By Lydia Zhang, a member of Get Your Wordsworth
Life is full of ups and downs. In order to make life meaningful and enjoyable, there is a need to adopt a positive (and productive) attitude towards various experiences in life; one needs to look back and look around very often, summarizing personal and other people’s experiences, so as to draw lessons and inspirations. Such an attitude is beneficial, because it helps us meet challenges courageously, overcome difficulties, keep an open mind, and learn new things and enrich ourselves on a continuous basis.
A recent get-together with some of my childhood friends, who came from China to visit New York, revealed episodes of such a positive attitude. These friends—-Ming, Pang-Pang, and Grace—-and I grew up together in Beijing. We have kept our friendship, and we often exchange ideas with the type of long-lasting trust that can only be found among childhood friends.
Ming, a newspaper reporter, has a 25-year-old daughter who is now studying at a law school in China. We knew that Ming gave tremendous love and attention to her daughter. Her loving care was meticulous: from academic study to the type of friends to have, from survival skills to critical thinking capacity, Ming devoted tremendous energy. We also knew that, for a number of years, their relationship was quite tense, particularly during the daughter’s teenage time. Ming often complained to us how her heart was almost broken by her daughter’s teenager behavior. So when we got together recently, our concern about their relationship was still strong.
“How are things now?”
“It has been a pleasant surprise.” Ming confided. “A few years of college experience brought a lot of changes in my daughter.” During her college time, far away from home, Ming’s daughter had to cope with challenges all by herself. However, years of ‘family education’ helped her form a positive attitude toward life, and she met various challenges without fear or complaint. After college, she worked for two years to accumulate practical experience for the subsequent study of law. Gradually, she learned how to solve problems effectively, and she learned to prioritize issues to deal with. She learned how to communicate with people from various backgrounds, and she learned how to be a team player in her work. Through all these experiences, she also gained better understanding of the profound love that her mother gave her, and her interactions with Ming has become a constant joy.
“Look, this is a letter she wrote me recently,” Ming displayed a greeting card proudly.
We leaned closer, “Read it to us!”
What we heard was a warm flow of love and gratitude that a mature daughter expressed to her loving mother. Tears filled the eyes of us all.
Grace, one of my two other visiting friends, is a very graceful, gentle and quiet woman. When we were children, she would always stand aside, quietly watching the rest of us playing like crazy. She grew up to be a ballet dancer, and later a ballet instructor. She was always dressed up elegantly and in good taste, which complemented her slender figure and beautiful long legs. She was born to be a graceful performing artist for the stage. However, an unexpected incident changed her life overnight. Her right leg was seriously broken in a car accident last year, and the doctor told her that she would be no long be fit for a career of ballet instructor. She had never thought of parting with the ballet stage that she loved with all her body and soul. This harsh reality came like a bolt from the blue that, for a while, she almost lost her confidence in continuing her life.
“What happened later that has brought back your courage for life?”, we curiously popped our question to her, who was now still as elegant and gently quiet as before.
“It’s the power of example. An inspiration that goes deep into my bones. A will not to give up in life,” she quietly confided to us.
“During my worst down-spirited time,” she told us. “I didn’t even want to eat or sleep. I felt that my life was unfortunately brought to an end, and it was no longer meaningful any more.” Sadness surrounded her for quite a while until one day, lying in the hospital bed, she happened to notice that there were sounds of cheerful chatting coming through from a neighboring ward. She became curious and moved over to find out. What she saw was a middle-aged woman whose left leg had been amputated from the knee down. It was also the result of a car accident. “To my bewilderment, no signs of disheartenedness or grievance could be found on her face,” Grace told us. “So I began to exchange my feelings with her.”
That woman was a teacher of physical education, who loved her students even more than her own children. A traffic accident took away her left leg at a time when she just came to the peak of her career. What the woman said was totally amazing, “What should I be afraid of? I still have a right leg… With modern technology, I can easily get myself an artificial limb and go back to teaching.”
“And she said this with a laughter.”
Grace was so shocked by the woman’s positive attitude. “It made my own attitude pale by comparison. Just think of it: Here, I was merely suffering from some fractures, without losing a foot or a leg; yet I was so downhearted! Suddenly, I felt I was so small— that woman was a much taller and stronger person.”
Grace suddenly found a role model in that woman. She came to see that life could not always be a plain sailing. Life is dotted with various challenges that sometimes are disastrous. Nevertheless, as long as one has a strong will and a positive attitude towards life, a way can always be found for a courageous continuation.
“From that moment on, my heart began to brighten up,” Grace told us joyfully. Grace realized that, although it was impossible for her to remain on the ballet stage, there were still many other things she could do to enjoy life. As graceful as before, Grace gently and quietly revealed her new life plan to us: She would soon start to write a book, a book about her many years of experience in teaching ballet.
We were all so touched by Grace’s story that we clapped for her —- for her new life, and for her new perception of life.
My third friend at the get-together was Pang-Pang, an outspoken person who was always serious about everything. For years she was in charge of a media center at a university. But she finally came down under the pressure of the academic world. The constant impact of hard work, research projects, endless competition, and workplace politics resulted in health problems for her. Last October, she decided to take a breath from the stifling life. She put her work aside and got on a trip with a tourist group to a beautiful mountainous area for sightseeing.
What she enjoyed most was not the natural scenes. It was the local inhabitants whose attitude towards life that gave her a refreshing lesson.
“In that mountainous area, many people live up to over one hundred years old and they are still in good physical condition. They rarely get sick,” Pang-Pang told us. “You can see that they are very happy everyday. Most of the old people there still do manual work in the fields. When I asked them about their secrets of longevity, they all mentioned that they were living a simple life, a life that was with happiness and good for health.”
Those inhabitants told Pang-Pang, “It is true that manual labor is physically challenging, but we don’t need to go to gyms or health clubs. We get enough physical exercise in our daily work. In addition, we don’t have the worries of you city people. Our life is peaceful and our mind is calm. We are appreciative of what we already have. We are deeply grateful.”
That experience was a wake-up call to Pang-Pang. So, the source of happiness, and the secret of longevity, can come from a completely different way of life, from a very different mindset! It is the accumulation of small and simple pleasures that ultimately amounts to real satisfaction with life and a genuine gratitude to the Creator!
“In contrast, in the so-called modern world, we are constantly lured and tempted by visions of greater fame and material wealth, or instant popularity.” Pang Pang sighed. “We always want what others want — we never really appreciate what we already have. This is a major reason what it is so difficult for us to be have a peace in our heart or lasting satisfaction about life.”
Pang-Pang’s story made us think a lot. Yes, there is truth in a simple life. There is something great in living a simple life, in which you can enjoy more of natural happiness and genuine peace of mind. From now on, I will slow down my ‘modern’ pace of life, so as to enjoy every bit and piece of life pleasure in a simple way.
In short, a positive attitude towards life experiences can lead to a more meaningful life. That is what we want, isn’t it?