From yesterday’s National Young Leaders’ Day 2014 event, every speaker that took the stage mesmerised the audience for the short 20-30 minutes they were given and related stories of their past, present and the hopes for their future (or ours) with words of passion. Sitting snugly in my seat, it was like being taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion through the happiness in their successes and cringing from the tears that some of their challenges brought to my eyes. And so I thought, I’d have a post or two dedicated to the lessons I have learned from the experiences they have shared and reflect on how these experiences resonated with me so deeply.
The first speaker was Matthew Zachary Liu, a host cum writer who continues to inspire others with his writing as he related stories of his travel and the people he has met. Matthew’s story was intimate: he shared about the times from his childhood– through the verbal abuse that he suffered, the track team that he proudly led; then as a teen pursuing his career– the ups marked by his increasing popularity as a public figure and later the downs characterised by cruel betrayal, even considerations of suicide. All this led up to his relation of his present, where he is “still at the crossroads”, today considering an ambition in education instead of his long-held dream of entertainment. Before I get to the lessons and reflections this sharing provoked, I have to say that the generosity in his sharing, and the way he had untied these knots within his heart to be able to stand on stage and share his story in hopes to inspire the audience was what I had found to be immensely courageous.
And now to the lessons, Matthew’s story reminded me to love my parents everyday. Each time he faced the darkest, bleakest moment in his phases of life, either of his parents had been there to carefully pick him up and shower him with the love they wish he could gain strength from. When he was fighting the physical pain of his large intestines getting coiled up, his mom had ‘cried for the doctor to save him’ and while he was fighting the psychological pain of betrayal that put him at the brim of suicide, his dad had ‘cried and apologised for the terrible job he had done’. As he related these heart-wrenching experiences, his voice shook a little and I recalled the times I’ve seen my parents cry. And as he puts it perfectly, it is the most devestating sights one can see in one’s life. The unconditional love of a parent is a privilege and a luxury, a thick safety net that we are permanently within and fail to be thankful for consciously.
Matthew’s story, was also one about betrayal, which taught him that there was cruelty in the world that you can’t quite trust all the time. But beyond that, I was reminded of how to forgive those who hurt you. In translating his hatred to the people that inflicted verbal abuse upon him at different phases of his life, into strength and motivation that brought him through the turning points in his life, I felt like it was a way of dealing with the hurt that had been inflicted upon him, bringing him to be the strong person that he is today. The forgiveness, whether complete or not, garnered my respect throughout the time he related these phases of his story. Though he referred to the way he transferred this hatred into motivation as a “wrong motivation”, quite the opposite, I felt like it was the best thing he could’ve done with the hatred in that point of his life.
And finally, there was the phase of his story about suicide. In the context of it being the peak of his career as a major public figure in the entertainment industry as a host, in his words “that’s the thing about being on top, it’s lonely, and people just want to take you down”, and the betrayal of his ‘friends’ had made him turn to the suicide page in his book of escapes. But as he related how he faced the deaths of others while he was part of SCDF, he taught me of the consequences of us hurting ourselves: that it was a quick fix was to escape your own life by the infliction of pain on oneself– one at the cost of emotional suffering for everyone else that loved you. I suppose we never learn of the people who truly love us, or never understand how much they love us until we realise how much they suffer when we suffer. And in this complex tangle of loving and being loved that we all subconsciously end up in, there is a consequence to the actions we make upon ourselves.
Today, Matthew is at the crossroads and he describes himself as a “25-year-old who doesn’t know what he wants to do at all”, despite the calling towards the education sector. And I guess him relating where he is today reinforced my idea that we can never really be sure (as I wrote in this article for PostScript a couple of months back). And in concluding the experience of sitting there, third row from the front, tearing up as he related all the ups and downs, though in very different experiences, I feel like his are lessons that I have also learned or crossed paths with at some point of my life.
His story had a resonance that was powerful in the kind of reflection (as you can tell) that it created, and I wish I had all the words to describe it.