I’ve been incredibly busy these past few weeks. Barely had time to write anything new at all. So, I’ll take a never-published old short story to post here this week.
JUST A DREAM
James teared the envelope and slowly pulled out the paper inside. His hand trembled as he read his returned university application form. Another page had been stapled along with it, saying “Harvard Medical College accepts you into our college in the dermatology department, along with a scholarship grant.”
James was paralyzed. He hadn’t expected to be accepted. He had applied to Harvard with full confidence that he would be turned down, as only the most intelligent people on the planet were accepted, and he had never considered himself in league with those kind of people. Acceptance into one of the world’s best universities? Certainly this is something to be proud of. And the fact that he had also been granted a scholarship? It was a great academic triumph that was hard to match. His heart swelled with pride.
James imagined the overjoyed faces of his mother and father when he told them the news that he would soon be leaving for Harvard. All his relatives would give him compliments and shower him with gifts. James had also heard of dermatologists who became famous after only a few years in their career; their beautification of people had brought them much respect and fortune. In terms of recognition and acceptance, James would never dare to dream for more.
But inside James was troubled. A dermatology scholarship was great, but as James searched through his own emotions, he wasn’t sure he was happy. Yes, dermatology was a get-rich-quick scheme, and yes, he wanted to have Harvard on his resumé when he applied for jobs. It was a huge career boost that was nearly a guarantee of success. But as much as he wanted to make his parents proud, and as much as he wanted to be successful, he knew that dermatology was not what he wanted to do. He was not in the least bit interested in skin care. Instead, James loved teaching. In school he loved helping out younger students, and he has always noticed the techniques his teachers used to teach in the hopes that one day, he would use them as well in his own classroom. James was also passionate about teaching. Becoming a teacher was to be assigned the task of nurturing younger generations so that they became good citizens of the world; he believed it a worthy task for himself.
Yet teaching, despite all his passion, was not a career he was sure he would be able to choose. James knew that he would be underpaid as a teacher.; the money he would make in his whole life would not be close at all to the money he would make in a few years as a dermatologist. And there was something his father had once said that he had always remembered since he was young: “no money, no fame, no good.”
James felt like he was caught in between two pressing choices. He could choose to turn down Harvard and become a teacher, but that would be like throwing away a golden opportunity, the likes of which might never come up again in his life. Or he could simply go to Harvard and become a dermatologist, but then he would never get to follow his dream and become a teacher. James’s head started protesting such thoughts by giving him a headache. These were not choices he could make easily.
James then heard the ringing of the doorbell. James walked down the stairs and opened the door, finding his uncle waiting. Uncle Fred lived only a few blocks down the street, so it was no surprise when James saw him. In fact, his uncle was a regular visitor, coming to bring news about other family members and discuss politics with James‘s father. Uncle Fred, without any greeting simply said, “I’ve recently been promoted and got a pay rise, so I’m going to an ice cream parlor, and I thought I’d take you out too. Coming?”
“Sure, uncle.” James said, quickly locking the door and walking to him. “How’s life been for you? I’m sure it’s going pretty well, since you just got a promotion.”
Uncle Fred sighed. “How I wish promotions were the only things that count.” he muttered.
“What do you mean?”
Uncle Fred sighed again. “Well, James, you know how much I hate math. I chose to learn Finance, but I’m horrible at it and I hate it. It’s been a miracle that I’ve received a promotion. But when I think about it, I don’t really care about promotions. It certainly makes me feel better about myself, but it doesn’t wash away the fact that I absolutely hate my job.” His uncle paused for a moment to think, and then said “I wish I’d be able to do what I like, but I guess it’s too late by now. I’m already thirty-five, anyway.”
“No, it’s not too late!” exclaimed James. “Why do you think that? Thirty-five isn’t old. You love singing, don’t you? You even recorded your own album in high school. Why don’t you meet up with your high school friends and restart your band?”
Uncle Fred gave a weak smile. “Do you really think I can still sing well? No, I can’t, James. I wish I can, but without practice my singing voice isn’t the same anymore. I also don’t have the time. Every day I’m so busy working on stupid spreadsheets, I don’t even have time for what I’m truly passionate about anymore.” James was silent, digesting in the information. He saw that they had reached the ice cream parlor, and so the two men went in, got their ice cream and sat licking it outside of the shop.
“I wish I’d chose differently when I was in high school.” said Uncle Fred in a tired voice. “I wish I’d actually trusted my abilities enough to know that I could become famous and make a living through singing and music. I wish I’d actually believed in myself. But I stopped believing. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be stuck in this job I hate. Even if I chose to become a full-time singer and I never became very successful, I’d be content, because at least I’m struggling to do something I love. Now I think I’ve wasted all my best years for nothing.” Uncle Fred pointed to his ice cream. “If you choose the correct flavor, then ice cream is really enjoyable, even if it melts quickly. Life is the same, I guess. Life is short, and if you choose to do what you love, then you’ll enjoy it. If you choose to do something you hate, it’s a bit like choosing your least favorite ice cream flavor; what’s the point of continuing to eat an ice cream you dislike or live a life you hate?”
“I see.” James replied.
As the two stood up from their chairs and started heading for home, James felt like Uncle Fred had been a light that showed him the way. He believed he knew what he would do with his life now. The only thing it took now was to do it.