Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Highest Praise

My office is Amici Coffee, a nice little shop in downtown Dalian that serves excellent sweet pomelo tea and inexplicably affordable Italian cuisine. Usually, I get down there around noon and spend five or six hours writing, researching, and nursing a bowl of spaghetti bolognese.

Recently, I've made friends with the store's manager, a friendly woman of 29 who is--under my careful tutelage--becoming a very decent chess player. (The perks of being friends with the manager should not be underestimated; I am treated to complimentary coffee, fresh juice, and even dumplings, sometimes all in one afternoon).

We were chatting as she was closing up today, and she told me about how after quitting her last job she had done some graduate work studying law, and how she almost got certified (though I wasn't clear for what) but failed her final exam by four points and never tried again.

"It left me angry with myself, and I lost hope. I just couldn't take the test again."

I've heard similar stories before, and I'm sympathetic to anyone who struggles hard but fails in a system that so heavily emphasizes success. I told her:

"Well, you'll get your chance one day. Or not. Depends on whether you still really want it. It's okay to give up some of your dreams, you know? Some dreams are important, and other dreams you let go, and it's entirely up to you to decide."

She thought for a minute. "You know, you express yourself really well. You're good at using language to make your meaning clear, and sometimes you use words or phrases that I didn't think you knew. What you said is absolutely true, and thank you for saying it."

I can't describe the feeling of excitement and validation this gives me. When people say these things to me, I honestly feel like I have a calling, like I have a life's work to express myself in ways that help people learn more about themselves and the world around them. Whether it's writing philosophy essays or magazine articles or just chatting with people at coffee shops, the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment I get from these exchanges is truly awesome.

It's not like what I said to her was anything particularly profound, or that I expressed myself in a particularly eloquent manner. I think it's just that this stuff--this consideration of life and ways of living--just doesn't get talked about anymore... it seems these days there's almost a void when it comes to actual examination of life, in both China and America. We're so busy arguing about the sanctity of life or the shortness of life or the origin of life; we're preoccupied with forms, and it's easy to forget what exactly we're doing here.

I want to bring life--or Life, to be dramatic--back into people's consciousness. I want people to be more aware of how the decisions they make and the roads they travel contribute to the genuine quality and richness of their lives. I'll use a pen, I'll use a megaphone, or a I'll use a cup of coffee and a chess set; whatever the medium, spreading this awareness and encouraging these thoughts is a large part of how I want to spend my own life.


Anonymous said...

Being a friend with the management in a restaurant is a real privilege that worths cultivating, a lot. You should start working on taste testing their products. You will find uncommon pleasure from that. You should start commenting on their products, and leading on to your willingness to try new stuff.

赵晨威 said...

you make it sound like i'm being seduced into a tempting and slightly dangeous world...

... and you might be right...

La Mama said...

I'm proud of you my Socratic/buddhist/be happy/rabbi teacher son!