A couple of years back, my Dad suddenly passed away. After the funeral, I sat in his room. Slowly going through the possessions he has left behind. He loved photography, and in the back of the closet, I rediscovered all the pictures he took over the years. I started to flip through the photos. Each photo in my hand was telling a unique story and bringing back memories from a different time in my life. Some of the memories were vivid and clear as if it happened yesterday, and some memories were layered with memory dust, foggy, and vague.
One by one, each photo reconstructed a part of my childhood memories, browsing through the phases from Kindergarten to University. And suddenly, I realized how fortunate I was. For in every photo, there’s a familiar face. A face that formed part of my life’s journey, sharing the good and the bad with me and everything else life had to offer.
One of those faces was my Grade 1 teacher. She was, by far, the one person that had the most radical impact on my character. She showed me that the human heart is big enough to love everybody. For her, it didn’t matter who you are, whether you are rich or poor, big or small, shy or outgoing. She never judged us. She never raised her voice, and I can’t remember a time where I have seen her upset or scolding a child. She loved us, and we loved her.
During my time in High School, it was the accounting teacher that taught us more than just accounting. When we enter his class, and we look battle-weary from an hour and a half math class, he would always tell us: “Nothing that comes easy in life is worth it.” And then continue to challenge us by saying: “If something is worth doing, it is worth giving your best.” No half-measures with him. Work hard, give your best, even if the odds are against you.
While studying at University towards a degree, my path crossed with more wisdom from one of my professors. He had a subtle way about him. He always appeared calm, confident, and gracious. He knew who he was, what his purpose in life is, and what he is supposed to do. I envied people like that because of my turbulent years while attending University. It was a time where I had to discover who I am, what I want to be, and how I’m going to achieve it. I sat numerous times in his study, feeling bewildered, searching for the answers for life, looking at the room crammed floor to roof with bookshelves filled with books gloating with knowledge. Knowledge, which I desperately wished I had. It was more of a longing because if you know the answers, life would be easy. He was patient, listening carefully to my incoherent mumbling. With a gentle tone, after an uncomfortable silence, he would start pouring out the wisdom which I desperately needed. He gave my character a tremendous boost with allegiance, integrity, and trust.
And then there was my Dad. He was a man of few words. He was quiet, always wandering somewhere in the background. He and my Mother broke with tradition by not giving me a family name. They took it a step further by only giving me one name. On my first day at school, I realized I’m the only boy who’s got only one name. And not only that, it’s not a family name. That afternoon I asked my Dad why I only got one name because all the other boys at school had many.
His answer was insightful. I didn’t understand it at the time but would only realize the more profound meaning of it many years later. The reason for not giving me a family name was an obvious choice. You are an individual. You and only you can determine the path in life you want to follow. You will wonder on the road of life, and you will reach crossroads. There you will have to choose from two options. One is going to be good, and the other one is going to be bad. Whether it’s a good or a bad choice is up to you.
The second part of his reply was downright frightening. His response to my question would keep me on my toes for the rest of my life. You have only one name. Safeguard it. Protect it with honorable choices. You do not have a fallback. There’s no second chance if you disgrace your name by making poor decisions in life. Choose your path carefully, but do not hesitate to fight for a noble cause.
Unknowingly they all laid the foundation for my philosophy for life.
- You only have one name, and it must be synonymous with integrity, loyalty, and reliability.
- Nothing that comes easy in life is worth it.
- If something is worth doing, it is worth giving your best.
- Make room in your heart to love, live, and be joyous.
Three of them were teachers. My Grade 1 teacher only needed to teach me my ABC and how to write. My accounting teacher only supposed to show me the ropes about balance sheets. My professor was only supposed to show me History. But they were more, they were larger than life, and they were way more than what their job-description required. They were human with big hearts and a burning passion for making a difference in someone else’s life. You won’t know them because they don’t want accolades or murals or rewards. They find joy in life by helping others, sharing their knowledge and experience with anyone willing to accept it.
After forty-plus years, everything they taught me came full circle. It took some time, but I know now who I am, I know what to do, and I know what my purpose in life is. I want to be a familiar face in someone’s photo. My soul is at peace.