The day I learned that my aunt was diagnosed with irreversible cancer was also the first time I saw my dad cry. This was so unusual that I initially could not register what was happening. His hands were clutched over his face, sobbing uncontrollably, gasping for air. This is the same man I’ve seen chop a piece of his thumb off and remain stoic in urgent care. This is the same man that ventured into a foreign country with nothing but the shirt on his back, a giant loan, and an audacious dream. That day, our relationship changed. The pain that he felt that night also pierced through me, awakening me to the fact that one day I’ll lose a loved one. And one day, I’ll have to reconcile with my feelings and learn to be vulnerable in front of my family.
Experiencing Life As Is
We’ve been raised in a world where crying is a sign of weakness. But more importantly, it’s a calling for help and it makes you human. Tara Brach eloquently notes that desire is what makes us human but attachment is what turns us into slaves of our wanting. Fujianese migrant workers who became enormously successful here, often develops a desire of control over their business, their family and their emotions, not knowing that this attachment can confine you from experiencing life and being spontaneous.
Seeing him cry was cathartic. Discomfort aside, crying is suffering being experienced in its fullness. And this expression should not be hidden on the back burner. In hindsight, seeing him breakdown was one of the greatest lessons on humanity I’ve received. It taught me that even a stone cold, motorcycle riding machismo cannot hold back the flood of pain he feels at the lost of a loved one. It taught me that money and wealth can buy you a big house but not the love and emotional support that you also need to live.
Life Is Short But Just Long Enough
The pervasive theory was that my aunt had worked all her life to provide for her family, rarely taking a day off. Working through most holidays and sick days. And in her case, working through the agony until she can’t anymore. This is not uncommon for Fujianese restaurateurs. This dogmatic and tenacious need to work, save and repeat is ingrained inside most of us. As if our parents felt eternally responsible for their kids’ future success and are willing to pay for it with tireless labour.
If we take a moment and ask ourselves about all the major decisions we’ve made about careers, love and family, how much of that was influenced by our want for prestige. A prestigious job to make your parents proud. A husband with a prestigious salary and a big house. The scary thing about prestige is that it feeds your ego, and the bigger the ego gets, the more it’ll need to sustain. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill, where the pursuit of more will only lead to the wanting of even more. Instead of pausing and appreciating the love and materials we have, we see ourselves and our families constantly on this treadmill to nowhere.. until you can tread no more.
The day I saw my dad cry, I learned about the shortness of life. But it’s also long enough for most of us to learn and appreciate our haves and have nots. Don’t let your life be shorten by the circuitous pursuit of prestige.