High School in China The Live Ugly Team and the Cruel Sister
董维稚 Weizhi (Vivian) Dong Nanjing, China
I always think about the Live
Ugly Team and the Cruel Sister. It
sounds funny, but I was glad to be a member of the Live Ugly Team and to have
been called Cruel Sister. I will start
the story from the first day when I came to my high school.
I felt very
afraid and lonely when I came into Jinling
High School. It is one of the best high schools in Nanjing but for me it was
a totally new environment. I was under
great pressure. All the boys and girls in my new class were outstanding. I felt very inferior.
I can still
remember the first day of class, when our teacher let us introduce
ourselves. It was then that I met the
other three members of the Live Ugly Team: Chen, Wei and Juan. They are all excellent students, far from my
imagination. They introduced themselves to the class so articulately, but when
it was my turn, I had nothing to say. I
just said my name.
friendship was closer than I thought. It
started from a casual conversation with them, and soon we began talking about many
things, our dreams, our life goals and our secrets. Our friendship developed
during a very hard time for me, bringing me light and happiness. As time went
on, the four of us formed a special team whose name was Live Ugly Team.
Live Ugly did not
mean that life is ugly. It is a saying
and it means something like “being embarrassed in an unexpected way.” We often felt embarrassed in this way,
because we had special thoughts which we shared with each other, and because we
enjoying learning about new things, and because we liked to ask questions. It may sound funny to Americans to think
that this would be embarrassing to us, but it was; because it made us feel
different. So we called ourselves Live Ugly as a kind of self-mockery: a way of
poking fun at ourselves. We did love the name!
In those days we shared many moments of happiness and sadness, and we
grew to love each other. Even today, as
I am far away from them, I remember and treasure the friendship.
Competition was my battle of Waterloo,
and it dragged me into a deep abyss of sorrow.
Getting the top award for physics was my biggest dream when I was in
high school. I gave all my passion to
it. Maybe because I cared too much about
the result, I was too nervous when I participated in that competition.
Therefore, I made many mistakes and missed the top award. I was so upset. I locked myself in my room,
letting my tears turn to a river. I lost my courage to face anything. I was a
loser at that time. I hated myself.
However, to my
surprise, a song saved me, helping me get my courage back and letting me know
the importance of courage. I became lost
until one day I heard a song called In the End by Linkin Park. The lyrics seem to simple, but they were a
special voice to me:
I tried so hard and got so far
But in the end it doesn't even matter
It woke me
up. From that moment, I realized that
when people pour too much passion into finite things like passing tests, they
are inevitably disappointed, because the finite things cannot bear the burden
of so much passion. And I realized that,
even if they succeed, the success is momentary. So I realized that, in a certain way,
failing the test taught me something I would not have otherwise known. Courage is the most important thing in life,
happened, I worked hard again, afraid of nothing. But I had better perspective on things. Science comes easily to me, and I always beat
everyone in my class in math, physics and chemistry in the competitions. My classmates gave me a nickname: Cruel
Sister. I am very competitive, and I
worked so hard to succeed in subsequent exams.
They called me Cruel Sister because they could not beat me. My courage was back. But my courage was tinged with wisdom: the
wisdom of knowing that courage is more important than success.
The Live Ugly
Team spent most of our time together during the last three years of high
school. But we are separated in the
world today. Chen is in Shanghai,
the southeast of China;
Xiangjuan is in Tianjin, the northeast of China; and Wei lives in Nanjing, our hometown. I have come to America. Three years seems too short to us. What are
they doing now? Do they miss me? I miss them.
At the same
time I will think about the Cruel Sister.
I hope I am not cruel, but I love the name. But maybe I need another name, too: Getting
Up Sister. I know that during my whole
life, I will fall down many times. The most
important is not whether I fall down or not, but whether I can climb up or not.
A Response from the Editor
Thank you for sharing your experience from Jinling High School. After reading your piece, I know that many
readers are now recalling their own special friendships in high school and
perhaps also remember the teasing names that our friends gave us. In Whitehead’s philosophy life itself
consists of moments or occasions of experience.
For those of us who have graduated from high school, your story reminds
us of occasions of experience in our own high school, which had their
immediacy, and which have now passed away into memories.
Yes, this is the way life unfolds: moment by moment,
occasion by occasion, day by day, and year by year. Who knows: maybe even lifetime by lifetime.
Whitehead called it “the creative advance into novelty” and added that it also
includes a “perpetual perishing” of subjective immediacy. The fact that your high school years are now
past is itself an illustration of the “perpetual perishing.” And the fact that you are sharing your
thoughts with us now, is itself an illustration of the “creative advance” into
novelty. The two go together like Yin
and Yang, forming what we call time.
Lived time is the passing of time itself, as lived from the inside, from
your own first-person perspective. It
cannot be easily measured by clocks, but it is best measured by memories.
When I read your story I was quickly reminded of a saying
from a Zen Buddhist priest. As you may know, Zen is a kind of Buddhism that
began in China. The very heart of Zen Buddhism is to become
enlightened in this very life, so that each day is experienced in a fresh
way. Some people don’t know this. They think that enlightenment lies in
escaping the world into a faraway place.
But in Zen each moment is the faraway place. The Western poet William Blake said that the
heart of life is to see heaven in a wildflower and the universe in a grain of
sand. Zen invites us to see heaven in
each moment: the happy ones and also the sad ones.
As your story so well illustrates, the key to finding heaven
in the sad ones does not lie in pretending they are easy. Sadness is sadness. But the key does lie in being able to face
the sadness with courage, and to get up again when you all down. Someone came up and asked the Zen priest
what it is like to be enlightened and he said: “Nothing special. When I fall down I get up again.” For the priest, the act of getting up again
It seems to me that getting up was your enlightenment, too. Call it enlightenment for the moment. You remind us that, in the course of a
lifetime, we need to get up again, again and again and again. Toward that end we need courage and also a
kind of spiritual freshness, a kind of inner joy. Some people might think that this inner joy
comes entirely from ourselves, but you show that it comes also from friends,
even and perhaps especially if they share common experiences, like the Live
Ugly team. You were such a Cruel Sister
to them. But I know that beneath the
teasing was an affection which surpasses understanding: a “love” as you put
it. From Whitehead’s perspective this
kind of love is the glue which holds people together and helps them get up
again, when they fall down. I am sure
you agree. Not courage alone, but also
the love that comes from friendships, is the heart of enlightened living. There is something very Buddhist about this,
and very Christian, and very Confucian.
And very human.