Fragmented thoughts of a fragmented mind

02 Nov 2013

Privilege, a reflection from my trip

I landed in SFO yesterday noon with a uncontainable smile on my face, despite the 17-hour flight. In all honesty, with all the logical reasons I can name for my love for SF, I don’t actually understand why this place makes me smile so much. If we have past lives, I must have had one in SF.

SF feels like home. It feels like where I belong. And it isn’t really so much because I am a designer and this is the mecca of tech, there is just this inexplicable sense of desire here. The desire to truly live. This sense of being alive stems from the ordinary folks I observe, from the tram operators to servers to the Mexican grocery store owner who smiles at me every morning when I walk by. The people who live here are mostly self-selecting, and that explains a lot.

I used to carry a sense of sadness when I think about my love for this place, knowing that it will come a day when I will probably have to leave and it wouldn’t be out of my own choice. Or perhaps it will be, because never say never. I had never felt a sense of belonging to anything and it feels tragic to think that one day I will lose the only place in the world capable of making me feel this way.

But I have learned that love transcends everything else. Instead of moping around, I will learn to carry this love everywhere I go, infusing it in everything I will do.

The key word is, “learn”. I am not able to do so yet, the trip back home to Singapore exacerbated my sense of having two split personalities. Singapore and San Francisco felt like two different dimensions to me. One represents weight and scars; the other, only light and love. I couldn’t help but feel the weight of being back in Singapore, it seemed like an automatic psychosomatic response – that feeling of drowning each time you step into the water if you had a drowning incident before.

There is a deep rooted undeniable resentment, which in my ideal world I don’t wish for it to exist, but I am only human and I am hoping that being honest about it is better than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. I feel like I will never truly be liberated as long as I carry that resentment. That same resentment was the same driver of everything else I did for her.

But this time back, I no longer wish for myself to be driven by that resentment. Through my meetings with my amazing friends, I now wish for myself to be driven by an idealistic hope that things will be better. If I couldn’t have the same opportunities for myself, if I couldn’t prevent myself from having these scars I would have to bear for the rest of my life, then perhaps I will be able to at least be part of something that will allow the future generations to have experiences I never had.

In life there is a concept of happiness, that we humans live so we can strive to be happy. In my own life, meaning triumphs over happiness. If I have to make a choice one day, I will consciously choose meaning. I could only pursue happiness for so much and so long, before obligation and debt to the world takes over. I very much understand that my life now is only made possible by people who pursued meaning and not happiness, and I don’t think I will be able to deny that sense of obligation to do the same for the ones after me.

It is not something out of pure choice, in case if I had given that misrepresentation. I wish I could say I consciously choose it to be this way, but there is something that intrinsically bugs the hell out of me if I remain oblivious to the rest of the world. It is not as if I don’t want to live purely for myself, I just can’t. In a perverse way, I have tried living only for myself and all I have gotten back in return is an inexplicable sense of depression.

I am now giving myself time to build up that strength and love for what I want to do, from my privileged stay in San Francisco. The privilege I feel here doesn’t necessary come from the ability to be part of the tech industry, I mean I will be a hypocrite if I say it doesn’t play a part. It certainly does, it enables me to have that mind space to think – thinking is a luxury, by the way – but the actual privilege I keenly feel comes from the spirit I feel from the people living here (which may or may not be part of tech). Being surrounded by people who knows what it means to be alive is one of the best gifts I had ever had. The people here understands (and I am generalizing based on my inevitable bias stemming from my own experiences) what it means to be part of a community, what it means to understand your role in that community. That very clear understanding that we can only flourish if others are given the space to, as well.

To me, SF is a prototype of my version of my ideal world, if there is one. It is not perfect, it is very broken, but the key difference is that, people here are trying to make it better all the time, even if those ways are arguably suspect sometimes. But there is a sense that if you are an individual and you have an idea of making things better, you could have a possibility of trying, even if that sounds like the dumbest idea on earth.

That sense of empowerment is not felt by everyone, but it is definitely here. My sense of privilege comes from the understanding that this sense of empowerment is not entitled to a lot of people, if not most people for their entire lives.

I feel incredibly grateful that I am at a stage of my life to understand and feel this, that I don’t take my stay here for granted, that what I had been through prior has only served to set me up for this opportunity to comprehend this privilege. It is a privilege in itself to understand this privilege.

I can only hope that I have it in me to not self-sabotage this gift, to fully receive so I can give, one day in the future.

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