Life has taught me everyone is a product of his or her own experiences. After two years in America, I have realized that I draw from a well of perspective vastly different from my friends who have grown up here.
For sixteen years, I lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, son of an American human rights worker and a Nepaii designer/political activist. Yet, living in the States now, it’s hard to imagine a more stark contrast than the ‘average’ American with a $47,000 GDP per capita and a village Nepali often living on less than $100/month.
When the movie Slumdog Millionaire came out last year, friends came to me and expressed their shock at the state of poverty in South Asia. It reminded me, once again, of our remarkably different backgrounds. For them, life never entailed walking to their mother’s boutique side-by-side with ragged kids their age whose hands were always tugging my shirt and stretched out begging for money. That simply wasn’t their reality.
But it was mine.
At times it is this disparity in life experience, more than the disparity in wealth that is so difficult for me to grasp. Yet, the best advice I gained from the Hindu-Buddhist world was that patience, compassion, and understanding are more powerful ideas than most forms of judgment when observing either side of the world.
I remember the day last year, my first year in the States, when I walked into the dining hall prepared for a wonderful array of delectable, abundant American food. Unfortunately, moments later, a full-out food fight descended. For the first time at NMH, and hopefully the last, I felt genuinely angry. Slowly though, my anger subsided into reflective melancholy.
While sitting on the steps of the dining hall, I saw an image of the child outside my mother’s boutique in Kathmandu begging for any form of sustenance.
Then, just as quickly as it had begun, the food fight ended, and six hundred kids came streaming out of the dining hall some seemingly shocked, some thrilled, and some oddly sadistic -- but most simply gone, while I returned to help, in the only way I could, with the clean-up.
Another day on a high school campus in America, a bad experience, but ‘thus is life.’ One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from that day, and my seventeen years is that inevitably good and bad happen.
However, we are capable of being conscious, self-aware human beings, and therein lies our greatest power -- no matter what we experience -- we have the power to transcend good and bad. We have an amazing penchant for learning, growing, and helping each other, and using those skills we can create meaningful life lessons.
Without a doubt life itself has been my greatest source of education and influence. The power of life has inspired me to my greatest achievements and my proudest moments. Observing others' seemingly thoughtless actions has influenced me to care deeply about the world and people around me. Life has filled me with a keen desire to affect change in myself and those around me; it has given me the power to be a pillar of strength for my friends when they’ve felt like falling, and a light for my family when they felt lost.
Having said that, it has also humbled me to my most awestruck moments and broken me to my most vulnerable self. It had me on my knees in crestfallen disappointment after we lost our semifinal New England soccer game, and had me rolled up sobbing after my grandfather passed away.
Life in all its grandeur and pain is without a doubt the single most powerful intellectual experience I have ever known. It is powerful though, not because I understand life, but because I don’t understand life.
Ezra Man Leslie