This I Believe

MengRuo - Moraga, California
Entered on December 9, 2006
Age Group: Under 18

Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone

My mom would often compare her foot to mine. We’d sit in the sofa and align our feet so that they were side-by-side.

“Look how much bigger your foot is than mine,” she’d tell me. “When I was growing up in Yun Nan, my family couldn’t afford new shoes. I had to wear the same pair for years at a time—even when they got painfully tight for my growing feet.”

I grew up hearing stories of my parents’ poverty-stricken childhoods. These stories serve as constant reminders of what I’m expected to achieve in life.

“It’s all about survival,” my dad told me once at the dinner table. My mom nodded solemnly and added, “It’s tough, life—you must work hard to rise above others. And sometimes even that’s not enough.”

Survival of the fittest. Certainly, what we’ve learned in school seems reflects this: I still remember all those lectures about Darwin and natural selection in Biology. And when it comes to the college game, everyone is racing to have the right GPA, APs, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, and community service. Those with the “right” traits are admitted to the “right” colleges and the “right” future.

Is then life a brutal competition?

I don’t like to believe so. I think, as human beings, we have the capability to push our existence beyond that bare necessity of survival.

I admit that I work hard in school. Some mornings, I wake up and find myself numb with exhaustion. Perhaps it’s an inevitable consequence of my background and the expectations I’m to fulfill. But I’d like to think that it is my love for my parents and appreciation for all the great sacrifices they’ve made for me that push me on.

And that’s exactly what I believe: I want to live life to love it.

Perhaps Mom never had new shoes, but when I asked if she was unhappy as a child, she shook her head and said no. “I wish you could’ve seen my home. I lived in the prettiest little village. There were ancient trees to climb, ponds to fish, and endless rice fields to walk along. But that’s all gone now.”

When I asked why, she shook her head wistfully and said, “The last time I visited my village, all I saw were new houses. The hills were treeless and bare, and there were no more fish in the ponds—pollution, I think.”

Mom’s story has made me recognize the potential of human ambition to destroy what is simple and beautiful in life. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll be so preoccupied with success that I’ll wake up one day and find my happiness gone. Man does not live by bread alone.

For this reason I’ve decided to pursue a career in music. I offer no profound justification except that I love music, simply and wholeheartedly. And this: I don’t want to make a living—I want to make a life.