Good afternoon, dearest friends! I hope you all are enjoying your Friday.
This morning was just another normal morning in the life of Belicia Tang… but it was also one of the most meaningful moments I’ve experienced in quite a while.
I woke up at 10am, and after mustering the motivation to roll out of bed, I proceeded along my usual morning routine- brush my teeth, wash my face, tame my bedhead, change into my OOTD (or, if I’m feeling lazy, just stay in my PJ’s), head downstairs and eat breakfast.
It was a quiet morning. My mom and dad were already out of the house, running errands. Chris was in his room, doing whatever the hell he does in there. Austin was already at his 9am-5pm job. Grandma was downstairs, watching TV whilst bustling about the kitchen. My two parakeets, George and Shelly, were quietly perched on their bench, joined at the hip.
I didn’t eat much of a breakfast, other than part of the delicious carrot cake Chris had baked a couple days ago. I’m tellin’ you guys, Chris is becoming quite the chef! When I was in New York, he commenced his baking phase– one cake a day, my mother told me. So far, I’ve tried his vanilla cake, carrot cake and Chinese-style pork bun. All made from scratch. Chris’s multi-dimensional creative genius never fails to inspire me– he can cook, write, rap, act, sketch, play piano, and recently began composing his own music. Whoever he ends up with will be one lucky lady, indeed. Ode to Chris, concluded.
Anyway, I spent the remainder of my morning taking care of some unfinished business. I unpacked the rest of my suitcase, checked hotel rooms for my upcoming dance competition and did some writing.
At a quarter to noon, Chris summoned me to the bird’s cage, where George and Shelly were chillin’. Shelly is an old bird, and she seems to be reaching the end of her journey. Her feathers were all fluffed up, which meant she was trying to keep warm. George, her best friend, seemed to pick up on the cues and perched right next to her, providing her with extra body heat. We watched the two of them, and I remarked to Chris, “This is indisputable proof that animals do indeed have souls.”
Chris was inspired to take the cage out to the backyard so he could wash the cage with the hose, while the birds soaked up the rays of sun amidst their natural habitat. I was hesitant at first. There was a slight breeze flowing, and I was afraid that the combination of wind and water would expedite Shelly’s impending death. Chris insisted, though, and finally, I relented. I figured, maybe some nature would do the birds some good. The two of us picked up the heavy cage and hauled it to the backyard. We positioned the cage so that the birds could receive just the right amount of sunlight. Chris removed the top and bottom part of the cage to expose metal rungs. He sprayed the cage with the hose, which scared George and Shelly (you can tell when they’re scared, because they withdraw their feathers and look small). After getting most of the poop off the cage, Chris sprayed the birds with a light mist. I told him to point the hose directly up, so that the mist would come raining down on the birds. I don’t know if George and Shelly liked it or not… but the sight of tiny water droplets rolling down their bright, ornate, waterproof feathers was really beautiful.
After all that was done, we left the birds out in the sun to dry. Originally, we were only going to leave them there for 20 minutes, but the birds were chirping happily, so we let them be. Chris had said he was going for a run, and I headed back inside the house to continue on my to-do list. Ten minutes later, I went back outside, only to see Chris there, still intently observing the birds. I don’t know why, but my heart filled with so much love for my brother, in that moment.
The whole morning with Chris and the birds brought me back to our childhood, when we were raising our first generation of parakeets. Back in those days, we owned four parakeets– Georgia the First, Spot, Sheldon and Albert McFat. One morning, little Chris and little Belicia decided to give the birds a bath. I filled up the sink with lukewarm water, while Chris grabbed the two poor victims– Albert and Georgia– and removed them from the cage. We placed them in the sink and watched with delight as they splashed, sputtered and flapped their damp wings. We thought they were playing! Little did we know that they were, in fact, struggling to stay afloat and breathe. Little Belicia had filled the sink with too much water. Soon, we saw Albert hopping on Georgia’s back to keep from sinking, which made us even more excited. “Piggy-back-ride!!!”, the two of us shouted. That excitement quickly faded, however, when Georgia did not emerge from under the water after several minutes. Chris grabbed her by the tail and held up the lifeless body of a beautiful, young, dark green parakeet. We were horrified. You could imagine how we learned our lesson, that day, to never again bathe our birds in the sink.
So, flash forward again to 11 years later. Chris finally left his post at the bird cage and went for a run. I started this blog post. My grandmother kept nagging me to eat food, but I told her I’d eat when my mom came home with Vietnamese food. Grandma asked to borrow my yoga mat so she could do physical therapy exercises in the living room. Of course I let her use it!
I then gave my godmother a call. She is currently in the hospital, in critical condition. She’s been battling cancer for many years now, and a few days ago, her platelet levels dropped to a mortally low level. As my dad explained to me, the normal blood platelet level is around 200,000-300,000. 10,000 is considered critical. My godmother’s was at 2,000. She is currently fighting for her life. I knew my godmother has been very lucky to have lived for this long and that each day she remains alive is a bonus. I knew this day was inevitable, but to me, my godmother has always seemed invincible. She’s had a couple of close calls in the past, but she’s always bounced back from them. This time, though, I am not certain she’ll make it. Hearing her voice on the other line, I could tell she was exhausted and a lot of pain. She didn’t want me to visit her in the hospital today, because she was feeling absolutely miserable and did not wish for me to see her in her current state. My heart broke, knowing how much my godmother was suffering.
When the kiss of death brushes so close to you, you can’t help but reevaluate your life priorities. For most my life, I’ve lived with an obsession to be “successful”, whatever that blanket, subjective, trite term means. As a young, hungry and passionate individual, I always viewed success as being “the best” at whatever you do, be it school, gymnastics, music, dance, etc. If I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t enough. If I didn’t have the gold medal or perfect exam score to serve as validation for my worth… I wasn’t enough. Having never quite made my mark in any of my pursuits, then, I was never satisfied with the way I was. I constantly strove for more.
Let me interject here and just clarify– there is nothing wrong with striving to be better. In fact, I believe that to be an effective individual, you must never ever settle. Life is a never-ending journey of limitless growth. We should always strive to improve ourselves– sky is the limit when it comes to skill-building. Even if you are the best athlete, best musician, best teacher, best parent, best whatever in the world, you can always learn more and be better. I think the problem arises when your MOTIVES for improvement become impure. If you’re striving to win, just because you want the external validation– the bragging rights, the glory, the fame, the money– you are bound to fall. Hard. Worst of all is when you strive to win to feel good about yourself. That, my friends, is a tell-tale sign of a wounded, insecure individual… someone who doesn’t know how to love himself, and so turns to the outside world for validation. Can you imagine that? Each first place is a small ego boost, a confirmation of your worth. But in life, nobody’s perfect. Nobody was born to be the best at everything. So, once you inevitably fall short of first place, you start to question the very essence of your worth and identity. You become terribly insecure. It is that insecurity that serves as a driving force for you to keep fighting… but do you see how the motives are messed up? What a sad, unstable life you live, if all you care about is winning and external validation. Screw the journey of newly formed relationships and tremendous self-development that ensues in the pursuit of an end goal. If you don’t achieve the end goal, all is for naught. If you don’t win, you are nothing. Worthless. Which, of course, is a fallacy I’ve work long and hard to extricate myself from. Where’s the self-empowerment, if you let external rewards and punishments dictate how you feel about yourself?
But, I digress. Where was I? Right. My obsession with success. So, I used to believe that being successful meant living the labels. I wanted to be a big-shot SURGEON. A brilliant ATTORNEY. A WORLD CHAMPION DANCER. I was absolutely terrified of living an “ordinary” life… You know… working a mundane 9am-5pm desk job under a boss I secretly hate (okay, trite example, but you get the point, right?). Or never having achieved anything “noteworthy”, from the outsider’s perspective, in life. I had this one high school teacher– Mr. Schaal. He taught human biology, a class notorious for being an “easy-A”. I took that class my senior year of high school. Learned little to nothing, though I did have the chance to dissect a frog and cow eyeball, which was pretty gnarly. Anyway, Mr. Schaal was Stanford alumnus. I always wondered why in the living hell he would choose to be a high school human biology teacher, after having graduated from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. I thought to myself… what a waste. He could have been anything. Why this? I used to pity Mr. Schaal. I couldn’t fathom why someone with such a bright future ahead of him would throw it all away to teach unmotivated, delinquent high schoolers.
Now, I look back on my previous worldview, and I realize that I was the one in the wrong. I had no right to judge Mr. Schaal based on what little I knew of him. Perhaps he had, out of his own volition, chosen the so-called “ordinary” life over one of ambition and immense career success. He had a roof over his head and food on the table. He had a wife and two young children. An easygoing job. A twin brother with family of his own. Two loving parents. Believe it or not, Belicia, but for some people, that is enough. Some people don’t need to do something great or leave a lasting mark in this world, to feel great. If he’s happy, that’s all that matters.
It’s interesting. There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the events of my morning… but still. There was something special about the normalcy of it all. Merely spending time with my brother, relishing in the moment, basking in all the beautiful memories conjured and feeling immense gratitude for all I had in my life– that was meaning in itself. I don’t need to live up to society’s definition of success to find my own fulfillment. I don’t need external validation from others to make myself feel worthy.
Again, allow me to clarify. Ambition is a wonderful quality. For some, ambition is the predominant theme and primary motivator in their lives. These individuals aspire to leave a lasting legacy and make an indelible mark on this world. I strongly identify with this camp of individuals. However, I’ve grown to learn that not everyone may value ambition as much as I do. In my youth, I simply couldn’t understand why anyone would not strive for “greatness”. Anyone who wasn’t working as hard, or harder than me, at achieving their goals, was deemed “lazy” or “uninspiring”. I’d look at these people and place them in my mental box of “What Not to Be”.
However, I now realize that people less ambitious than I are not to be looked down upon or respected any less. They simply value different things in life. And that is absolutely okay! Live, and let live. To each his or her own.
I will continue to strive for self-improvement. I aim to use my personal skillset to positively impact the lives of those around me. But I do so now with more clarity and purer intentions. Unhealthy goal: be THE best. It’s an unattainable bar. Healthy goal: strive to be YOUR best, taking into account where you started, innate ability, amount of resources you have and level of opportunity. Work damn hard to better yourself each day. Never get comfortable with where you’re at in the present, for you can always develop your skills further. However, don’t let ambition– even healthy ambition– take away the simple joys, which at the end of the day, often turn out to be the most significant. Things like being surrounded with family and close friends; going out to dinner and a movie; window-shopping with your bestie; reading a book under the sun– there is beauty in all of the above. I don’t need to be working my ass off 24/7 to live a life of meaning. You can, if this is the life you choose… but, having lived this former life myself, I don’t believe such a life is one that’ll bear the greatest fruit and dimension, at least not for me. This is where the idea of work-life balance comes into play. Don’t worry– I’ll be doing a whole other blog post on that.
Hope you all enjoyed today’s musings! Enjoy the rest of your day!