On Wanting Everything

(N.B.: Full Metal Alchemist spoilers alert.)

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“You humans think greed is just for money and power. But everyone wants something they don’t have,” Greed says.

I identify with Greed in Full Metal Alchemist (Brotherhood). FMA Wikia states that Greed wants all that life has to offer “because Greed didn’t [know] exactly what he wanted, which fuels his desire to have it all.”

I, also, don’t know what I want. I want both the hearth of a family and the flares of a nomad, the prestige of a senior counsel and the moral pedestal of a human rights worker, the wild romance of unbelonging and the safe comfort of intimacy.

There is so much that I don’t have, so much that I desire.

I desire like Bod in The Graveyard Book desires, as he stood on the cusps of life, leaving his dead home behind.

“Bod said, ‘I want to see life. I want to hold it in my hands. I want to leave a footprint on the sand of a desert island. I want to play football with people. I want,’ he said, and then he paused and he thought. ‘I want everything.’”

When I was young, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Then I wanted to be a marine biologist, and then a writer. I wanted to study physics, psychology, literature, and even architecture. But I wanted so many other things—prestige, power, wealth, and also to keep other options open—and so I became a lawyer.

But I realized I didn’t want the acrimony, the commodification of people’s time and problems into billables, and most of all, I didn’t want the world-ending pressures that woke me up in cold sweat and jarred my prayer life so tumultously.

Maybe it does boil down to Mark Manson’s most important question: What pain do I want in my life? What am I willing to struggle for?

But that presupposes that I know what I will suffer, what I will struggle with, what I will give up. And I don’t think we ever really know until we live the choices we make.

Consider this Trans-Siberian Railway trip that I am on. It is epic, it is once-in-a-lifetime, and it is the kind of trip that people put on their bucket lists. (It is on Kev’s bucket list at least.)

And I thought I had counted the costs—S$4,000 (yes, it’s a crazy budget; the boys initially aimed for S$2,200), six weeks of absence from the lives of my loved ones, one and a half months of bumming around without pay and without career progress.

But I did not factor in that my niece’s early months are swiftly passing by, that I would be unable to drop by my sister’s place to chat with her in person, or that my insecurities about being unemployed and directionless would escalate so swiftly.

These are not consequences I intended, or even foreseen, though perhaps I should have. Then again, ignorance is rarely a defence to culpability. (And also, the line between intention and foreseeability is oblique.)

What are all the other hidden costs that my life decisions will extract from me? What else will I miss out on?

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“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living,” writes Jonathan Safran Foer in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

At this stage of my life, this is less a problem of, and more a paralysis by the lack of, choice. The Geneva Academy, the institution that I had hoped to pursue further studies at, has rejected me. A local longform publication that I was most excited to work with has also turned me down, citing that they have no full-time positions open. All my other applications for internships and jobs have yielded no replies.

(Returning to practice remains a viable option, of course, but it is one that makes me shudder. And while I know I am speaking from privilege, options like that seem to be less about choice and more about duress.)

As for vocation, doors also remain shut. Despite engaging so much with Ignatian spirituality while I was in Myanmar, I am not drawn to the Jesuit community. And when G and N asked me about my love life, I was at a loss for words, and reduced the complexities and complications to a final, simplistic, but not untrue answer: nothing. (They hurriedly consoled me that there was nothing wrong with being single and that I still have time; their awkwardness was endearing.)

I am unused to this limbo, this meandering indecision, this utter and debilitating lack of productivity. Most of all, I am unused to irrelevance. These are such blows to my ego.

There, I’ve said it: I am being egoistic. I am indulging in my insecurities, coveting temporal things over eternal things, obsessing about myself like how stars collapse from their own gravity and implode into black holes.

M once told me that I was the most self-obsessed person that she knows. Maybe I am.

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“You’re wrong, Greed. There will always be a part of you [in me]. Friends are a part of your soul,” Ling Yao declares.

At the end of FMA (Brotherhood), Greed sacrifices himself to save Ling Yao, the personality whom Greed was sharing a body with. He admits to Ling Yao that deep down what he really wanted was to have true friends who cared for him and whom he cared for. His self-sacrifice is a function and a fulfilment of that desire: he does it because he wants to be a true friend, and in doing so, he crystallizes the truth of his friendship with Ling Yao and the Elric brothers. He lived, and died, for others.

I teared up at that scene. It was so stunningly altruistic, yet so consistent with his character and his sin. It was redemptive.

I hope that there is redemption for me too.

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/