Every time I listen to ‘Fast Car’ by Tracy Chapman (introduced by Mabel) I get really sad.
I’ve had the privilege of never really fitting in anywhere (although it’s only recently that I’ve come to see it as a privilege) because it’s allowed me to discover life on my own terms, to find out who I am without really letting my surroundings define me.
Having been home schooled in an American curriculum, speaking English as a first language, and being a Malaysian Chinese who can barely speak Malay or Chinese, I’ve always felt too ‘Westernized’. I never felt more Asian and foreign in my life, however, when I lived in the UK for a year.
But never really identifying with the culture and interests of people around me has freed me to sort of define my own culture and interests, drawing from that of those around me, but not just limiting myself to it. I’ve never felt the need to keep up with what everyone else is listening to, watching, wearing, or doing. I wouldn’t completely get it anyway, since I was never completely a part of any culture of the places I’ve lived in. That was just the way it was.
I got to define my life. I got to choose my interests and discover my passions without my culture telling me what those interests and passions should be.
When I listen to that song, though, I get really sad, because I look around me and see people everywhere who didn’t have that opportunity. People who have probably only lived their lives one way - the way everyone else around them does, or the way someone told them was ‘right’ - and never stopped to think if there was any other way to live it. People who have never questioned their value system and stopped to think about what makes them really happy.
The way I see it, most people’s definition of happiness is security. When people have what they believe will provide them security - be it wealth, possessions, property, or marriage - they call that happiness. But the deep-down happiness that comes from realising “This makes me feel alive” - I wonder if many people know that kind of happiness.
Because if you’ve only ever lived your life one way, then to explore, to court the possibility of change, which is essential to discovering who you are and what you really want out of life - it’s scary. So many people just follow the status quo and live scared. They live the way they’ve always lived, and while yes, they may avoid the risk of change and the dreadfulness of uncertainty and the anguish of doubting everything you’ve ever believed in - they will never discover how beautiful and magnificent and worth living and risking everything for this journey we call life is. They will never know how much life had to offer them if they were willing to reach out and grab it. They will never know the privilege of owning themselves and their decisions and of shaping a life they can call their own.
We all know people like that. People who can have entire conversations centered solely around what they bought or how they spent their weekend getting wasted. People who go to reunions just to show everyone else how much they have ‘progressed’. People who never have enough and always have something to complain about, but don’t want to do anything to change any of it. People who can say they are bored with life when they’ve only ever lived it one way.
Seeing people like that makes me so sad. Like a literal aching in my heart kind of sad.
“Leave tonight or live and die this way” - this is the reason motion is so important to me. Because whether it’s running or traveling or learning new things, moving forward means change - a change in my scenery, a change in the way I see things, a change in my ability, a change in the way I see myself.
I live for motion - it’s the reason I hardly have any branded clothes in my wardrobe and lived for years with a black and white cellphone - because I’d rather spend my money on travel than on things. It’s the reason I woke up at 7AM this morning to run even in this ridiculous heat. It’s the reason I always want to learn new skills even if I’ll never master them, whether it’s C-walking or making macaroons or video editing or playing the guitar and why I am drawn to controversial authors like Donald Miller and Malcolm Gladwell and why I’m taking a French audio course.
Because I never want to stay stagnant. I never want to stop growing and discovering and learning new things. I never want to become someone so unimaginative that I have the audacity to call life boring, or someone so jaded that I think I’ve seen it all. How can I possibly see all there is to see, or experience all life has to offer? Every day is a new day, and if I’m constantly changing, then even the sunset must look different every single day.
“Leave tonight or live and die this way.”
I didn’t want to leave Malaysia. If not for my parents and the fact that it would almost seem ungrateful to not accept the amazing opportunity that was given me, I didn’t want to leave. I would have rather stayed and stuck to the status quo. It was safe and appealing. Even abroad, if I had the choice to hop on a plane and come home, many times, I would have. But I don’t regret it. I’m glad I left, to see a new world.
And I’m glad I left that world, to come back and see this one with new eyes.
And even though I hate goodbyes more than anything else in the world, I’m going to keep leaving. Because leaving one place or one chapter just means moving forward to a new one. It means change. Means new lessons to learn. Means new memories to be made. Means new ways of understanding myself and this life I have to live.
So goodbye yesterday, and thank you for all you’ve taught me. But I’m not going to die the same person I was when I knew you. I’m moving forward, today.
"I think it happens to everyone as they grow up. You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you've known forever don't see things the way you do. And so you keep the wonderful memories, but find yourself moving on." —Nicholas Sparks