We were asked to write an essay about an important turning point in our life that changed our perspectives on life. I've yet to come up with a title for mine, but here it is. Please edit it as critically as possible. Thank you. =)
For as long as I can remember I have been ambitious and competitive, even to a fault. I was taught that acceptance into a prestigious university and employment in a stable, high-paying job is essential in life. For 15 years, this has been the touchstone of my life.
The summer of 2008, I flew to Beijing by myself to visit my grandparents. A week after I arrived, my grandmother took me on a week-long trip to the beach with her choir "Sunset". It was comprised of seniors aged anywhere from sixty to eighty - something that made me slightly apprehensive. How was I, a teenager, supposed to have fun at a beach with a group of people two generations older than me?
Once we arrived, several taxis took us to our hotel; a few dingy, run-down houses by a beaten dirt road. The rooms we were assigned were dark and damp, the bed sheets unpleasantly clammy. The hot water tap in one of the bathrooms was broken and we were constantly plagued by mosquitoes. I was convinced this trip was one enormous mistake.
However I reluctantly followed the rest of the party to see the beach. During the short walk there, I was surprised at the energy of the old men and women. They chattered about the next day's events and discussed politics and the upcoming Olympic Games. Every once in a while, a burst of laughter would send nearby birds flying as some old joke was retold. At the beach, they helped each other up the rocky hill, still joking and laughing. And though the day was cloudy and muggy, they all clamored cheerfully for pictures. I was confused, remembering what Grandma had told me about their pasts. Some of them had been important, high-ranking government officials whereas others had been normal workers. Some were university professors and yet many more were laborers who were taught only the basics of reading and writing. How was the possible that these people, with such different lives could get along? Surely being educated, or having had an important job made some difference. But as I looked around me, there was absolutely no way of knowing who was a professor and who was a laborer.
The next few days were similarly surprising. And fun. In fact, it was infectious, the way they made every day an adventure of sorts. In the evenings, after dinner, the members of the choir would start up the karaoke machine and sing along to it. Sometimes they would sing solos, but more often than not, everyone else joined in. They would stand together in a line, holding hands and swaying to the music. Their enthusiasm rubbed off on me, and before I knew it, all my worries were gone. The days flew by.
Our last night at the beach, we all ate dinner around a big round table. Having gotten to know many of these grandmothers and grandfathers - that was what they seemed like to me, an extended family of sorts - some of them began to tell me about themselves. I had known the basics about their past careers, but what they told me shocked me. They were nowhere near as well-off as I had expected. Several of them had handicaps such as deafness while others were injured from years in the army. Some of their families were torn apart by dispute and divorce, while others were nearly penniless for a variety of reasons. Occasionally, a name would be mentioned briefly in conversation and others would bow their heads.
Yet even as these grandmothers and grandfathers told me of all their hardships, they smiled at me from faces etched with countless wrinkles, encouraging me to strive for my goals and to value my youth.
I could not smile back.
How could these people still laugh and sing as I had seen them do for the past few days when their lives were so imperfect? I couldn't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to be deaf, or to not have a body that could do whatever I willed. To never hear laughter or music ever again; the idea was simply beyond me.
My dismayed expression must have showed on my face, for one of the kindest grandfathers - precisely the one who was almost deaf - smiled gently at me.
It is inevitable that life deals you hardships and obstacles, he explained. Sometimes they are enormous and it may seem impossible to overcome them, but you always have to try. He pointed to his own ears as an example. There was no way to fix them, he told me. But - he stressed this point - being miserable about it wouldn't change a thing. So why not be glad that I can still hear something? He grinned at me, the wrinkles fanning out around his eyes.
Guiltily, I thought about myself, and how I used to cry for hours over a bad haircut. I remembered the time in 6th grade; I had failed a math test, and thought it was the end of the world. The smallest, most insignificant things used to ruin my day.
As I looked around the table at all the smiling faces, I began to realize that what grades you get, what university you go to, is all completely irrelevant. Money, popularity, and all our material obsessions are so meaningless! Nothing in the world could make me happy if I was constantly looking at the next best thing, constantly picking faults. Yet these men and women surrounding me; they possessed no material wealth, but seemed like the happiest people on Earth.
Suddenly our hotel room didn't seem so bad.
The rest of my trip in China passed by in a blur. Before I knew it, I was sitting in an airplane, watching Beijing fall below me. And for some reason, as I thought of my extended family and all their joy and passion for life, I was reminded of a quote I had heard somewhere. Misery is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
That was when I realized that there would always be problems in our lives, but beside them are also all the good things; they are simply overshadowed. It's just up to us to find them.