This time ten years ago, I was in Philadelphia, starting a semester of exchange. It was late summer, the days were still long and the briskness of fall only just creeping in at the edge of evenings.
In retrospect, that year, when I was 23, was probably the most attractive I ever was, and will be. Mostly because those were the young, unlined days; but also because I was on the cusp of a deep shift within myself. Everything was heavy and light and messy and magical all at once — perhaps that added a sort of glimmer that never came back once I settled properly into myself.
One evening on the way home in a taxi, the driver blurted, you’re very beautiful, which had me startled. But then he went on to say, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean anything by it, i just had to say it. And then we were at my little rear apartment in a townhouse, I paid, he drove off, and I never saw him again. It still ranks among one of the most earnest compliment I’ve ever received — but of course compliments on looks have since become few and far in between.
But also, looking back a decade, it’s been fun. An adventure. A ride.
Now that I’m a whole decade older, I have come to realise that I have not achieved very much at all, not in the world of accolades and awards and accomplishments. I have come to realise that I probably will not achieve that much in the decades to come.
And, I have come to realise that that is perfectly fine.
There were years in between, when I wanted to be a better version of myself, and relentlessly drove myself to things I did not particularly care for. I was busy, and busy-ness was a badge of honour. I wanted to be so much — and all of them were good things to be — but so much of what I wanted to be was not truly who I am.
These days, I am still busy — living a slow life. I sleep eight hours every night. I have my little morning routines of nothing very much — stretching to Bach, contemplating God, a bit of meditation. I leave work on time and don’t work after hours unless I absolutely have to. I have time to read large novels slowly over evenings. It’s absolutely the antithesis of how one should live if you want to get anywhere in life.
Except, this is already the life I had always wanted.
So this year, I am very grateful that life has come a full circle in this decade. I am boring and unremarkable — but my family is close by, happy and healthy. We’re never going to be supremely wealthy but we are well-off enough, and Ning is capable enough for me to be able to choose how I want to live. Isaac is healthy as a horse, and such a burst of joy in our lives. I am writing regularly, and improving slowly — alas, I will never be a great poet or write an award-winning novel, but I have time for what I enjoy and that counts. We get to travel. And faith is still a small, resilient seed in my heart — that is another journey that will unfold in its own time, but I see grace and beauty everywhere and know in my heart that I believe.
It’s been a wonderful decade, even with all the hills and troughs. I am grateful. So my wish for the year, the ten years ahead is for life to always unfold with its own surprises, and that we may always rise to meet it =)