My visit to Sri Lanka has been timed with a commemoration in honour of my dad at which I and my sister have been asked to speak. The commemoration has been organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies.
After his death, my mom donated part of my dad’s large collection of books to the centre and this occasion also acknowledged this gift.I share with you the speech I gave at the commemoration.
---------------------------------------------------------“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation”! These words written by Paulo Coelho in “The Alchemist” ring true for me whenever I think of the life my dad lived. Many people go through life without any real convictions or a desire to discover the reason for their existence. Many people come to the end of their life without ever having realized their true potential because they were too afraid to chase their dreams.
I am inspired by the life my dad lived because he was a man who went in search of his destiny and left behind him a legacy of service to his country and his fellow men and women. He was a man who lived by his convictions and never feared to voice an opinion, despite the fact the outcome was often detrimental to his future and sometimes his safety. Although he was a part time adviser to many Presidents and Prime Ministers his views were controversial and often not politically correct at the time, yet he had the courage to voice them anyway. He was not a man who necessarily told you what you wished to hear, even if you were the President of the Nation!
(With President Kumaranatunga).
Paulo Coelho explains in the Alchemist there are four reasons why we don’t follow our destiny. The first is because we are told from birth it is impossible. The concept of discovering our destiny is not inherently part of many cultures. We often make choices that are conservative, whether it be choices about marriage partners or vocations. The choices are often safe and predictable and made because they reinforce our status in society rather than because they feed our passions. Any deviation from the well- trodden path is often treated with much scepticism and discouragement by the rest of society, entrenched in the all too familiar cycle of high school, university, the 9 to 5, marriage, kids, and a house in the suburbs. A cycle repeated by each generation without ever considering an alternative lifestyle.
Many of you are probably unaware that my dad was actually intent on pursuing his dream of studying history when the law faculty first opened its doors in Colombo and he made an impulsive decision to switch careers and study law. This choice, made at a crucial time in his life ensured he was on his way to realizing his calling and ironically, his life’s work is now part of this Nation’s history.
The second obstacle to pursuing our destiny is love. We often make choices to please our parents, our spouses or our kids. We fear they may disapprove of our dreams and so we abandon them because we are afraid of losing the love of those dear to us. My dad pursued his dreams despite the pressures of bringing up a young family. As a 40-year old man he gave up a stable career in the Attorney General’s Department to launch into a career in private practice. He had the courage to take a calculated risk because he believed in himself and had a vision of what his future could be. I know from the many conversations I had with him on this topic, that this was not a decision he made lightly, As a young man who had yet to make a name for himself in the law courts of Sri Lanka, he could never have dreamt of the success he would eventually attain. However, his journey in search of his destiny would not have been possible if not for the unconditional love and support of my mum. She made sure his home life was stable, that his every need (and mine and my sisters) was taken care of and that he always had a great meal to come home to. But most of all she was supportive of the choices he made.
What does it really mean to love someone? I believe the definition of real love is about caring for someone as much as you care for yourself. My dad’s greatest accomplishment was that he found a woman capable of such love and I can certainly attest to the fact I was fortunate to experience such love myself. Therefore, never fear that love could ever be an impediment to realizing your destiny. True love will add momentum to your journey and truly give it wings!
As Coelho describes, the third obstacle to realizing our destiny is fear of defeat. We feel our dream is so impossible to achieve, it is easier to forget it. Pursuing a dream and choosing to go down the road less travelled is far harder than sticking to the old familiar path. Coelho explains that our suffering of encountering defeat while chasing a dream is much greater because we have invested so much of ourselves in this journey that is so meaningful to our lives.
For a man born in a little village in Sri Lanka, my dad had ambitious goals - of becoming an Ambassador for his country, of working towards attaining the unification of his Nation and of winning every case he ever undertook, however impossible the odds.
He pursued his dreams, with complete conviction and a belief in his ability to achieve them. Such journeys are never smooth and my dad’s life was no exception. Coelho explains the secret of life is to fall down seven times and get up eight times. There were many times in my dad’s life where he encountered defeat. He would come home quite upset when he felt he had lost cases he should have won. He would berate the judges who had failed to see the validity of his arguments and we would often just listen, not saying a word, knowing he needed to work through his frustrations. No matter how many brick walls he banged his head against, my dad never gave up on any of his convictions and every defeat only spurred him on to keep trying even harder.
The fourth obstacle to not finding our destiny is the fear we have of actually realizing the dream we fought so hard to achieve. We often come across people who insist on renouncing all joy in their life for the sake of their family. They seem to think there is some saintly purpose in sacrificing their dreams for the sake of their loved ones. If the next generation does not see that we believe in ourselves and consider our selves worthy of realizing our destiny, how will they ever realize it is OK for them to chase their own dreams?
So today, I ask of you, his colleagues, his dear friends and family, please keep his memory alive by going in search of your own destiny and realizing your true potential. Live your life with real passion and be true to your convictions. Prove yourself worthy of discovering your calling and realize those childhood dreams that were squashed by peers or elders who didn’t know any better. Such a journey will only contribute to the Soul of our Universe and inspire others to find their own calling.
As Susan Jeffers said, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’!
Coelho explains that intense unexpected pain is far easier to bear than the more apparently bearable pain, of not realizing a dream. It stays with you and eats away at your soul, till it destroys your life completely.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said: “It is only when we truly know and understand we have a limited time on earth with no way of knowing when our time is up that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had”. I watched my dad live every day of his life with absolute passion for his work. If we are not completely passionate about our life’s work and all we are doing is marking time in our lives then surely we have not realized our true calling or found our destiny yet.
It takes real courage, commitment and hard work to chase a dream. It is not some romantic notion of what people envisage it might be but the rewards at the end are surely worth it.
Perhaps my dad’s greatest legacy to me is that his life has inspired me to chase my own destiny and live every day with passion for my life and the work I am engaged in and to be truly thankful to be alive. I know he is watching over me as I go in search of my own calling, even though my journey must surely be freaking him out completely!
My dad’s life has given me the courage to tread the road less travelled, and for that I will always be grateful. I can only hope that my own life will inspire others to do likewise.
I thank you for the opportunity to speak on this occasion and leave you with this quote.
“My dad never told me how to live. He lived and let me watch him do it!”