Within the past four months, I have watched the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender series, beginning to end, and am starting on round two after buying all three sets of DVDs at Hastings. I love the premise, the story, and the beautiful artistry of it all, but mostly, I love the characters. I see little pieces of myself in all of them: Aang’s struggle to always do the right thing, Katara’s immense ability to care about others, Sokka’s dorkiness, Toph’s desire to do things for herself, even Appa’s hair-shedding and Zuko’s struggle to find himself despite the pressures of his society. One character though, even more than any if the gang, is my most beloved. His gentle manner, his invaluable wisdom, his kind heart, his humble desires, and his capacity to forgive endear Uncle Iroh to me, teaching me the grace of a simple life.
People tell me I’m smart. I guess test scores have proved that in a way. I just think I see things differently than most people. Anyway, these same people tell me that I have to do something “great” with my life, as if all “smart” people have to do something “important” like find the Grand Unified Theory or invent a time machine or cure cancer or become the president. These are expectations that people have actually put on me. And for a girl who loves kids and baking and reading books at home and who cleans therapeutically, that is a heck of a lot of pressure to perform on a level that I don’t even desire to.
I want to be a housewife, a profession which is quickly becoming “old-fashioned” as deemed by the feminist movement. I don’t want a professional career. Sure, I love learning physics. It interests and excites me, and in it I see the glorious, orderly creation of God. But sitting at a desk every day staring at numbers and data and equations is not something that I want to do for the rest of my life. I love the ideas, the beautiful symmetry of the concepts, the way that calculus just makes sense, but this love of abstractions pales in comparison to the love I have for people, for those with flesh and bones, thoughts and opinions, personalities and souls.
To me, the mystery of the human soul is more vast even than the mysteries of the expanding universe. Scientists hope that their mystery can be answered by a simple equation; each human soul is so complex that even God’s thoughts about it outnumber the grains of sand. My love for people, a love given to me by my Creator, greatly outweighs my curiosity for physics. It is this love that I want to pursue with my life, not satisfaction of my curiosity, not greatness in the eyes of the world, and definitely not fulfillment of other people’s unrealistic expectations.
Uncle Iroh is a fantastic fire bender (don’t worry-this all ends up being related): he led a siege on Ba Sing Se, was a decorated Fire Nation general, and developed the technique for redirecting lightning. He is also a kind-hearted person: he helps everyone he comes across (just watch Tales of Ba Sing Se for evidence), forgives Zuko in the end, and aspires only to make good tea in his humble shop. Iroh is given a chance at the end of the series (SPOILER ALERT!!!) to help Zuko rule the fire nation, but he chooses to move back to Ba Sing Se to run his tea shop. It is this move that makes me respect and relate to him the most. He is an extremely talented individual who turns down what everyone else would deem an incredible opportunity to do something “important” in favor of a humble life dedicated to helping people and doing what he loves.
This is what I want from life: to help people and to do what I love. Uncle Iroh has shown me that I don’t have to pursue immense power or vast wealth or extensive knowledge in order to be happy. I don’t always have to take the “best” opportunities. All I have to do is help people when they need it and accept it when it is given to me, be content in the good times and sing “Leaves from the Vine” in the bad ones, forgive and ask forgiveness, and in everything be humble and gentle. This is the success that Iroh achieved, and it is this success that I will devote my life to.
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:11