I grew up a basically obedient daughter. My main infractions in the obedience department began after I got into medical school. I started to feel that the chain of obedient events I had strung together in life was beginning to wear on me. I was disgusted, tired, and barely able to recognize myself as I went through the motions. My big disobedient act was to refuse to do a residency. I could not justify “only three years” of my life doing something I had no intention or desire to do at all. It was more than defiance, it was honesty. Meek honesty, because I was so afraid of what lay on the other side of following my own intuitions instead of trusting my parents’ admonishments, fears and worries. But I listened enough not to take the next step on the seemingly inexorable path.
When I actually landed a job in venture capital less than three months after graduating from medical school, and I announced my starting salary (somewhat incredulous myself) to my parents on the phone, they dampened my enthusiasm by reminding me that “career isn’t everything” and that it was “important to consider your personal life too, and a family”. Great. Back to the drawing board.
I got busy with the new job, and also busy with setting up all the accoutrements of an acceptable domestic environment – furniture, for example. Good bed linens, as another example. A matching set of dinnerware and silverware. Christmas decorations. Cloth napkins. Candles.
I set up all these things, even though I was stone cold alone. There was no one in my world who could understand what I was doing – my family included. I clung to my job, and to the approval of my colleagues, and took every opportunity to travel to another city, fulfilling a childhood dream of being one of those “business travelers” with the trench coat and the small rolling carry-on suitcase.
I rubbed shoulders with people my family were intensely curious about, but whom I didn’t really care to discuss in great detail around the holiday dinner table. I learned the rules and ways of big business and finance, never fully appreciating how privileged I was to have gained access, as a young Asian-American woman trained only in medicine, to that world of medium-sized, pasty white men in ill-fitting suits and well-pressed slacks. And Italian loafers. And casually unbuttoned shirt collars.
I suppose my other egregiously disobedient act was not to get married and make children the focus of my life. This was a given in my family, since the story of my parents’ lives was centered around all of the sacrifices of personal desires that they had made in order to get married, hold down jobs, pay a mortgage, and live in a desirable suburb with good public schools. All for us kids.
This was “just the way it was”, even though they grumbled about it mostly, and didn’t really celebrate themselves as having done it the “right” way. In fact, we received the conflicting messages of, “Don’t be like me. Don’t throw your life away too early. Don’t get married too young, or have children before you’ve established your career”, alongside all of the preaching about how family and procreation and genetic lineage carriage is everything.
Which brings me to the god part. I never had a religion growing up. Church was some mysterious thing we attended once or twice in my life, and a place where people got married. It was something I didn’t have a good answer to when people asked me at school which one – meaning, which church - I went to. I had no idea that my lack of an answer could have been grounds enough for some of them to request a separate drinking fountain from me, given what I now know about their religious beliefs from Facebook.
I took my parents’ words to be religion, because it was the only religion I knew. I didn’t go out much, I didn’t hang out with friends and share ideas about life, or see the insides of other people’s homes much. Except for the inside of my violin teacher’s home, which had white carpeting, white furniture, and was always immaculate. To my childhood eyes, it was a sure sign that something was wrong with us because our house never looked like that. I was heavily influenced by my parents, my brother, and my two music teachers, whom I saw every week of my life starting at age three.
There’s nothing wrong with what any of them said. They were all fully human, as I know myself to be as well. The problem was I didn’t know they were just human, trying to get along the best they could with whatever traumas and histories and baggage and opportunities they had. I really took them to be god - in the sense that they were all-knowing and all-powerful and everything came from them - because I had no awareness of any other power in my world. They had power over whether I ate, whether I had a warm place to sleep, whether I got locked out on the porch in my nightgown, whether my hair got combed in the morning, and whether I got to stand in front of the group as a leader, or be the soloist that day. They were the only power I knew.
I did not know my own power, or the power that I had been born with. I did not know that my parents and I came from the same place – and that place was not my grandparents. That common place of origin was God.