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The field between us

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DECEMBER 10, 2021

My father often said that I’m not appreciative.

I track all my spending, try not to waste any food and reuse anything if possible. I don’t like fancy clothes, shoes or utensils. The only costly part of my life would be spending money on model-making or gaming — yet that is not his focus either, for every time I purchase for these hobbies, he never seems to be bothered. And most importantly, I’m well aware that all my leisure is only possible because of the relatively wealthier family I was born into, and I always appreciate my parents for providing me such an abundant and happy life.

But I am appreciative.

Plus, I can’t understand the timing of his comment.

It was the first year of my study in the United States. I was living with a host family, and in the community, there was a half-sized soccer field. It was nothing more special than a simple yard with grass, white lines and two gates; an ordinary soccer field. My father was visiting, so I took him on a walk. Knowing his passion for soccer, I was glad to present this little yard.

And thus, he stood there, quite excited and glancing at the field. The greenness flowed with the wind, foiled by the tranquil blue of a cloudy, sunless afternoon sky. All of a sudden, I felt a sense of nostalgia. Then he said, “You aren’t appreciative.”

“Huh?” I immediately conjectured his point. He always regretted how he never played in a real soccer field. Back in the 1970s, in a countryside elementary school, the “field” was merely a dirty square of an abandoned factory. Used as a temporary storage of steel casts, it was filled with iron dross and concrete dusts. “Every fall left a deep scar on your leg or arm,” my father would say. Even so, soccer still became his favorite. He said that he had only dreamed of two things in his childhood: a pair of soccer shoes, and a green soccer field with real grass to step on and run by.

And this is exactly what he told me, again.

“Yeah I know you wanted that. I guess it’s a dream come true then.”

“But you just take it for granted,” he said.

“’Cause after all, I never experienced your childhood then,” I told him in a mocking tone. “You are already impressed by this soccer field. Wait until you see the ones in our school…”

And it’s by that moment, I remembered something.

My elementary school is a small one in downtown Shanghai. We had a playground with pavements — a decent field. Yet it is often empty due to the intense school work. School day starts from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is occupied by homework. Thus, there is little time to enjoy the field except for the PE classes three times a week. After school, parents usually take their children back home immediately, as they still have enough homework occupying the whole evening. Under this environment, I grew up and came to the U.S.

Curiously, at the end of my first school day in the U.S., I took a visit to the fields. Under the similarly tranquil blue, the greenness was decorated by moving dapples of colors. I saw football players crushing each other, throwing and chasing with all their passion and devotion, and children running and laughing as if there was not a mere thing to worry about in their life. I just stood there, like my father, listening to those shouts and laughs.

This is alive … and vivid.

All of a sudden, I’m pleased, with a little bitterness. Yeah, they’ll never realize that this happiness is a blessing. They just … take it for granted.

Just like I do with the soccer field.

Maybe I really am not appreciative.

I don’t know if this is a blessing or a curse, for this unawareness indicates an abundance of materials and goods, which everyone deserves. Yet when facing my father’s little judgement and the slight distress behind it, I know the uneasiness, as I have experienced it as well. I know the simple happiness that one obtains today could be once so valuable and dearth — and if misunderstood, one could never fully appreciate the hard work and dedication behind every improvement of life. 

I thought appreciation was the thankfulness of models and games, but I was wrong. It is the realization that because of my father, I can have a real soccer field and enjoy the laughs and shouts in a U.S. high school. I never need to feel the same regret as him. Thus, appreciation comes to a sense of responsibility; that he turned his distress into my blessings. Then, it comes down to a key question: What can I do, so the next generation won’t regret the same way I do today? That is a task for my life.

“Our Voices” columns are by writers outside of the Daily Cal and separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.
LAST UPDATED

MARCH 09, 2022


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