My parents did not have much formal education but they possessed a natural intellect and curiosity. They read voraciously – books, several daily newspapers, news and educational magazines. Our shelves were filled with literature and second hand books on politics, history, art, science. I was encouraged to explore them all.
I was an only child by choice. They both held civil service jobs which, while it provided steady income, their salaries were not high. They decided when they married that it was better to devote all their available resources to one child rather than spread the money thin over a larger brood. I was the sole beneficiary of their time, their attention, and their assets. My mother wore the same out-of-date cloth coat for a decade so there was enough money for me to take violin lessons. When I was born, my father gave up cigarettes and drink to save for my higher education. They did without restaurant dinners so I could go on class trips. They took me to museums and free concerts and lectures by powerful speakers and to political rallies. Every week, my mother took me to the library where we both chose a pile of books.
From the time I was a small child, I understood that I was expected to go to university. It was my obligation to excel in life; to grab opportunities which had not been available to my parents in their youth. I was grateful to have such supportive parents. Every part of my extra-curricular education was provided with the expectation that I would rise to the top both at school and in any endeavor I attempted.
Mostly, I fulfilled that expectation. I was at the head of all my classes, and was accepted into a handful of well-respected universities, each of them offering a scholarship.
Nearly two decades of investment into my future was finally paying off. I was gratified that I could make them proud.
One summer evening, the month before I was set to go off to college, I went out to meet some friends. Down on the corner, there was a fight among some tough kids. I knew them to be trouble and always gave them a wide berth. I crossed the street to steer clear and set off in the other direction. Behind me, the fight escalated and one of them pulled out a gun. Shots were fired and though I was some distance away, I was fatally hit. I was gone before the ambulance even arrived.
My parents were inconsolable.
I am still trying to understand the point of my end. Even to me, here, it seems like a tragic waste. But I accept that this is how it was meant to be. I chose this going in, so there must be reason. I’m beginning to consider that the lesson was not about achieving success, itself, but my giving myself over to the preparation for it. Or perhaps it was to teach me that no matter how well we prepare, no matter how much we devote ourselves to a goal, ultimately life is never within our control.