On my way to work this morning, I had a sudden outburst of dissatisfaction while reflecting on my life so far. I was entertaining the thoughts that it's time for me to live my own life, do what I want to do to make myself happy, to pursue my wildest dreams, to satisfy my own needs, and to hell with pleasing everyone else -- especially my parents and relatives -- whom I've been pleasing all these years and living their lives.
I've been brought up with a very clear awareness that I am not my own. Every decision and action may affect my family and close relatives alike. And almost every kind of matter, be it achievements, failures, sicknesses (small or big), going for vacation, to name just a few, will be made known within the family circle (and outside the circle as well, depending on its 'seriousness'; the more 'serious' it is, the wider news will spread).
One very good example I vividly remember was the time I conveyed to my parents my desire to become a Carmelite nun when I was in my early 20s. It was then that I witnessed the great drama. Wet blankets after wet blankets were piled on me. My mom was totally upset, so much so that she blamed the Carmelite nuns for 'misleading' me. My aunts gave me an entire list of disadvantages of being a cloistered nun and strongly advised me to reconsider. The best actress award went to my grandmother, who, I was told, wept in great disappointment and sorrow upon getting to know about my desire. If I have received such outburst of objections to a mere desire, you could imagine how much weight their opinions and approvals carry ... especially to me, who have always been fearful (maybe I should say, a coward).
I have been alive for 36 years now. So what have I achieved so far? Apparently, not much ... aside from making some out-of-the-ordinary decisions, which my parents frowned upon and totally ignored by me, i.e. giving up a well-paying job to work full time with the archdiocese, going to the canonisation of Pope John Paul II, attending an expensive show by my favourite Hong Kong actor and flying all the way to Kuala Lumpur alone to meet his fans whom I had only met online. Not impressive at all!
We have every right to our own lives, have we not? Isn't this what the world has been constantly telling us to do? So it's perfectly alright should I choose to break free from all kinds of stupid expectations from others and just be myself!
As I settled down behind my desk and logged on to Facebook, a quote I posted two years ago was the first thing I saw. "The responsibility for the sanctity of others... lies with you. You are not on your own. If you stop, you could be holding up or harming so many people!" It has never spoken as loud to me before.
That brought me back to how my decision to give up my previous job to work for the church inspired two other friends. One of them a Taoist, another a Methodist. Both, upon hearing of my choice to a life of service of God and his people, also gave up their jobs.
My Methodist friend became a Christian missionary to Japan. Despite the trials, loneliness and disapproval from her own family, she persevered. My Taoist friend serves the temple. She lives a simple life, giving tuition to school children. She does not earn much but is never in need. She even gives free tuition to children of poor families.
I still remember how the two of them, particularly my Taoist friend, told me I was their inspiration and model. Little do they know that they have become my inspiration and model today. I admire their courage to venture into the unknown, without counting the cost. In fact, I feel ashamed of myself for allowing fears to weigh me down recently.
I am grateful to my parents for having brought me up with the awareness that is very much in-line with the Gospel (though they had no idea about it): we are not on our own. Truly, our actions, decisions, our beliefs and behaviours affect others, directly and indirectly. Since this is so, all the more we need to make sure that our will is always in tune with God's, allowing him to make use of us for his own purpose and glory, even when there is suffering.
Back to the question that has disturbed me this morning. It is rightly so that I should live my life to the fullest and disregard the feelings** of my loved ones, but it has to be in complete conformity with God's will and the values of the Gospel.
Had I given in to my parents' displeasure on my decision to work for the diocese eight years ago, my two friends would not have been who they are today.
I once shared with a colleague, who is a counsellor, my dilemma of whether I should take my parents' feelings into account when I make decisions about my life, she asked a thought-provoking question, "Are you responsible for other people's feelings?" before adding, "You are old enough to make your own decisions and to take responsibility of it."