It may be a bit late to write down all things happened last year, but I still think it is a good thing to summarize our experiences and thoughts. There are certain things that have come to my mind again and again during 2009. Have you experienced things like that? You see something or read about an issue, then you start thinking about it, you start make your opinion on that issue. Then after a while, you completely forget the issue, but sometime later you come upon another thing – which may seem completely unrelated to the first issue – yet pondering on this seemingly unrelated thing somehow remind you about the first issue and strengthen your opinion on that. Well, I do not know how to describe it better in words.
The first thing I would like to note is the idea (or idealism) of work. Not the ubiquitous meaning of it, i.e. something we do to make a living, but the wider meaning of the term, e.g. something we do to put a meaning in our life. Of course, those two meanings are not in contradiction to each other. We do need to make a living, and that living will come true through our work, not through other people’s charity. I do not cherish the idea of young people pursuing their dream as an artist despite having limited talents and by the end of the day let their parents support them financially. No, thanks. I would rather stick to boring clerical jobs than be a burden.
But I have come to realize that work is more than just acquiring wealth. As a teenager, I was rather fascinated in ‘how to be rich’ books. At that time, the ideas and mindset proposed in those books sounded cool and looked like a breakthrough. You know, ideas such as: make money work for you, achieve a financial freedom at a young age, retire young and rich. Yet even back then, I sensed that something is not really right. On my second year in college, I found what it is that disturbed me. I asked myself (and actually asked my parents), is that all that is about work? make money, acquiring wealth? so actually we work with a single, clear objective: to be able to retire as young as possible? The last sentence can be rephrased as: we work in order to be able to stop working? Does not that sound a bit…contradictive?
In 2009 I went for my first international conference. During those conference days, I saw how two emeritus professors (one is 79, another is in his early 80s) still attend presentations, give lectures and supervise students. Surely they have the financial freedom to retire years ago. Surely they will not be homeless just because they stop teaching and doing research. Yet they are still working. And the academic world applauds them for keep working. A conference is currently being organized to be held in 2010 to celebrate the 80th birthday of one of the old prof. When I saw them, I say to myself, I think that’s what you call working.
But that does not mean that one must be so great and famous to be called working. Those professors may leave their stamp so boldly in the vast scientific world, but there are other people who by their works leave their stamp as boldly, though in a smaller area. Last Christmas when I was back home, my mom told me a story of a bakery in our city. That bakery is arguably the best one in my city, and the most expensive. The owner of the bakery, an old uncle, is a distant cousin of my grandpa, so Mom knows their story. Mom told me how the old uncle and his wife almost never went out in the evening because everyday they go to bed early so that they can wake up at 2am in the morning to start preparing the doughs. Everyday. Even when the bakery start growing and they have become rich and employ many workers, they still do the preparation themselves. In that way, only the two of them know the secret recipe of those marvelous breads. When Mom told me this story, I can’t help saying to myself: that’s what I call working. And I start thinking, what will happen if the owner is not the old uncle, but young folks who follow those ‘be rich’ formulas? Maybe the shop will have been closed years ago and the owners live on stocks. And I would not have the chance to savour their breads.
And so I made a resolution: I will work as well as possible, according to the talents and opportunity that the Lord grant me. Not only to make a living (of course I will make a living through my work) but also to justify the talents, opportunity and life that have been given me. And although I am aware that perhaps there will not be an international conference held to celebrate my 80th birthday (but there’s still hope, right?); I do hope that someday, just like I cherish the old uncle’s bakery, some persons will cherish my work.