A Letter to Jane
To my best friend’s daughter, may you live with ease, may you know how to love, may you stay feisty, fierce and brave
I’m auntie Yao. I hope by the time you know how to read this letter, I can still see you as often as I do now. I very much enjoy taking a walk with your mom, your dad, and your grandma on the Los Gatos Creek Trail near the first house your parents bought. We would take turns carrying you or put you in the stroller when our arms get too sore. Unlike a lot of babies who typically sit back in the stroller, you always use your little fingers to grab the bar firmly to hold your body straight and try to stand up. We have a lot of fun watching you trying and failing and trying again, and laugh about how feisty, fierce, and brave you are.
Jane, I met you when you were one day old, such a soft and yet strong creature lying on your mom’s chest. You are named after Jane Goodall, an English primatologist and anthropologist who devoted her life to conservation and wildlife. Your parents are scientists and they gave you her name wishing that you can live and work for something greater than ourselves, just like Jane.
Speaking of your parents, they are really really amazing people. I met your mom in 2015 when I first came to the Bay Area. She was my roommate at grad school and has been my best friend ever since. She was a bioengineer-in-training at that time finishing up her Ph.D. in miscarriage and early-stage cancer detection. We would spend countless sleepless nights talking about statistical methods, literature, how our bodies and minds work, and how we aspire to live our lives to the fullest.
Then I got to know your father. He is one of the most compassionate and inspirational people I’ve ever known. Your dad is the inventor of the one-dollar microscope and he has spent almost a decade promoting it to developing countries so that kids in less privileged areas can learn science through the foldable microscope made from paper.
Typically at wedding receptions, guests will receive chocolates or flowers from the newlyweds, but not from your parents. Your parents gave everyone a microscope they made and showed us slides on how to use it. I laugh at them how nerdy they are to this day. But nerdiness is not a bad thing, Jane, and you should be really really proud of them. They chose to live a life that brings a positive impact to society, to humanity. It is not an easy life, but one with meanings. There are a lot of struggles that come along with choosing to be on such a path. Your mom chose to do a bioinformatics startup while you were two months old and your dad chose to do the social enterprise that is not lucrative. They chose it because they believe in it and because they take responsibility for their choices. One thing I admire the most about your parents is their perseverance in the scientific work they believe in. It is not always glorious. A lot of times you have to take the loneliness, struggles, adversities all by yourself. But it is people like them who have such great compassion, curiosity, knowledge, perseverance, and pure hearts that make our world a better place.
Now is 2020 that I’m writing you this letter. This year bears a lot of weight in our times. Early this year there was this virus that we did not know of called ‘COVID-19’ that spread all over the world. From the breakout at the beginning of the year to now, July 10th, there have been almost 13 million people who got infected, and more than half a million deaths already. We all thought our societies are strong and resilient but turn out not so much. None of us have experienced such a global pandemic before and we all feel worried about public health, economic downturn, and political risks in the future. And it is because of such great uncertainty we are experiencing that I want to give you my best wishes.
Jane, may you live with ease. I wish you could grow up in a peaceful time, in a society that is prosperous and flourishing. But I cannot predict the future and I cannot guarantee there will only be smooth sailing. Just in case this pandemic causes societal turbulences, I hope you can thrive. Pandemics are either here or not, people are either dead or alive, politics either works or not. Things just are, or they are not. There is something really powerful about accepting things just as they are, about accepting us for who we are and the world for what it is. And then we can live with ease and know what we can do to make things better.
Jane, may you know how to love, in good and bad times. Love and compassion are what nourish and heal us, are the greatest motivations that keep us going. I had a conversation with your mom the other day when we were walking in the park with you. We realized that it is you who reminded us about how easy it is to be content with simple pleasures in life. It feels great to take a run in the morning, to enjoy breakfast with loved ones, to learn, to play, to be healthy, to care for others, to help, to forgive, to love. There are also times that are just sufferings, we also need to not hide away and live with them — like this pandemic, like the travel bans that separate your maternal grandparents and your mom, like death or disease every human being would experience. Engaging in a full range of experiences and still choosing to love instead of hate makes our lives expand.
Jane, may you stay who you are, this feisty, fierce, and brave little you of today. You are probably going to grow up in the Bay Area, you will probably go to a really competitive high school, college, and will meet a lot of people who are superhumanly genius or rich. You will probably meet people who would diminish you, devalue you, discriminate against you, there will probably be a lot of times that you will be compared with others who are prettier, smarter, and richer. I know you will be uncomfortable in those situations, people will judge, and you may feel not valued. Those aren’t pleasant feelings, I understand. First of all, tell yourself that it is ok to feel them, then remember, those comparisons and those uncomfortable feelings don’t define who you are. don’t just chase where the attention or the flow is, your value lies in how you believe in yourself, and how you take responsibilities. ‘Don’t sell yourself short’, this is what your dad told me when I was crying feeling hurt by someone, and now I want to give this word to you, don’t sell yourself short in any situation, Jane.
Jane, I hope you grow up all well and I really look forward to having conversations with you when you are older. I would love to see what the world looks like from your eyes, it must be wonderful.
Auntie Yao, with love
July 10, 2020