Story by| Yong Ting Qi, Guest Writer
Photo by| Yong Ting Qi
Yesterday, I gathered my stuffed animals up and in a slow process, decided which ones I wanted to keep, and which I wanted to give away.
This may not seem like a big deal to many, but to me, it was. At the age of three, I got my first stuffed animal — a pink elephant from Jim Thompson that I proceeded to name Jim Thompson. To three-year-old me, stuffed toys (especially the cute and intelligent elephants) were quite possibly the best things ever, and at every occasion, I would solicit even more stuffed animals from relatives. Until the age of 14, I would bring my favorite stuffed elephant along with me to school every single day, so he could “learn with me”. As of yesterday, I had more than 50 elephants and more than 200 animals of all different types, each of their fates ready to be judged.
As I was deliberating between keeping “Ducky” the duck and giving her away to the next loving owner, I recalled a conversation I had had countless times with my mother.
She would always mention that when I grew up, I would no longer want my stuffed toys — as if they were merely a phase. Back then, little me was indignant and stubborn in my belief that “No mum, I’m actually going to keep all of my little stuffed animals forever, because they all mean so much to me.”
I prided myself on memorizing every single one of my stuffed animals’ names. I felt it was a shame that adults were conditioned into thinking that owning stuffed animals was childish. I labelled everyone who threw away stuffed toys when they grew older as sheep who followed the crowd.
But now, I have reached the point as many others have before, where owning so many stuffed toys is no longer practical. I have no idea where I will be in five months time, but I know that I will not be living in this house anymore. I will no longer have my auntie around to help me clean my stuffed animals every few months. Leaving my mother alone with a horde of stuffed animals to wash by herself would be far more irresponsible than giving away my toys to those who would appreciate them more. What’s more, as I pulled out my stuffed animals from the corners that they were left in to gather dust, I found myself being unable to recall their names. Was that cow really named Cowie? Was this crab really named Krabby? It was evident that my stuffed animals no longer meant much to me.
Faced with the reality of how wrong I was, and how much I’ve changed since I was that little kid of eight years, I began to cry. I cried for the death of the memories which used to mean everything to me, which were now so eroded my neurons couldn’t fire in that previously familiar sequence anymore. I cried for the past me, that is now merely a distant impression. I cried for the inevitability of change and how time relentlessly and ruthlessly marches you forwards and forwards into the future, with no regard for whether you wanted to stay in that moment where stuffed animals meant everything to you.
But even in my sadness and in the difficulty of letting go of what was once dear to me, I knew that it was a process I had to go through. The world around us changes so quickly, and we are repeatedly thrown into unfamiliar situations. This is significant, as for some, Singapore is an entirely new country, with new customs, laws, environments and weather to acclimatize to. For others, such as first-generation college students, college is an entirely unfamiliar experience to them. They will be given more freedom than they have ever had, and will face new challenges they have never encountered. Throughout all of these unknowns, we may find that the character traits or interests we identified with so strongly before become less and less a part of us. My interest in physics gave way to a much deeper passion for economics, and my main priority in life was no longer caring for my stuffed animals.
This has never been more evident than with the current pandemic we are facing. In the span of a month, we went from going about our daily lives normally, to being confined to our houses for our own safety. We went from being oblivious to a “flu-like” virus to seeing the death toll go into the tens of thousands, and continue rising. The traditional college milestones and checkboxes like admit weekends and orientations were also taken away from us by this virus.
The only way to prepare for these changes is to always remain open to them. By clinging on to our past identities, we are only doing ourselves a disservice by wasting our time and efforts on what once was, but will never be. We have to constantly seek the unfamiliar, and allow ourselves the space to change by recognizing that some parts of us remain undiscovered. Exploring the boundaries of our environment and ourselves is the only way to live authentically and grow.
Today, I have just a handful of my favorite stuffed toys that mean the most to me. Some of them were gifted to me by my favorite people, and others have very meaningful memories tied to them. By letting go of my stuffed toys, maybe I’ll finally have space to develop new skills by replacing them with a drum set, or perhaps another bookshelf.