If Perfection is an Asymptote

January is almost over, CNY is almost here and I feel I have just been swept along by the relentless torrent of Social Activities since school started. I’ve allowed myself to slip back into the company of comfortable friends rather than that of classmates who, while earnest and kind, always seemed to be on a different intellectual curve. I still feel like a foreign specimen in the sprawling campus, looking straight forward whenever I am obligated to move around, for fear of making eye contact with a primary school acquaintance who I no longer recognise at first glance, and then have to make the oh-so-awkward decision of whether to smile or feign ignorance. Hopefully, this tense consciousness will dissipate with orientation, which begins at the end of next week! Meanwhile, I will revel in the one week long break from school.

Of the many books I have been indulging in, two stood out for me. The first, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, is an astoundingly realistic novel about sisterhood and how war changes everything. Then again, I use “astoundingly realistic” as a reader who is entirely unacquainted with war. It is one thing to read about the atrocious war crimes in a non-fiction text, but it is another to live the (still detached, but arguably closest possible) experience through the descriptive paragraphs of a skilful author. Every time I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, it did. Relationships were strained, people changed, and children matured quicker than they should have. The immense feelings of loneliness and desperation penetrated the novel and gripped me from start to finish. While wars rage in our world, our lives continue. We go on each day, hopefully gratefully, most probably robotically, while someone else suffers. The things the book described still happen today, and it so chilling to think about another in distress, while I sit here in perfect safety and comfort. If this is not motivation enough for me to make real change through Medicine, then I don’t know what is. It is so easy to turn away in denial and continue basking in my undeserved privilege, but how could I allow myself to do that to a fellow child of God? God tells me I was born for this, called to this royal position for such a time as this. A time of suffering for another is a time for me to challenge myself to use my education to make a positive change.

The second immensely thought-provoking book I read was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This autobiography chronicles the life of a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist (the most revered combination of specialities according to Dr Kalanithi, and I can see why) and how everything flipped on its side when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He studied in America and hence did two previous degrees in Literature and the History of Medicine (at Cambridge!!) before pursuing his medical degree at Yale. What a legend, truly. He conveyed the confused and conflicted thoughts of a Medical student perfectly, bringing the beauty of literature and the power of words together with his deep understanding of the human experience. My biggest takeaway from the book was the need to make life changing (actually, life changing) decisions as a surgeon. So much hinged on the decision to go ahead with a particular procedure or to hold back, and there were instances where he was right and others where he was wrong. He couldn’t let doubt get in the way of his choices and had to do his very best for his patients to see them through till the very end. He also discussed the importance of the doctor’s human touch – the need to empathise and communicate with the patient in a way that made them feel secure in your care, and not to see them as mere paperwork or another box in your checklist keeping you from going home. All his experiences were articulated in such a raw, true way. I can only think of it as him giving me glasses to look into the Medical experience, where previously my vision was blurry and my impressions unsure. Of his many sentences that hit the nail on the head, this is perhaps my favourite: You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.

What beautiful words!!

This quote resonates so deeply with me, especially in these two weeks where we were reminded of the wealth of opportunities offered to us by the school. We are encouraged to pick a domain in which to develop: cognitive, leadership, sports, arts and community service. I feel, to a certain extent, that I have dared to dip my toes in a little of each aspect and yet never really excelled in any. After readjusting my goals for JC in accordance to my priorities for my grand life plan, I am turning away from the old familiarities. It is always hard to leave what I am used to, no matter if they were good experiences or unpleasant ones. There have been so many times where I considered my plans again, trying to decide if I were really brave enough to radically (for me) change my previous style of existence. It helps that so many of my friends are also venturing into new unknowns with me I guess! This year, I need to learn that I can’t do everything someone else does, have everything someone else has, or be anybody but myself. How many times have I gone on the once-innocent-Instagram only to become upset because of what someone else is doing that I am not? I’m slowly learning to regulate my emotions and learning to lean on God for strength. He created me and made me the perfect one to carry out His plans in my circles. He will not deny me of anything that I will need to succeed, so fear not YH!

For the past few mornings, God has reminded me through my daily verses that I am 1. not to worry because 2. He will guide me and establish my steps (no matter how much I seek to chart my own journeys) and that 3. I need only ask Him for it to be given to me, and knock, for the door to be opened.

Christina Perri aptly sings: How to be brave, how to love when I am afraid to fall?

So I mustn’t be afraid to fall. My identity is that of a child of God, NOT a slave to fear. For with man things are impossible, but with God, nothing is impossible.

I am very blessed to be surrounded by supportive friends, from the crazy ones to the ones who celebrate my successes more than I do myself. So blessed. There are just so many things to be appreciative of. Growing up is such a strange feeling. While I feel more in touch with my emotions and thoughts and self-dependence, this connectedness is foreign, and makes me long for my pink-princessy-dress days, where life was a hundred times simpler.



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