Readers’ Blog

A Purposeful Life

Popularity 13Viewed 3590 times 2015-5-20 10:43 |System category:Life

I am a big fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay titled Self-Reliance. If you’ve not yet read it, I strongly encourage you to. In this essay, the venerable Mr. Emerson talks about eschewing the trappings of society and finding one’s own path.  He urges the reader to find rectitude and lead a moral life. He professes that, only by being self reliant, as opposed to relying on the government and being dictated to by society, can one begin leading a decent and purposeful life. He avers that such a life is the only life worth living. I agree with him.

This essay was written during a time of social upheaval in America, and it is rather odd that Mr. Emerson authored it, as he was a part of the upper crust of society at the time. It just so happened that he looked around him, at the indolence and the wantonness of the people in his circle, he wondered how in the world he came to belong there. Indeed his penning and publishing this essay caused his excommunication from high society and also caused him a lot of legal trouble. The legal trouble came as a result of the fact that he was speaking out against the government.

I like to reference such texts from time to time as an example both of the fact that history does repeat itself and that this world is not so big that what applies to one society does not in any way touch another society. On a much smaller scale, Mr. Emerson’s essay affects me very deeply. Not as an urging to become self reliant – I’m nothing if not that! In his text he expounds on the idea that one must give their life a purpose. And that is the true topic of this entry.

These last four years have been so easy: teach for a grand total of 6 hours a week, and the rest of my time is mine. Since I’ve been here I have been tasked with nothing more challenging than learning my students’ names and figuring out what to do with them for the brief time each week that I stand in front of them. I do not consider the challenges of learning to live here part of a purposeful life. I consider those issues existential in nature.

One of the problems with my life in America was that I felt it had no purpose. I went to work every day and even did what I could to make my colleagues’ work lives easier, but I simply could not digest the fact that that was my sole purpose in life. With no family to support, I was the sole beneficiary of my employment: the paycheck, the benefits, the incentives and the rewards were mine alone. Not much of a purpose in being self-serving, is there?

While I was a student, I felt I was leading a purposeful life. Learning new things, broadening my horizons, expanding my life experiences all gave my life a zip and drive that I had not felt since being in survival mode when my kids were small. After graduating college I felt oddly deflated… but by then, China was on my horizon.

(I should note here, for those of you that do not know me so well, that I only attended college after my children were successfully launched into their adult life. I graduated in 2008, at the age of 45.)

After my first trip to China in 2008, I did not immediately see living here as my next goal. The trip changed me in a profound way but the idea of chucking everything I had built in the States and coming here was not even a consideration at that time. What forced the issue was the fact that I could find no purpose, no sense of fulfillment after graduation. My life in America was empty.

I tried volunteering at women’s shelters. I could teach them simple household repairs, how to fix their car. I’d been where these battered, downtrodden women had been and I had overcome; surely there was knowledge to impart and aid/succor to be rendered. I was told repeatedly that I did not have the educational credentials to help these women on that level.

Well, OK then. I can help with kids. I generally have good rapport with children, even though at first they tend to be intimidated by my size. Again I was told I do not have the proper background and education credentials to work with kids.

Well, what about when Katrina hit and all of those victims flooded into Dallas, the city I called home? Being as I’ve been homeless and have suffered tragedy, maybe I could help there? ‘No, but if you’d like to make a cash donation…’ It seems organizations wanted my money but nothing from me. 

I am not even allowed to donate blood or bone marrow in America! Much of my childhood and early adult life was spent overseas. The fear that I might have mad cow disease from eating meat while overseas overrode the fact that blood is desperately needed and I am a universal donor (O-), and I am healthy as a horse.

Its not like I wanted an all or nothing proposition. I did not mind volunteering at shelters and reading to kids… but again: one must be properly accredited to do so. And where is the purpose? When there is such a need for help, and I stand here with a lifetime of real experience under my belt and ready to help, why won’t you let me help?

That is when I started focusing on China. Chinese industry is just now recognizing the perils of polluting their land and waterways. The Chinese lifestyle is just now becoming what America was in the 1950’s. Maybe there is room for one foreigner to make a difference in helping build that bridge to what China wants to become: a so-called first world country.

Since raising my kids, my life did not feel very purposeful. These past few years, teaching English have been so. Thank you, China, for allowing me a purposeful life. 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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  • 2014-04-01 2017-9-24 17:21

    wonderful depiction

  • The 'Face' Effect 2017-8-17 16:51

    In the USA blacks demand all people of other races to call them "African American" Yet they call each other the"N" word everyday.Maybe they should folllow the law. Respect is earned and can not be foreced on you by any law.

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