Joy

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

One hundred sixty-two days ago I was counting the days I had left to live. “Impression: Large right ovarian mass with cystic appearance periphery and solid tumor in the center…” I trembled as I heard every word of the MRI report that my mom had tried to hide from me. What? “Most likely cancerous.” The answer reaffirmed itself in the seven diagnosis reports by seven different doctors. A grip of ice froze me to the core. I bit my lips to force myself not to shudder, as I filed the reports back in my mom’s drawer. My eyes were glued open as I stared hopelessly into the emptiness of each night, waiting to wake up from this cruel nightmare. But I didn’t. I wasn’t dreaming. Everything I valued in my life had suddenly become trivial to me, for my whole life was slipping away. I understood why my mom had tried to persuade me to stop practicing volleyball or studying for the SAT. And it was clear why my mom had suggested that I should spend the two days before surgery donating my savings and favorite clothes: she knew that this could have been my last chance to do so. And despite shivering deeply upon the word ‘death’, all I could do was to hold my tongue and accept it.While my mom and my brothers ran up and down the hospital, requesting the safest method for my surgery the next morning, I prayed. Left alone on the frigid bed of the hospital room, I picked up a small Bible that was sitting beside the remote control, as though I were a Christian and the waiting Bible was mine to be read. I didn’t know anything about God, but in the very first page I turned to, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It seemed awkward and futile for a Buddhist to pray, but in those last moments of my life, all I had left to hope for was to believe in believing; believing that a miracle would happen. Being wheeled into the operating room, I smiled, holding back my tears as my family reassured me, although I knew I might not return. I slipped into unconsciousness. As the whirlwind pushed me into the darkening abyss, somehow I held on tightly to that glittering ray of hope. After eight hours of surgery, I awoke to hear my surgeon exclaiming in astonishment, “She had that one-in-a-million chance that the MRI report had projected an inaccurate cystic appearance!” A miracle had happened. I did not know if my prayers really made God take away the cancerous cyst. And even if it was not God, I was lucky; very lucky to be given a new life.With the same curiosity that led me to read the MRI report, I decided to go to church for the first time. To my surprise, the warm welcome and passionate smiles I received completely disarmed the anticipated anxiety of being in an unfamiliar situation. My new friends’ honesty, unconditional compassion, and eagerness to help people who they have not even seen, are contrasting to the familiar societal competition within even close friends who fight over honors or wealth. There, though I have not found an absolute answer as to whether God is my life savior, I have been introduced to a true happiness. And this happiness gives me more than enough reason to be engaged in the church community service activities. My wound is now reduced to a dried scar, which still cautions me to remember that I could have died or been undergoing chemotherapy and become a lifelong burden for my old mother. Most importantly, the experience reminds me not only that I am very lucky, but also that many people are not as lucky as I. Now that I have been given my chance, it is my turn to give. Sixteen Sundays ago, I persuaded my family and new friends at church to visit patients at national cancer institutes. I felt ashamed for ever being so selfish, never having tried to understand these patients; instead I had been bored when I was invited to these kinds of community service experiences. I once thought that it was impossible for someone like me, who aims for excellence and success, to have enough time for such activities. I did not believe that just visiting patients could be any help, because we could not lengthen their lives. But now, I understand that a day I can devote to them cannot be compared to a second of happiness felt by patients who are living with cancer. Seeing the faces of despairing patients being cheered momentarily by my visits has inspired me to be there every weekend. Every night, I pray for these patients to be able to confront the inevitable, peacefully. I am blessed to have feared the same, for without experiencing it, I would never have been able to appreciate the happiness of giving.At school, I find myself smiling at my former rivals, because just being able to go to school was more than I had ever hoped for 162 days ago. No longer do I face the life-threatening necessity to always be the top student in class. I didn’t recover quickly enough for the volleyball season this year, but cheering on the bench was enough for me because a new member was in tears when she learned there was an unoccupied position. This experience has changed my definition of success, extending it beyond the means of my academic transcript, to the joy of being alive and the joy of giving.

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