THE MAN IN THE ARENA
By Theodore Roosevelt
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Love this excerpt. I was in China when I first read it. I had left the US to explore the potential of my language skills with a Princeton in Asia teaching fellowship. I also wanted to take a break from American culture and to reassess my future. But the more I looked around me in China, the more I realized the Chinese were simply chasing the American Dream. A culture of consumption was as strong in China as it was in the US. And after further travel in Asia, I’ve come to realize all eyes here are on the United States. America is the place where anything can happen.
I left China. I wanted to make a change. On the back of our Princeton in Asia orientation t-shirts there is a quote by Leo Tolstoy.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Ironically, before going to China Bro told me to,’stop living life like it’s a proverb. You can’t change the world man!’ As hard as it was to take it, he was right. I had to change myself first.
America is the arena where change happens. Ideas from the US spread like wildfire to the rest of the world. The US is under the microscope.
The posts thus far seem super critical, no? If anything, I’m like the ‘critic’ rather than the ‘man in the arena.’ Yes, the writing is critical. With all emotions aside – though the writing thus far tends to stir up some emotions in readers – I’m hoping I’ve made light of some pressing issues facing our world today. Maybe writing is my arena where I don’t have to worry about playing time. The spectrum of experiences I’ve had have given me a perspective I hope to be able to share with you.
You’ve seen it before – kids begging their coach on the sidelines for him playing time. Not my style. If coach doesn’t need me, he doesn’t need me. I need to work harder for him to need me. It will be game time soon.
Stay with me, folks. There’s more writing.
In the Family Arena
I had an amazing experience recently. It was amazing in the sense that the unexpected, happened. It was post-Thanksgiving meal, and I knew I wanted to sing for my family, to give them a gift before setting sail abroad again. I stand up to go get water and to gather myself. My hands start to sweat and I feel my heart begin to race. This is weird, I thought, because I’ve sung in front of many people before. Why am I so nervous right now?
I go back to the dining area, set down my glass of water on the table, and give a small intro before I begin. First song: All of Me by John Legend. After a few lines, Paw Paw starts to cry. Then one Aunt. Then another. Then Mom. Keep singing, I think to myself. Don’t stop. I hear Paw Paw mutter in Cantonese through her sniffles, ‘gik say gnow” which translates to something along the lines of “he’s going to kill me.” Paw Paw has a pacemaker.
When I finish, my Aunts give me a big hug. I hug Paw Paw, Mom. I say I want to sing another song – part of me really wanted to understand my emotions in that moment and there was no better way than to sing another song. Paw Paw stammers, “oh no, not another one.”
I sang, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye by Boyz II Men. More tears, more hugs.
I’ve never felt so raw in front of my family. And maybe I was so nervous baring my soul in front of them because they are the ones that love me the most in this world. They clothed me, fed me, educated me, raised me. Maybe I was fearing rejection or ridicule from the ones I loved most. Who knew it could be so hard to sing in front of your own family? It isn’t hard anymore.
After singing those songs that night, I felt free to sing all the songs I knew around the house for the next couple of days. A huge weight was removed from my shoulders. I could be me – Akon’s opening line is sufficient.
We are all here in this world for a special purpose. We are the billions of miracles. Sing your song.