Lim: Sacrifice

Wide Awake

It’s not because I come from a place of privilege that I find it difficult to understand people’s low threshold for sacrifice—it’s because I grew up with my father’s war stories.

When war broke out and enemy forces arrived, no one looked to the government for help. The government was as helpless as the people. Every person had to find the means to survive. War gave birth to self-reliance, resourcefulness and sacrifice.

My father decided to sail to neighboring islands to trade goods. He had no experience to speak of. But fueled by necessity, he dared to do what he had never done before. He was 17.

There were no boat builders. Their boats, they built with their own hands. It took more than a few attempts to build a sea-worthy boat that did not sink as soon as they put it out to sea. They failed many times but they didn’t stop till they succeeded.

No engine to power a boat. No compass to guide navigation. It would take three more decades for GPS to be born. They relied on the wind, the sail, the paddles, their physical strength, their gut instincts and later, their experience, to navigate the seas, trade and find their way back home.

On one of these sea crossings, my father and his crew were captured by the Japanese Imperial Forces. Incarcerated for a month, they were subjected to hard labor and rarely fed. They later made a bold escape.

If my father does not accept hardship as an excuse to do less or to gripe, it’s because he’s been through worse and overcome the odds without complaint or expectation of help from anyone.

My father had nightmares for decades. He was always running from pursuing Japanese soldiers. We would learn of the term, PTSD, much later.

I never heard my father speak of the war with anger or bitterness. I never heard him complain or blame anyone for anything. He treated every hardship he encountered in life just like a bump on the road.

We didn’t even know until a decade ago that my father’s family endured years of racial abuse in their hometown. People would perennially throw stones at their house because of their ethnicity. He never spoke of it and if not for my aunt, we would never have known.

My father, like me, constantly rails about preventable inefficiency—those borne of indolence, indifference or idiocy. But like me, he has a high threshold for hardship borne of circumstances beyond our control.

My impatience for people during this pandemic who whine about the curtailment of their freedoms comes from a place deep within—I’ve been primed all my life for war. I understand when and why sacrifices have to be made.

Yes. I come from a place of privilege but I’ve been raised to expect hardship and to accept that everything worth having entails sacrifice—like a pathogen-free post-pandemic life.


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