“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I found purpose in a dusty back alley in Mumbai, in the innocent voice of an eight-year-old boy zipping around a dilapidated orphanage without a care in the world.

Harish's only possessions were his smile and a positive outlook I envied. I couldn't help but ask, "Don't you ever cry? Don't you ever feel like giving up?"

He replied, matter-of-factly, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a boy with no feet. I'm fortunate to have a normal body and a working mind. Life is what you make it, isn't it bhaiya?"

"Yes," I replied, "Life is what you make it."

That was the biggest lie I've ever told. These boys had nothing – not the family I so often took for granted, the education I believed I "deserved," or the countless opportunities I turned down. I was haunted by my meaningless striving for more – more possessions, more experiences, more adulation from my peers.

Harish died later that year, swept away in a devastating flash flood that merely inconvenienced the privileged. He left me with only his smile, his zeal for life, and the terrible realization that the same systems that have benefited me have failed countless others. Our destinies diverged purely as an accident of fate.

I will dedicate my life to creating opportunities for others and empowering those around me. Because sometimes life isn't what you make it. But it should be.

— Aalek Mehta