Speed Breakers

11 November 2018

I have always believed that life isn’t about the destination, but about the journey that leads up to it. After all, our lives all end the same way, but what we do during our lives is what makes us different. Obstacles help create the scenery in the flat journey of life. And those obstacles come in many forms: internal, external, small hurdles, or big mountains.
Imagine a field. A soccer field. In the scorching tropical heat. There is no wind blowing and the dry, brown grass pricks through your socks. Imagine a soccer game commencing on that field. Now, take a moment to step into my cleats. Playing in an intense soccer game, when my team is two goals behind, I am motivated by the obstacle. As the other team shoves through, we hold like a wall. The passionate desire to win unites the team and drives us towards victory. The game leads to a penalty shootout. One by one the players take shots at the goal: aiming the ball, visualizing it soar, and finally, succeeding in attaining that winning goal. The triumph is sweeter because we struggled for it. We didn’t give up and accept defeat. We played with our hearts in the game. We were connected, deeply, to the game. The victory was satiating because we craved it badly and pushed through the hurdle of the other team to embrace success.
A sigh brings you back to the testing room. The testing room with seven students—each bubbling ferociously on the grid paper. Each filled with a desire to get a perfect score. Each filled with a desire to conquer the AP exam. Weeks later, I am eating breakfast when I see an envelope with my name on it. An envelope from CollegeBoard. Nervous butterflies, amongst other things, fluttering in my stomach, I gently tear it to see my scores. I am scared. I blink; opening my eyes slowly, I see my Fives and scream in victory. The small achievement, something I knew I could do, was intensified because of the waiting, because of the obstacle of the AP exam. And as my hands clutched the air, and my heart pounded with triumph, I was elated.
As you peek from the curtain, you see the theater, filled with parents, teachers, students, and strangers. You grip your friend’s hand, muttering your lines to yourself. The music stops. The voices dwindle. The lights slowly intensify. You hear dialogue being enunciated from the guts. You hear your cue. You also feel like you will throw up and flail on stage: it is the opening night of the Spring Musical. I take a deep breath and enter as I hear my cue. Pretending to be calm, trying hard not to mess up, I get through the first scene. Hours later, I sit backstage, happy. The play is over and we received a standing ovation. The butterflies have calmed and the parasympathetic system is in charge now. As I relax and smile with confidence, I realize that the butterflies and the nervous tension within me made this a more memorable experience and a greater achievement. Had I not been so nervous, I wouldn’t appreciate the applause as much. Had I not been so scared, I wouldn’t have felt as great about doing well, about overcoming my internal obstacles.
You feel the hot dust in your toes as you walk from the car to the gate. You recoil as you see rats, running around in the sewers, less than a foot away from three little children. There is filth covering almost every surface. Broken toys and furniture litter the courtyard. The tiles are cracked and there are ants and cockroaches marching out of them. A child runs by, holding a broken lighter. You are here to pick up the orphans, aged 2 – 6, for a crafts project. A knot forms in your throat as you see a baby in a stained pram, sucking the air. Crying. You think of the air-conditioned rooms at your house and school. You think of the refrigerator full of snacks, the store room full of supplies, the car you use, all the privileges you have because of where you were born. Not because of what you did to deserve it, but because of your parents. You wonder: will you ever make it on your own? Will you ever be able to provide for yourself?
As you usher the kids, all dressed up in their best patched clothes and powdered faces, into the school cars, you realize that these aren’t the only kids in need. These aren’t even the worst cases. And that is the challenge. A global challenge: to eradicate poverty, to provide a better future, a blossoming future, for these children. We gather in the art room and sit around the shiny tables, making little dolls with these children. They are happy; they are excited. As the children eat the prepared snacks, we finish up the dolls, hoping to give them happy memories.
Even though I know how the conditions are at the orphanage—even though I know that these children are exceptional, staying happy and cheerful with negligible privileges—even though I know that they won’t have many opportunities, I hope that someday—someday these children will overcome life’s obstacles to realize their dreams, because the largest obstacles are the ones that give you the most satisfaction and most substantial rewards. The obstacles I face in life seem trivial when compared to such challenges. A taxing soccer game is hardly comparable to the daily challenges of such children. Yet, those are my hindrances to overcome and snags to iron out, my life to live.
William Hastie said that “Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.” Will poverty one day be eradicated? Probably not, because poverty is relative, someone will always be poorer than someone else. Can we contribute towards making the underprivileged happy and give them a better future? Yes, of course we can.
As part of four community service projects involving such orphans or underprivileged children, I hope that I am contributing towards giving them a better future. These projects, encompassing teaching basic English, playing with them, and raising money and accumulating donations of toys, food, and other basic supplies, are a taster for what I hope to achieve. Someday I hope that I will be able to sustain this on a larger scale; one day I want to be able to run a network of orphanages and schools with good conditions. I want to be able to give these children a life where they won’t be undernourished and constrained by their situation: a life where they may not have more means, but they will have an education and a childhood. I hope that someday I will be able to give such children a brighter future. And I hope that the obstacles I face on my journey will only make my happiness greater on that day.

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