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By Sarah Harvard
Plainfield North

All throughout out my life, I’ve been trying to find “x.” I’ve always questioned my existence in this life. I’ve always wondered if God wanted me to do something with my time here. I’ve always wondered if I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life pleasing others; wondered if I’m supposed to live my life for the unfortunate. I’ve always had this internal fire urging me to figure out who I am; and I’ve always pondered on the thought of my final days.

Life doesn’t last forever. Nothing lasts forever. I always try to make myself avoid the thought of my last days. Realistically, I’ll have to face it—everybody has to face it.

During my Thanksgiving break, I traveled to Japan to visit my mother’s side of the family. Sure, I enjoyed eating the delicious oriental cuisine, being fascinated by their robotic toilets and shopping in Harajuku, but my time there also was a huge turning point in my life, mentally and spiritually.

When I first saw my grandmother this time around, I instantly broke into tears. Here I was, 14 years after I spent three years in this house living with a loving, caring grandmother. This is the miniscule house where my once-strong grandmother carried me around playfully. Now she can barely remember who I am at times. Her early stage of Alzheimer’s disease has elevated her stress and taken much of her memory.  A once healthy, beautiful woman has become so frail and weary. It made me realize that life isn’t fair. Life has its unexpected turns.

Across the street, my uncle lives in an another tiny home with his family of four. A fisherman and a grocery store manager, my uncle never thought of pushing forward. He had never pressured his children to go for the limit. His family never lived extravagantly, nor do they stress the importance of education. Yet, they manage to live their life happily and carefree. They’re happy because they live their lives for themselves. They are positive people, never thinking about the worst of others.

What killed my heart, though, was visiting my great-grandmother. She still has a smile on her face in spite of having lived through 103 years of struggle and despair. Despite her severe Alzheimer’s (she has the disease, too, like my grandmother), she can still recall the days of World War II—the time when her husband passed away, leaving children still in elementary school. She can still recall the time when she had to take on “manly” duties to help reconstruct post-war Japan. While in the ‘40s Japanese women were discouraged to work, my great-grandmother worked in difficult jobs to feed her children and provide a roof over their heads. Also, she still can recall the time when her son passed away from lung cancer. Yet seven decades later, she never looks back on life as hard or miserable. Even though she has suffered through pain and agony, she’s still smiling. Her smile is filled with such joy and happiness that it still brings tears in my eyes. Not only tears of happiness, but tears of appreciation.

Once I returned to America,  I found “x.” I found out that my whole entire life, I’ve been asking myself the wrong questions. I’ve been thinking about the wrong things. Life is going to end, I’ve always knew that. I’ve always wondered how I could leave life without any regrets—just happiness. My mother’s family answered it all for me. In the end, it’s not what I do with my life. It’s not about who I please or lend a hand to. Nor is it about who I become or what position I hold in life. What matters in the end is how I view my own life. If my mindset is always positive, then my future will always seem positive. If I view everything optimistically despite all my struggles, I’ll leave the time God has borrowed me in peace and happiness. From this day on, I live my life the way life should be lived—with happiness.

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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