The Humble Life

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My parents have never been to Europe. They’ve never backpacked around South East Asia, or toured down the Nile, or seen the white thumbprint of Mount Fuji on the horizon. They’ve never set foot in the United States, even though they have siblings there. My parents grew up in a world where travel was a luxury, and luxuries were not a habit.

They bear only good cheer, well wishes and excitement for my globetrotting adventures, though I imagine if I were in their shoes, I would judge my travels to be excessive and gluttonous. I blow a grand or two on plane tickets, and then spend several weeks dashing madly from city to city, attempting to absorb culture. I come back with a pile of dirty clothes and badly shot photos. It’s just so easy to travel nowadays. And not only that–it’s the done thing.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon. Holidays between semesters and annual leave from work beget the inevitable wide-eyed question: “Where are you going?”

And if you answer, “Nowhere, I’m just staying at home,” you trigger the cry of, “What? Why? You should go somewhere!”

You should go somewhere. It’s a bit of a mantra for us Gen-Yers. While our parents idealised owning a home and having a cushy job, we crave experience and adventure and all those other wild things that we imagine equate to really being alive. We see other countries as wildernesses to be explored. We find lists of places you MUST visit and foods you MUST try. You just must, must, must, before you die, otherwise you haven’t really lived.

My Facebook news feed has become a dizzying display of exotic locales. It seems half my friends are climbing mountains and the other half are skiing down them. I’m not saying that I am blameless, either. I started travelling in university. At first, the summer holidays meant giant group road trips. We rented a big house down in Lorne. The next year, we flew up to Queensland. Then I ventured overseas–an overambitious, five-week romp through Europe. The following year, Malaysia/Hong Kong and then Samoa. Then Japan and New Zealand. Then China. Soon it became almost expected that a break from study or work meant leaving the country. I haven’t spent Christmas in Melbourne for years.

The adventures we embark on are indeed amazing, and many friends have had much more amazing adventures than I have. But I suppose this essay is a little reminder to myself to remain grateful. It is a privilege–no, even a miracle–that we can buy airplane tickets at the click of a button, step onto a flight, and, a few hours later, disembark into a whole different country, on the other side of the bloody world. Is that not mind-blowing? It is a privilege that I have been born into a family, a society, and an education that has allowed me to afford such luxuries.

My mum’s idea of happiness is coffee, a good book and a bed. She hardly ever spends any money on herself. She buys dresses for fancy dinners from the Salvation Army and makes them look stunning. She saves plastic bags, rubber bands, tofu food containers and scraps of paper so that we can reuse them. She has mentioned, on and off, for years, that she’d like to go to America someday, to visit her sister, or maybe Scotland, to see the castles.

My dad’s idea of happiness is a safe and secure home, eating together with the family, and a beanbag in front of the television. He drives more than an hour each way, in heavy traffic, to work. I can’t recall a single time he’s taken a sick day. He wore the same hat for years and years, until I bought him a new one. He is delighted by a bargain.

I can’t help but feel there is something valuable and precious in the humble life. It shines in its simplicity. Keeping an orderly home, looking after your family, finding peace in being alone or being quiet or being still…perhaps these things aren’t as breathtaking as sky-diving, but neither do they mean that you haven’t lived life to the fullest.

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6 comments

  1. I remember talking to my parents not long ago about travelling — they only really started doing it after my sister and I got to uni and they no longer had to pay those hefty private school fees. I always knew that they sacrificed financially so much for us but I don’t think I fully comprehended what that meant. My dad told me that when he came to Australia, he didn’t see his family for more than 10 years and when I asked why, he told me that it was due to our financial situation at the time. It was tough for migrant parents are we are the lucky, very blessed ones who have benefited from their success. It’s not something I’ll ever stop appreciating.

    I also agree that you don’t need to do all said Gen-Y things (so true !!) to live life to the fullest !

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    1. Yeah, I’m glad you identify :) Even though we’re only a couple of decades apart from our parents, our childhoods are so different from theirs in terms of how much opportunity we have. They did sacrifice their own time and energy to give us the luxuries they never had.

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  2. Oh my goodness Grace, you are like my sister, from another mother, and in the opposite side of the world. Or….maybe its the Chinese thing, regardless, wonderful post. Well written. Life is a reflection of your attitude, your mind is filled with thoughts of love, peace, hope, dreams and happiness. Your patients are very lucky to have you.

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