Being on the professional speaking circuit has given me so many opportunities to travel not only around my own country but to many overseas destinations as well. Last year, in the space of a few short months, I have traveled to Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand, the USA and France.
While in Singapore I was presenting a keynote presentation and workshop to a group of medical professionals from India. “Do you change your presentation for a non-English speaking audience?” a friend asked before I left. “Not at all” I explained, “I will speak a bit more slowly, but as far as the message goes….it is universal.”
However, it was in Singapore that I was going to learn one of my greatest lessons in a profound way, that it is never too late to start life over again.
Arriving at the airport, I was met by Ali, my host. He would be looking after me during my four day stay, he said, as well as my private driver, Peter. They would be at my disposal to take me wherever I needed to go in Singapore, whether it be sightseeing or shopping. When I travel, I am so used to looking after myself, that I was grateful for this gesture of friendship.
I spent four wonderful days with Ali and Peter. They took me to a large shopping centre as I needed a new computer and made sure I got a real bargain. We went sightseeing and visited the iconic Shangra-la where I tasted my first Singapore sling, shelled peanuts and also indulged in the famous, ‘High tea’, something not to be missed when visiting Singapore!
The presentation was a success and I finally packed my bag to head for the airport and back to Australia. Sitting in the back of the limo with Ali, I thought he was joking when he suggested I write a book about Peter’s life. “He has an amazing story” he said, “It would make a great book.” I was amazed and enthralled by the story he told me.
Peter had been a member of the secret service in Singapore, dealing in drugs and the underworld, where survival became man against man. He became involved from the age of 15 and when finally caught and convicted, spent 15 years behind bars.
Peter told me that he would have got the death penalty instead of time had his father had not been a member of the police.
I was shocked to hear of his ‘other’ life, and the things he was made to do as initiation into the secret society. All I could do was listen in disbelief that this gentle man I had spent the past four days with could really have led a life that was so violent.
When I asked him how he managed to turn his life around, he explained that he simply fell in love. “I have a young daughter now, he said, “and every day I go to work, I kiss her goodbye and know I have to come home to her.”
My mind raced, “Ali, how did your company ever have the trust to hire Peter after such a notorious history?” I asked, knowing it must have been such a difficult path for all involved.
“Well, in Singapore, we believe everybody deserves a second chance,” he answered.
Wow, I thought, what a wonderful lesson in forgiveness, acceptance and trust.
With that, I noticed that Peter was playing with some beads around his wrist; I asked him what they were. He explained that they were his prayer beads, the same ones he wore in jail and when he was in the secret society.
“Ali, can we stop at the markets on the way to the airport so I can buy some?” I asked.
Peter didn’t hesitate; he pulled the beads from around his wrist and passed them to me. “Oh Peter, I can’t take your beads.”
“In Buddhism, we believe it is good to give something away.” he explained, ” it is the cycle of life.”
I now wear those very beads, worn by this man, as a reminder that everyone, no matter who they are, deserves a second chance…and that it is never too late to start over and create a new future.
“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” – Maria Robinson