So, there is very little time left here in KL until I go off to cooking school. I am overwhelmed by the amount of things I have yet to do in my life here – and also what I need to prepare for the trip. Underneath it all is this low, steady throb. I have been trying to figure out what its been about – and suddenly, I realised. I am scared.
Scared of changing my life at 40, scared of the unknown, scared of going back to school again. Its all a bit daunting – making new friends, being in a new place, opening my mind to learn. But fear, I have found, is a good thing. It pushes me to open the mind and soul and change. I keep saying, these days, that courage is not the absence of fear – it is acting despite it. And today, while trying to sit and acknowledge the fear, I have been inspired by two people close to me.
The first is my dear Pingaling. She posted this Brand Courage blog and in it, she quoted me. She said that I had once said to her, “The life you have is the life you have been courageous enough to live.” I dont remember saying such wisdom, but it is true… and this delectable blog, and the embracing of my true self is all about having the courage to live the life I want and deserve.
The second inspiration is my late Ayah. I have been going through his papers in the last few weeks, and today I found his remarks at my high school graduation in 1988. They are as relevant now as they were more than 20 years ago … and they speak of love, of change, of courage and of living a conscious life. I have decided that today’s blog post will be my Ayah’s words. To remind me to have courage, to live the live that I know I should … and to share his words with all those that I love.
I hope you find the light and the love in these words as I have.
Remarks at the High School Graduation, International School Kuala Lumpur
3 June 1988
Memories must now crowd upon you, the graduants, on this last evening of your school life. Memories of Taman and of Phuket spring breaks, of parties and more parties, and curfews broken and the inevitable excuses which look plausible at three in the morning but are so woefully thread-bare in the cold light of day; of crazy midnight drives and Roti runs; and memories, too, of detention classes, and Algebra II and French Grammar, and vocabulary lists and tests and papers and date-lines; and memories also, I hope, of the exhilaration of an intellectual discovery you have made yourself, the thrill of a new skill you have mastered after enormous effort and the joy of companionable friends who have seen you through good times and bad times. You may be surprised to know that your parents, too, share in all these memories. But you have the consolation that there will be many more memories that you will accumulate. But no matter; you will always be part of us. Wherever you are and whatever you do, at the summit and in the valleys and in all the areas in between, you will always have a part of us with you, our unquestioning love above all, and our prayers and our support, and yes, our friendship always.
But let me hasten to assure you that this is not going to be a sentimental speech – that emotion which at this point in your lives you surely abhor above all. You have graduated today, for which you deserve every congratulation. Your dominant emotion must surely be one of freedom – freedom from (dare I say it?) that horrible school uniform which you will never have to wear again, freedom from unreasonably early curfews, freedom from that insistent alarm at seven o’clock or earlier, freedom from those dreary chores of rules and lists and tests. Yes, it is a wonderful thing, that freedom. But freedom, as your philosophy class has taught you, is not license. And so I say, as to that freedom: do what you feel you should do, and all else follows.
You note that I have used the would “should” – what you feel you should do – not simply what you want to do. There is, of course, a world of difference between the two. There are many things that you may want to do – to play or watch television when there is work to do, to stay out every night, to sleep late, loiter, do absolutely nothing, and so on. But freedom is not doing what you want to do. Freedom is doing what you will yourself to do that which you know you should do. Recognising the difference is what education is all about.
You have had the good fortune these past years to be educated at an international school, which has meant exposure to other cultures and values and ways of life. I say this because the world is almost literally a smaller place than it was only a few years ago and, with the increasing pace of technological changes, it will shrink even more each year. The new Century will be upon us in only 12 years. You will then be, most of you, around thirty years in age having recently embarked on the great adventure of life on your own. Who knows what the world will be like then? The Industrial Revolution brought more changes in the last 200 years than in the previous 2,000 – indeed 6,000 – years of human history. And the technotronic-genetic revolution of the last 20 years – the revolution of technology, electronics and human genetics – have brought about more change than the previous 200 years. And the pace will accelerate.
As you celebrate that midnight hour on 31st December 1999, I hope you will feel that you have done all you can to educate yourselves for the challenges of the 21st Century. Educate yourself, then, first of all for survival – by which I mean for gainful and productive employment whether as teacher or doctor or banker, artist or craftsman or technician, worker of hand or brain. An ageing hipster or beach-bum is not, I assure you, a pleasant sight, nor does she or he have a particularly pleasant existence.
Educate yourself, too, for awareness. Awareness, that is, of the community and the world around you, of the horror and squalor that are too much with us. Do you know, for example, that practically 1 person in 5 in the world is chronically hungry or that practically 1 in 2 is illiterate? We, all of us in this room, in fact lead privileged lives. That privilege carries with it a certain responsibility which we must educate ourselves to discharge.
Educate yourself, also, for living – for the splendour and majesty of this world, the the joys of life, both mental and physical, for music and books and art, for the sunshine and the sea and the mountain-top.
Education, then, is a fearsome thing. It happens also to be a wonderfully exciting and exhilarating thing. It is a multi-dimensional effort for the human being is multi-dimensional. The mind, the heart, the emotion, the moral values of right and wrong, the physical sense of being – all these have to be educated.
You are now about to embark on the next phase, which is perhaps the most crucial phase, of your education. As you do so, I wish you three qualities of mind and heart: I wish for you a sense of curiosity, of courage and of caring.
I wish for you that you will always be curious about everything around you, that you will be curious how a rocket flies or why the stars shine, that you will be curious to learn new skills, whether it is to play tennis better or to work a computer more expertly, that you will be curious to know more about the society around you, about politics and banking and finance.
I wish for you that you will always have courage – the courage of your own conviction, the courage to take risks, courage both physical and moral. And courage, let me remind you, is not the absence of fear – all of us, I assure you, are afraid of something at some point in our lives – but it is the ability to do and act in spite of your fear. Do not be afraid of the unknown. It is much better to make mistakes – you can always learn from your mistakes – than to be so anxious not to make mistakes that you do nothing at all.
And finally, I wish for you that you will always care – that you care enough for your body that you do not do anything to harm it, that you care enough for your mind that you will feed it with new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things, that you care enough for your family and your friends, that you will always give them your support, that you care enough for your community, your country and the world beyond, that you will be willing to do something to make it a better and a happier place.
Youth, as Oscar Wilde said, is the Lord of Life. Youth has a Kingdom waiting for it. Grasp it with all your energy, with all your heart. There is a line of Baudelaire which I commend to you. Get drunk, it says – please do not take this too literally – “Get drunk, with wine, with music or with virtue as you choose. But get drunk.” Drink deep, then, of life – and you will be alright.
May your parents, your families, your friends and your teachers – and above all, you yourself – always be proud of you. May all your years ahead give you joy, stimulation and satisfaction. All the blessings of your parents go with you, tonight and always.
Thank you, Daddy, for shining the Light for me, as always.