music and in life because of me. It made me want to be a better teacher. It made me want to be a better person. It was comforting to think that someday, years from now, they may even remember me with fondness. I felt like a butterfly that had flapped its wings.
Twice I had conceived and twice I had aborted. The decisions were made without emotional attachment or regrets as I clearly knew I wasn’t mentally or financially ready at the time. Still, I remember very well what it was like to see those two blue lines appear on a stick. In the midst of uncertainty there was also undeniable excitement. For a brief moment I was filled with a secret sense of joy. But I'm at a different place now. I can always do better financially but physically and mentally I’m ready.
On the last visit to China my grandmother said something I will never forget. This is a woman who has experienced unimaginable transformation, evolution, hardship and love in her lifetime. Yet at nearly ninety years old she said, “I’m old but I don’t feel like I have lived enough.” I wanted to hold her hands, hug her and tell her that she has lived an extraordinary life and that it was enough. Just look at the family she has created. I am a testament to the turbulent yet fruitful life she has lived.
When I mention kids, people never fail to inject how difficult it is to raise them, especially alone. What they don’t know is that I come from a long lineage of fiercely resilient women. When my grandmother was in her early teens she witnessed her own father being executed at gun point in their own home. When she met resistance for schooling because she was a girl, she changed her name to a boy’s name on the college admissions exam. When my mother was in her early teens, my grandparents were sent to jail so she had to not only take care of herself but also her four younger siblings, barely surviving on the measly amount of food they received from the neighbors. By the time she reached high school years she was sent to a remote farming community as part of the culture revolution. When policies shifted she was the first generation of students to be admitted to college by passing the admission exam with brute force of self-studying. And surely greater women before them have achieved far greater things than what they were expected to so I can be here. I do have good genes but more than that I have a strong spirit built on all those who came before me. Hardship is relative. I am in no place to complain or feel bad for my circumstances. I know deep down that anything I want I can accomplish.