Peter was an ordinary kid. He didn’t have much trouble or much money growing up but did have two hard-working parents, a wise grandma, and two siblings that kept the home alive with busyness. During that time, no one was too concerned about achieving, being happy, or making it big one day. They were too busy. Mom and Dad were trying to put food on the table, kids played cricket on the street, and grandma tried hard to get the homework done for the next day.
Peter went through the school years, not at all concerned about what he might become and had no thoughts about university. He had no dream and grew up around children who had no ambition. His parents had better things to do than to think of opportunities for the children or to motivate them to do well. They expected the children to work hard, make an honest living, and get by. Just like them and their parents before them. Hard work and sacrifice was the religion taught to Peter. He grew up expecting to work hard and sacrifice his happiness for his family.
As time went by, Peter learned the trade of his father and started work as an apprentice. Living with parents meant that he had no pressure to earn enough to pay for his housing and food. His income was considered a welcome boost to the home economy.
Peter worked hard. He had no other interests to occupy his time, and soon the conversation at home revolved around finding a good wife for him. It was not a difficult task. The neighborhood had enough young ladies who also had nothing else to do than get married and get on with what they knew as ‘life.’ Introductions were made through the local match-maker, and within a few months, Peter had a new wife.
The home population grew as Peter’s siblings also got married. Their living space became cramped. The once busy home turned to a place where women congregated around a TV and discussed getting pregnant, having babies, and wondering what schools were available within their budget. They agreed and disagreed with passion. A passion that could be directed at some creative process, but without outside influence, creativity was a foreign word in the house.
The men came home to peace and war – they never could tell what to expect.
Peter was now in his late 20’s and had made it from an apprentice to a mechanic. His wife was pregnant, and the baby was due in a few months. Things were getting rough at the house. After experiencing a few unpleasant evenings at home, Peter decided he had to get one peaceful evening for himself. So he went to church.
The church gates were always open, and the atmosphere was peaceful and inviting. Peter sat on the pew and sighed.
For the very first time in his entire life, Peter realized he had missed the bus.
But what exactly had he missed? He couldn’t tell. Peter knew only that he had missed a great big piece of the puzzle and that he was trying to make apple-pie without the apples. It was a heart-wrenching emptiness that gripped him and he didn’t know what to do. All he could do was feel a numbness spread through him. A great heaviness suddenly covered him.
Peter didn’t have the luxury of sitting quietly. He had to be home in time for dinner. He had no excuse for being late, and he had no business feeling the way he did because his job was to provide and sacrifice. Feeling guilty and rather foolish at behaving like a sissy and running off to ‘think,’ Peter walked home. He determined to work extra hard the next day and maybe do some over-time, so this alien feeling of emptiness would never appear again. Busyness was the best medicine, and it would also help to save up for the baby.
Another decade went by. Peter is a supervisor now and earned enough to rent out a small house for his growing family. Grandma had passed away a few years ago, and for reasons Peter could not quite identify, he felt a deep sadness living in his parents’ home. His wife didn’t have too much trouble convincing him to move out and live independently. With grandma’s passing, Peter felt that he had lost the most valuable thing he had – grandma’s wisdom. Peter was intelligent enough to identify that grandma was different. She spoke quietly, but everything she said now seems profound. Peter began to remember grandma. He thought about the hard life she had lived with no education and no money or comfort. But suddenly, the things she said started to come back to Peter with a mighty force.
Peter looked at his three young sons. They seemed like his own photocopies. Happily playing, hardly studying, always hungry boys. Surely they will not become apprentices and laborers and supervisors. Surely they will ‘reach for the sky and, at the very least, hit the roof,’ as grandma used to say. But why would they? Who is telling them to do that? Who is showing them a better world? Can they escape the apprenticeship? Is it possible not to become a mechanic? Is it possible for my sons to become teachers, bankers, or maybe even engineers? God forbid! What would become of their families if they started to get all high-headed and ambitious? They will destroy their families. They will never know the sacrifices one needs to make. They will never know hard work. No. They have to learn my religion: Life is not easy. Life is suffering and sadness with some happiness here and there. Life is hard work. That’s what it is all about. They will earn their reward in the afterlife. So it is better for them to be far from the temptations that come with a prosperous life. It is better to be poor and honest than to be rich and sinful.
As Peter sat contemplating, grandma’s words flowed from a faraway place in his childhood. ‘Peter, you know what God wanted Adam and Eve to do? Fill the earth and have dominion over all creation. But these two were either very lazy or very afraid. They never stepped out of the garden of Eden. They never took a step toward having dominion over all the creatures. So God had to devise a way for them to get kicked out of Eden. The garden that was meant to show them what the rest of the earth could be like, held them prisoner in its beauty and safety. They didn’t want freedom from the garden. They didn’t want to be boss of the earth and get on with their real job. So God taught them a lesson: Don’t eat that particular fruit. Or you will die.’
Peter felt like he was struck by lightning. All his life, he had decided to play safe and had convinced himself that obedience to family expectations was the path of least resistance. He had been lazy and afraid. Peter remembered the emptiness he once felt that had ever since followed him in every waking moment. The missing piece in his life he actively managed to ignore as the days went by, excusing his cowardice to hard work and sacrifice.
Is it too late? Maybe he missed the bus in the first instance, but surely there are other buses scheduled to stop at his bus-stand? Yes, this had to be the case because grandma had told him how Jonah missed the calling and ended up inside the belly of a big fish. If Jonah got an opportunity to recognize his stupidity and change his mind, why not us?
Peter thought, ‘Surely, other buses are coming.’
So Peter changed his mind.
Peter went to work the next day with enthusiasm he had never felt before. It was as if he was given a new lease of life. He started to see work as an opportunity to motivate his staff and not as a duty he needed to fulfill. Peter got his kids together and talked to them about all the wonderful things happening in the world. He took the family to see the planetarium and museums, learning many new things along with his children. He started to dream big for them. Soon Peter was dreaming big for himself.
Peter started to catch up on the lost time. He was so full of energy that his wife also caught on to some of it. He had a love of cricket from his youth and so he enrolled in a coaching camp to learn how to coach! In just a few months, Peter was coaching cricket to pre-teens at the local sports club. His three sons also joined, and the family had a joyous time playing together. Peter and his wife came out of a slump in their marriage and felt blessed to have a fresh start.
Coaching the kids gave new meaning and purpose to Peter’s life. He also had much to share at his workplace. He enjoys work now because he sees his role as a motivator and life-coach in addition to being the manager. What a tremendous change in life that has come about by changing the mind on a simple thing. Peter is not afraid of life anymore. He has embraced life and opportunity with the enthusiasm of a young child about to open gifts from Santa. He started to question himself and his preconceived ideas at every turn with the persistent ‘why’ of a 2-year old. He was surprised at how many ‘truths’ he had to let go and how much of ‘wise’ dead-weight he had to shed.
When Peter found himself freed from old thoughts and expectations of life, his desire to learn increased. He became incredibly grateful for the awakening that came about and the ensuing peace and sense of well-being that followed.
Sometimes Peter would look back at the prison of self-righteous sacrifice and duty that had been his home for 40 years. But all he could see were lessons to learn, experiences never to repeat, and a prison door which had always been wide open.