In my dual profession as an educator and health care provider, I have worked with numerous children infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The relationships that I have had with these special kids have been gifts in my life. They have taught me so many things, but I have especially learned that great courage can be found in the smallest of packages. Let me tell you about Tyler.
Tyler was born infected with HIV: his mother was also infected. From the very beginning of his life, he was dependent on medications to enable him to survive. When he was five, he had a tube surgically inserted in a vein in his chest. This tube was connected to a pump, which he carried in a small backpack on his back. Medications were hooked up to this pump and were continuously supplied through this tube to his bloodstream. At times, he also needed supplemented oxygen to support his breathing.
Tyler wasn’t willing to give up one single moment of his childhood to this deadly disease. It was not unusual to find him playing and racing around his backyard, wearing his medicine-laden backpack and dragging his tank of oxygen behind him in his little wagon. All of us who knew Tyler marveled at his pure joy in being alive and the energy it gave him. Tyler’s mom often teased him by telling him that he moved so fast she needed to dress him in red. That way, when she peered through the window to check on him playing in the yard, she could quickly spot him.
This dreaded disease eventually wore down even the likes of a little dynamo like Tyler. He grew quite ill and, unfortunately, so did his HIV-infected mother. When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to survive, Tyler’s mom talked to him about death. She comforted him by telling Tyler that she was dying too, and that she would be with him soon in heaven.
A few days before his death, Tyler beckoned me over to his hospital bed and whispered, “I might die soon. I’m not scared. When I die, please dress me in red. Mom promised she’s coming to heaven, too. I’ll be playing when she gets there, and I want to make sure she can find me.”
My father was a self-taught mandolin player. He was one of the best string instrument players in our town. He could not read music, but if he heard a tune a few times, he could play it. When he was younger, he was a member of a small country music band. They would play at local dances and on a few occasions would play for the local radio station. He often told us how he had auditioned and earned a position in a band that featured Patsy Cline as their lead singer. He told the family that after he was hired he never went back. Dad was a very religious man. He stated that there was a lot of drinking and cursing the day of his audition and he did not want to be around that type of environment.
Occasionally, Dad would get out his mandolin and play for the family. We three children: Trisha, Monte and I, George Jr., would often sing along. Songs such as the Tennessee Waltz, Harbor Lights and around Christmas time, the well-known rendition of Silver Bells. "Silver Bells, Silver Bells, its Christmas time in the city" would ring throughout the house. One of Dad's favorite hymns was "The Old Rugged Cross". We learned the words to the hymn when we were very young, and would sing it with Dad when he would play and sing. Another song that was often shared in our house was a song that accompanied the Walt Disney series: Davey Crockett. Dad only had to hear the song twice before he learned it well enough to play it. "Davey, Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" was a favorite song for the family. He knew we enjoyed the song and the program and would often get out the mandolin after the program was over. I could never get over how he could play the songs so well after only hearing them a few times. I loved to sing, but I never learned how to play the mandolin. This is something I regret to this day.
Dad loved to play the mandolin for his family he knew we enjoyed singing, and hearing him play. He was like that. If he could give pleasure to others, he would, especially his family. He was always there, sacrificing his time and efforts to see that his family had enough in their life. I had to mature into a man and have children of my own before I realized how much he had sacrificed.
I joined the United States Air Force in January of 1962. Whenever I would come home on leave, I would ask Dad to play the mandolin. Nobody played the mandolin like my father. He could touch your soul with the tones that came out of that old mandolin. He seemed to shine when he was playing. You could see his pride in his ability to play so well for his family.
When Dad was younger, he worked for his father on the farm. His father was a farmer and sharecropped a farm for the man who owned the property. In 1950, our family moved from the farm. Dad had gained employment at the local limestone quarry. When the quarry closed in August of 1957, he had to seek other employment. He worked for Owens Yacht Company in Dundalk, Maryland and for Todd Steel in Point of Rocks, Maryland. While working at Todd Steel, he was involved in an accident. His job was to roll angle iron onto a conveyor so that the welders farther up the production line would have it to complete their job. On this particular day Dad got the third index finger of his left hand mashed between two pieces of steel. The doctor who operated on the finger could not save it, and Dad ended up having the tip of the finger amputated. He didn't lose enough of the finger where it would stop him picking up anything, but it did impact his ability to play the mandolin.
After the accident, Dad was reluctant to play the mandolin. He felt that he could not play as well as he had before the accident. When I came home on leave and asked him to play he would make excuses for why he couldn't play. Eventually, we would wear him down and he would say "Okay, but remember, I can't hold down on the strings the way I used to" or "Since the accident to this finger I can't play as good". For the family it didn't make any difference that Dad couldn't play as well. We were just glad that he would play. When he played the old mandolin it would carry us back to a cheerful, happier time in our lives. "Davey, Davey Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier", would again be heard in the little town of Bakerton, West Virginia.
In August of 1993 my father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He chose not to receive chemotherapy treatments so that he could live out the rest of his life in dignity. About a week before his death, we asked Dad if he would play the mandolin for us. He made excuses but said "okay". He knew it would probably be the last time he would play for us. He tuned up the old mandolin and played a few notes. When I looked around, there was not a dry eye in the family. We saw before us a quiet humble man with an inner strength that comes from knowing God, and living with him in one's life. Dad would never play the mandolin for us again. We felt at the time that he wouldn't have enough strength to play, and that makes the memory of that day even stronger. Dad was doing something he had done all his life, giving. As sick as he was, he was still pleasing others. Dad sure could play that Mandolin!
Age has reached the end of the beginning of a word. May be guilty in his seems to passing a lot of different life became the appearance of the same day; May be back in the past, to oneself the paranoid weird belief disillusionment, these days, my mind has been very messy, in my mind constantly. Always feel oneself should go to do something, or write something. Twenty years of life trajectory deeply shallow, suddenly feel something, do it.
The end of our life, and can meet many things really do?
During my childhood, think lucky money and new clothes are necessary for New Year, but as the advance of the age, will be more and more found that those things are optional; Junior high school, thought to have a crush on just means that the real growth, but over the past three years later, his writing of alumni in peace, suddenly found that isn't really grow up, it seems is not so important; Then in high school, think don't want to give vent to out your inner voice can be in the high school children of the feelings in a period, but was eventually infarction when graduation party in the throat, later again stood on the pitch he has sweat profusely, looked at his thrown a basketball hoops, suddenly found himself has already can't remember his appearance.
Originally, this world, can produce a chemical reaction to an event, in addition to resolutely, have to do, and time.
A person's time, your ideas are always special to clear. Want, want, line is clear, as if nothing could shake his. Also once seemed to be determined to do something, but more often is he backed out at last. Dislike his cowardice, finally found that there are a lot of love, there are a lot of miss, like shadow really have been doomed. Those who do, just green years oneself give oneself an arm injection, or is a self-righteous spiritual.
At the moment, the sky is dark, the air is fresh factor after just rained. Suddenly thought of blue plaid shirt; Those were broken into various shapes of stationery; From the corner at the beginning of deep friendship; Have declared the end of the encounter that haven't start planning... Those years, those days of do, finally, like youth, will end in our life.
Dear Daughter: 亲爱的女儿： As we drove off from Columbia, I wanted to write a letter to you to tell you all that is on my mind.
First, I want to tell you how proud we are. Getting into Columbia is a real testament of what a great well-rounded student you are. Your academic, artistic, and social skills have truly blossomed in the last few years. Whether it is getting the highest grade in Calculus, completing your elegant fashion design, successfully selling your painted running shoes, or becoming one of the top orators in Model United Nations, you have become a talented and accomplished young woman. You should be as proud of yourself as we are.
I will always remember the first moment I held you in my arms. I felt a tingling sensation that directly touched my heart. It was an intoxicating feeling I will always have. It must be that "father-daughter connection" which will bind us for life. I will always remember singing you lullaby while I rocked you to sleep. When I put you down, it was always with both relief (she finally fell asleep!) and regret (wishing I could hold you longer). And I will always remember taking you to the playground, and watching you having so much fun. You were so cute and adorable, and that is why everybody loved you so.
You have been a great kid ever since you were born, always quiet, empathetic, attentive, and well-mannered. You were three when we built our house. I remember you quietly followed us every weekend for more than ten hours a day to get building supplies. You put up with that boring period without a fuss, happily ate hamburgers every meal in the car, sang with Barney until you fell asleep. When you went to Sunday Chinese school, you studied hard even though it was no fun for you. I cannot believe how lucky we are as parents to have a daughter like you.
You have been an excellent elder sister. Even though you two had your share of fights, the last few years you have become best friends. Your sister loves you so much, and she loves to make you laugh. She looks up to you, and sees you as her role model. As you saw when we departed, she misses you so much. And I know that you miss her just as much. There is nothing like family, and other than your parents, your sister is the one person who you can trust and confide in. She will be the one to take care of you, and the one you must take care of. There is nothing we wish more than that your sisterhood will continue to bond as you grow older, and that you will take care of each other throughout your lives. For the next four years, do have a short video chat with her every few days, and do email her when you have a chance.
College will be the most important years in your life. It is in college that you will truly discover what learning is about. You often question "what good is this course". I encourage you to be inquisitive, but I also want to tell you: "Education is what you have left after all that is taught is forgotten." What I mean by that is the materials taught isn't as important as you gaining the ability to learn a new subject, and the ability to analyze a new problem. That is really what learning in college is about – this will be the period where you go from teacher-taught to master-inspired, after which you must become self-learner. So do take each subject seriously, and even if what you learn isn't critical for your life, the skills of learning will be something you cherish forever.
Do not fall into the trap of dogma. There is no single simple answer to any question. Remember during your high school debate class, I always asked you to take on the side that you don't believe in? I did that for a reason -- things rarely "black and white", and there are always many ways to look at a problem. You will become a better problem solver if you recognized that. This is called "critical thinking", and it is the most important thinking skill you need for your life. This also means you need to become tolerant and supportive of others. I will always remember when I went to my Ph.D. advisor and proposed a new thesis topic. He said "I don't agree with you, but I'll support you." After the years, I have learned this isn't just flexibility, it is encouragement of critical thinking, and an empowering style of leadership, and it has become a part of me. I hope it will become a part of you too.
Follow your passion in college. Take courses you think you will enjoy. Don't be trapped in what others think or say. Steve Jobs says when you are in college, your passion will create many dots, and later in your life you will connect them. In his great speech given at Stanford commencement, he gave the great example where he took calligraphy, and a decade later, it became the basis of the beautiful Macintosh fonts, which later ignited desktop publishing, and brought wonderful tools like Microsoft Word to our lives. His expedition into calligraphy was a dot, and the Macintosh became the connecting line. So don't worry too much about what job you will have, and don't be too utilitarian, and if you like Japanese or Korean, go for it, even if your dad thinks "it's not useful" : ) Enjoy picking your dots, and be assured one day you will find your calling, and connect a beautiful curve through the dots.
Do your best in classes, but don't let pressure get to you. Your mother and I have no expectations for your grades. If you graduate and learn something in your four years, we would feel happy. Your Columbia degree will take you far, even if you don't graduate with honors. So please don't give yourself pressure. During your last few months in high school, you were so happy because there was little pressure and college applications are finished. But in the past few weeks, we saw you are beginning to worry (did you know you bite your nails when you are nervous?). Please don't be worried. The only thing that matters is that you learned. The only metric you should use is that you tried. Grades are just silly letters that give the vain people something to brag, and the lazy people something to fear. You are too good to be either.
Most importantly, make friends and be happy. College friends are often the best in life, because during college you are closer to them physically than to your family. Also, going through independence and adulthood is a natural bonding experience. Pick a few friends and become really close to them – pick the ones who are genuine and sincere to you. Don't worry about their hobbies, grades, looks, or even personalities. You have developed some real friendships in high school in your last two years, so trust your instinct, and make new friends. You are a genuine and sincere person – anyone would enjoy being your friend, so be confident, outgoing, and pro-active. If you think you like someone, tell her. You have very little to lose. Give people the benefit of the doubt; don't stereotype and be forgiving. People are not perfect, so as long as they are genuine and sincere, trust them and be good to them. They will give back. This is my secret of success – that I am genuine with people and trust them (unless they do something to lose my trust). Some people tell me that occasionally I would be taken advantage of. They are right, but I can tell you that that loss is nothing compared to what I gained. In my last 18 years leading people, I have realized that only one thing matters – to gain the trust and respect of others, and to do so, you need to trust and respect others first. Whether it is for management, work, or friendship, this is something you should ponder.
Do keep your high school friends, and stay connected to them, but do not use them as substitutes for college friendship, and do not spend too much time with them, because that would eat into your time to make new friends.
Start planning for your summers early – what would you like to do? Where would you like to live? What would you like to learn? What have you learned in college that might change your mind? I think your plan of studying fashion is good, and you should decide where you want to be, and get into the right courses. We of course hope you come back to Beijing, but you should go where you think is best for you.
Whether it is summer-planning, or coursework planning, or picking a major, or managing your time, you should take control of your life. In the past, I have helped you quite a bit, whether it is in college application, designing your extracurricular activities, or picking the initial coursework. I will always be there for you, but the time has come for you to be in the driver's seat – this is your life, and you need to be in control. I will always remember the exhilarating feeling in my life – that I got to decide to skip kindergarten, that I got to decide to change to computer science major, that I got to decide to leave academia for Apple, that I got to decide to go to China, that I got to decide to go to Google, and most recently, that I got to decide to start my own business. Being able to decide means you get to live the life that you want to. Life is too short to live the life others do or others want you. Being in control feels great. Try it, and you'll love it!
I told your mom I'm writing this letter, and asked what she wanted me to say. She thought and said: "just ask her to take care of herself." Simple but deeply caring – that is how your mother is, and that is why you love her so much. In this simple sentence is her hope that you will become independent in the way you take care of yourself – that you will remember to take your medicine, that you will get enough sleep, that you will have a balanced diet, that you will get some exercise, and that you will go see a doctor whenever you don't feel good. An ancient Chinese proverb says that the most important thing to be nice to your parents is to take care of yourself. This is because your parents love you so much, and that if you are well, they will have comfort. You will understand this one day when you become a mother. But in the meantime, please listen to your mother and take care of yourself.
So please treasure your college years – make the best of your free time, become an independent thinker in control of your destiny, evolve yourself into a bi-cultural talent, be bold to experiment, learn and grow through your successes and challenges.
When I faced the greatest challenge and opportunity in my life in 2005, you gave me a big hug and said "bonne chance", which means "good luck" and "good courage". Now I do the same for you. Bonne chance, my angel and princess. May Columbia become the happiest four years in your life, and may you blossom into just what you dream to be.