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My first trip to China was about ten years ago. It was with a non-profit org and we worked at an orphanage for a couple months (Lindsay and I had just started dating about a month before the trip — had our first kiss [and Lindsay's first kiss ever] the night we flew out to China, in fact. It was Lindsay’s second trip out there as she spent a couple months at the same orphanage just six months prior). My life after that trip would never be the same. I’d estimate that I grew years and years in maturity when it comes to perspective on life (outside matters of perspective, I’m sure I was as immature as it got :P). I was so heavily impacted by living amongst people that had it far worse than even the homeless I grew up skating around in San Diego (spending time with homeless people goes hand in hand with skateboarding). I learned an incredible amount from people who had so much less than people we would consider poor and how they still remained pleasant, happy people.
Amongst all the great things I learned in China — and all the things I love about China — there was one shining gem. Her name was Esther. When people ask me what it is about China that I love so much, Esther is the first answer that pops in my mind. At the time, she was about 10 years old and I was 18/19 (had my birthday over there). For some reason, we just bonded — constantly at each others’ hip. Esther spoke zero English so I spent my time learning more of the language each day. We got to where we could talk about little things here and there. But a huge place we bonded over was through music — over the piano that someone had donated to the orphanage.
At the time, Esther’s favorite song that I would play was Pachelbel’s Canon. She was still quite young, so I taught her the right hand part of the song.
Saying goodbye was genuinely gut-wrenching. So many worries go through your head. So many concerns. Orphanages in China (at the time, at least) stopped caring for orphans at twelve — not eighteen like the States. Obviously, a twelve year old orphan on her own in China can have a very hard time surviving. I knew she was at an awesome, loving orphanage — but still, the fear was there.
About four years later, I returned to China with my best friend, Garrett. We went to the orphanage and Esther walked right past me! I had no clue if I’d see her so I was thrilled. She showed me pictures of her old “friends” (people who had visited) and showed me pictures of one of her “favorite” friends — an ugly guy with big, black, bushy hair. On this visit I had a buzzed head. However, four years prior I had a bushy head of dyed black hair — so I pointed out that that was me. She immediately went to the piano with me :) She started playing some songs I had taught her… it was really a bit too much for me to keep in. I can say with 100% sincerity that outside the day that I married Lindsay, this was the best day of my life. All of my fears about Esther were put to rest. She was safe. Happy. Going to school. Working at the orphanage. It was such an incredible trip for me.
I went back again but was unable to see Esther. I was thrilled as the reason that I couldn’t see her was because she was in university :) This last time, however, Esther was there — a total surprise as I didn’t think she would be. She’s nearly 20 now, in university, studying music, and Lindsay and I both couldn’t get over how beautiful she’s become. She plays the same way I learned how to play my instruments — just by ear. She’s got such a talent for it. Certain people have fingers that sort of glide effortlessly over the keys as they play — and she’s one of those people. I could watch her play for hours, to be honest.
Watching Esther’s journey over the last ten years has been a true highlight of my life. I think about her so often. The nice thing now is that I don’t worry about her anymore.
I’d like to add for parents out there that my mom and dad decided to push me and my sister to do a year of service/travel. From a young age, we were always told that we would do this after high school — before college. In a culture where education is considered the number one priority, I found that helping others outside of your culture is, amongst many other things, far more educational. I’d argue that it caused (in me, at least) significantly more growth and maturation than four years in college would have. I speak of it often, but a proper perspective on life can make a pauper enjoy life like a king while an improper perspective on life can make a king despise life as if he were a pauper. I happened to go on and never attend college — and that isn’t necessarily the best idea for everyone. College is a great thing, but consider suggesting college after taking a year off and helping out in the world to your child. College will always be there next year. I can tell you with absolute certainty that it changed my life.
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