Audrey is currently a novice in an international society of Catholic religious sisters called the “Faithful Companions of Jesus” (FCJ), and lives in Ende, East Indonesia. She graduated with an LLB from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2010. During her law school years, she was one of the founders of the NUS Criminal Justice Club. After graduation, she went on to work at aidha, a local NGO dedicated to empowering foreign domestic workers through financial and entrepreneurial education, and in the Ministry of Law’s Legal Policy Division. In 2014, she entered the FCJ Society in Manila, Philippines. She loves sambal kangkong and hates cleaning bathrooms.
This Letter is addressed to her younger self who is just starting her last year in law school and busy making plans for the future.
I remember you at 22, returning from an inspiring year on exchange in the US, with a burning desire to work on the issue of wrongful convictions. And so you threw yourself into starting, with some friends, what would eventually become the NUS Criminal Justice Club. On the one hand you were terribly shy (and even fell ill from stress when you had to speak in front of a crowd!), but that was outweighed by the excitement you felt at being able to use your legal skills to make a difference in the world. You thought that a career in public service would be the way to make the most impact.
I have to tell you though – and don’t fall off your chair – that all your carefully-laid plans for the future started to go awry almost as soon as you finished your last exam. In fact, 7 years down the road you will find yourself living in a far-flung part of Indonesia, in training to become a Catholic nun. (Nothing you ever thought of even in your wildest dreams, I know! But you can take comfort in knowing that religious life is nothing like you imagine it to be… and all those hard-earned skills you picked up in law school will still come in handy.)
By that time, you would have lived in two countries and cultures very different from ours, which will stretch you and give you new perspectives. Amidst the joys and challenges that involves, though, you will find that it is the people you meet who will make the greatest impression on you. High school boys who scavenge for trash in a landfill during the summer to help their families. A rape victim striving against poverty and social stigma to keep and provide for her baby. A mother with young boys living in the street, rendered homeless by a typhoon but determined to provide education for her children. And young girls living with and doing housework for families not their own so that they can go to primary school.
But whether in the slums of Manila or on the hill slopes of Ende, you will constantly be surprised by the joy and human spirit that shine through the grime and grinding reality of life: in the playful laughter of children; in lively dancing on the hard-packed dirt floor of someone’s yard during a wedding; or in the generosity of neighbours who help one another and grieve with one another.
Amidst all this, perhaps you will feel more and more, as I do, that life is a mystery. How can we explain why some people are poor and others rich, why some have opportunities and others don’t, or why illness and disaster strike where they do? Maybe we cannot understand this side of the veil. But one thing seems sure: that love will find a way through somehow, even as flowers spring up in the cracks of a sidewalk. Maybe the only thing we can do is to be present to each other and love each other – and also ourselves! – as we are, in our joys and triumphs but also in our hurts and regrets and weakness, believing that love is working in us in its own mysterious way, and will in the end bring us where we are meant to be.
I used to think – as you do – that it was by doing much and doing well that I could make the world a better place. The years that separate us, though, have started to chip away at that particular illusion. But even as my faith in well-laid plans, competence and perfectionism erodes, I find myself slowly becoming more aware that there is a greater reality… that somehow it is who we are and not what we do that really matters. And when I remember that, and let go of the need to constantly prove myself, then I can be more truly free and open to love’s invitation in my everyday. The surprising truth is that we have our dreams and plans and they often come to naught, but even as we mourn their passing, we discover to our surprise that letting them go was only the gateway to something much greater and more life-giving than we could have imagined. That love works in us and through us if we are generous enough to let it.
You and I don’t know where life goes from here. But there is no need to worry! Let us welcome whatever comes – its joys and its sorrows – with an open heart and cheerful smile, trusting in the mysterious ways of that love which holds us in existence at every moment. That same love in which we will eventually find our place: as a uniquely beautiful note in life’s rich symphony.
All the best with law school – and life!