China has given my life a purpose

Updated: 2015-05-25 09:55


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China has given my life a purpose

A foreign tourist takes a picture of the West Lake in Hangzhou city, east China's Zhejiang province on May 14, 2013. [IC/Photo]

I am a big fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay titled Self-Reliance. If you've not yet read it, I strongly encourage you to do so. In this essay, the venerable Emerson talks about eschewing the trappings of society and finding one's own path. He urges the reader to find rectitude and lead a moral life. He professes that, only by being self reliant, as opposed to relying on the government and being dictated to by society, can one begin leading a decent and purposeful life. He avers that such a life is the only life worth living. I agree with him.

This essay was written during a time of social upheaval in America, and it is rather odd that Emerson authored it, as he was a part of the upper crust of society at the time. It just so happened that he looked around him, at the indolence and the wantonness of the people in his circle; he wondered how in the world he came to belong there. Indeed his penning and publishing this essay caused his excommunication from high society and also caused him a lot of legal trouble. The legal trouble came as a result of the fact that he was speaking out against the government.

I like to reference such texts from time to time as an example both of the fact that history does repeat itself and that this world is not so big that what applies to one society does not in any way touch another society. On a much smaller scale,Emerson's essay affects me very deeply. Not as an urging to become self reliant – I'm nothing if not that! In his text he expounds on the idea that one must give their life a purpose. And that is the true topic of this entry.

These last four years have been so easy: teach for a grand total of six hours a week, and the rest of my time is mine. Since I've been here I have been tasked with nothing more challenging than learning my students' names and figuring out what to do with them for the brief time each week that I stand in front of them. I do not consider the challenges of learning to live here part of a purposeful life. I consider those issues existential in nature.

One of the problems with my life in America was that I felt it had no purpose. I went to work every day and even did what I could to make my colleagues' work lives easier, but I simply could not digest the fact that that was my sole purpose in life. With no family to support, I was the sole beneficiary of my employment: the paycheck, the benefits, the incentives and the rewards were mine alone. Not much of a purpose in being self-serving, is there?

While I was a student, I felt I was leading a purposeful life. Learning new things, broadening my horizons, expanding my life experiences all gave my life a zip and drive that I had not felt since being in survival mode when my kids were small. After graduating college I felt oddly deflated… but by then, China was on my horizon.

(I should note here, for those of you that do not know me so well, that I only attended college after my children were successfully launched into their adult life. I graduated in 2008, at the age of 45.)

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