True Selflessness

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.” Buddha

True selflessness is having people around you that lift you to first place, even if it means they are not on stage with you winning. My girlfriend when I was 17 taught me that lesson.

I was in a Chinese chess tournament. The game is called Go and both my girlfriend and I were in the same competition. So first of all, I’m doing what I love, with the person I love and my mom loves my girlfriend as well. So that’s a holy trifecta. I was thinking that life could not get any better. But it did! It was the final round of the tournament, I had to face one more opponent. If I won my final match, I would win first place. I was good at Go, so I had won second place, third place and runner-up many times but never first place. Life was good.

So I was sitting at my table and my girlfriend came up to me and asked if I knew who my next opponent was. I had not checked yet and neither had she. So she went off to check for both of us. Before she stepped away, she looked around and her face turned a little red. She whispered; “I love you.”

And I looked around sheepishly and whispered; “I love you too.” So she ran off to check who our opponents were. I was smiling from ear to ear. Life can’t get any better than this. She took a little bit longer than I would have liked because as she was walking back, the organizers were telling everyone to face their opponent and start their clocks. I heard stones being placed on the boards. Finally, I saw my girlfriend running towards me but she sat down opposite me and smiled.

I thought that was weird. She needed to get to her match and my opponent needed to sit opposite me and time was running out. She looked up at me and said, “I’m going to be your opponent now.” My face turned white because I’d never played against my girlfriend in a tournament. This was a cause for huge anxiety. But she seemed to have no qualms with playing against me. Her smile turned into a stone-cold killer in the best way possible.

She became serious, grabbed her stone, placed it on the board, hit the clock and coldly said; “Your move.” And the game was beautiful. She played brilliantly. But suddenly, I saw the game-winning move. Immediately, I grinned and grabbed a stone to end the game. But then I looked up and hesitated. This was not just any opponent, this was my girlfriend! At that moment, I felt like I had to choose between what I love and who I love. So I panicked. And at 17 when I panicked and didn’t know what to do I talked to my mom.

My time was running out, but I put the stone back in the bowl, got up and ran outside to call my mom. My girlfriend was confused but I said I would be right back. The clock was still ticking down on my time, so I rushed to make the call. “Mom, listen, I’m with my girlfriend right now.”

And before I could say anything, my mom started going into a long list of things she loved about my girlfriend – she’s nice, she’s considerate, she’s smart. It was like a knife to my heart. I thought my mom was right – I shouldn’t beat my girlfriend in this tournament. But then my mom asked, “So why are you calling me?”

“Mom, listen, I can win first place but I have to beat my girlfriend.”

Without hesitation, my mom said, “Crush the girl!”

I laughed in shock and asked why. She said “It doesn’t matter. You’re bringing home first place. She’ll get over it. She’ll be fine.”

I hung up on my mom and realized that my mom can be savage in the most beautiful way. Running back inside I sat down with about a minute left on my clock. I made the move game-winning move and hit the clock. But I could barely look at my girlfriend.

For about 20 seconds my girlfriend stared at the board in frustration. I looked down in embarrassment as tears started to well up in my eyes. I felt guilty. Why did I do that? It’s just a game. Two minutes later after trying to find a solution, my girlfriend looked up and said “I resign.”

I was so ashamed that I could not look into her eyes. As I cleaned up the table, I heard her chair slide out. It sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me. She walked around and stood next to me. And though she was smaller than me in size, at that moment I felt so tiny. She got down on her knees, hugged me and said; “I’m so proud of you. That was a great game.”

I looked at her shocked and asked her what she meant. She said it was a beautiful game. I cried in her arms in the middle of the tournament. I cried because I felt relief that she accepted me. And 30 minutes later, I was on stage receiving first place and she was offstage, smiling, applauding and proud of me.

That experience reminds me of the mentors, the managers, the friends, the co-workers, and the family that cheer us on and celebrate us. Especially when they’re not winning with us. That is true selflessness. And that’s the calibre of people we need to surround ourselves with.

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