Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. In this episode, you will hear about a moment of adversity called Under the Leafy Roof, a moment of an encounter called No Shoes, and a moment of a perspective called The Young Prisoners.
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Hello and welcome to Episode #39 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Under the Leafy Roof, No Shoes, and The Young Prisoners.
A moment of adversity called: Under A Leafy Roof
I was walking on a patchy cement road on my way departing a tourist site many years ago. There were not many tourists in my tour group to Vietnam, and I walked alone back to the tour bus. I felt the warm sunlight glaringly beam on me. I was glad it was not sweltering hot as I hated that kind of weather. As I leisurely walked on the road, I came to a bend where a group of men sat on the ground playing musical instruments. I stopped to listen and enjoy the soft and soothing music.
I noticed the roof shading them from the sun as I stood there. Large pieces of leaves on top of thick branches formed the rectangular roof. Carved tree trunks supported the roof. There were no walls but thin tree trunks on each corner. It was hard to see the group of musicians who sat in the dark or well-shaded area.
I first thought they were enjoying playing music and comfortably sitting there. I was mistaken. Upon taking a closer look, I saw that each man had a partially missing leg. It was so dark that it was hard to see it. But then I understood why they were sitting instead of standing up. I also understood why it was so dark. Later, my tour guide told us that the men had lost their legs in a minefield.
Though I enjoyed listening to the music and observing the unique place where the men played their instruments, I soon had to go and was left with many sad thoughts running through my mind.
Before leaving, I dropped a few pieces of paper money in their bucket. I felt sad for them. I felt sorry that they each lost a leg. I felt some pain that they had to put themselves on public display to earn a living.
Though the feeling of sadness would come and go as I remember the scene I observed and experienced so many years ago, another thought did not escape me. I said to myself, look at those men who lost their legs. They did not let the misfortune stop them from moving on. They banned together, built a platform, and established a business to make some money for their survival. I should commend them for their bravery and creativity.
Instead of feeling bad for them, they remind me to stop any internal pity-party talk whenever I say I can’t do something I want to do. I have all my body parts intact, so there is no excuse not to forge ahead.
I have wanted to start a business of my own several times, and too often, I created obstacles before me. And then I recall how ingenious, creative, and inspiring those five men were who played music under the green leafy roof.
In my first business as an independent contractor, I had all the material and support provided for me to go into business, so there was no excuse not to do it. Moreover, it was a choice and not even a matter of survival. I had the education and ability to learn in my second and third businesses, so there was no excuse not to do them. And it was not for survival but for my passions. No doubt, someone else’s adversity could inspire you to follow your dreams and strive forward.
A moment of an encounter called: No Shoes
I looked out the window to see a bunch of kids getting out of school wearing blue shorts or skirts and buttoned-down thin white short-sleeved shirts. The shirts looked very white against their tanned skin in the hot summer heat. Staring out the window since I was on a tour bus off to some tourist site in Cambodia, I noticed something I had never seen before. There were kids here and there that didn’t have any socks or shoes on their feet. I felt pained seeing it because the ground was gravel-ridden. Many tiny bits of gray rocks and gray sand filled the roads. The roads were not well-paved. I could feel the bumpety bumps as my big tour bus moved to pass the scene. Though I was a little uncomfortable, I felt far more pain seeing some kids run around on the gravel with no shoes. It must hurt their feet, but they didn’t seem unhappy.
Stupid me, naïve me, asked my tour guide why some kids did not wear shoes. He told me some families didn’t have enough money to buy shoes for their kids. After hearing this, I realized my stupidity or lack of worldly experiences.
I have been poor; I have been with little money, and I have struggled to pay the bills before, but never have I been so poor that I couldn’t have shoes on my feet.
The brief moment I saw children without shoes running on gravel and playing and laughing with other kids left an impression on me. I have never looked at shoes the same way from that moment forward.
After my tour bus passed the scene I saw, the image remained in my mind. I thought I had experienced poverty before, but never to that extreme. Who am I to complain about my life? I have always had clothes on my back and shoes to wear. Some people don’t even have the bare basics. Shame on me for grumbling about what I don’t have!
I continued to ponder about the scene. I visualized the racks of shoes I once had in my garage. I had four pairs of shoes in each row. One frame had five rows. That allowed me to shelve twenty pairs of shoes on one frame. I had three racks of five rows, so I had sixty pairs of shoes! There was even space under the bottom row to put slippers and old shoes on the ground. I did count that I once had sixty pairs of shoes and that it didn’t seem like too many.
How did I end up with so many shoes? I had comfortable and durable shoes for my career as a teacher of many years, and I had high heel pumps and stylish shoes for my second career as a businessperson. Of course, there were fun shoes and sporty shoes, too.
The dismantling of those neatly stacked shoes in my two-car garage ended when I sold my house and moved abroad. I knew I was allowed two suitcases and one carry-on luggage for free, but how could I fit my lifetime of belongings with those limitations? My shoes alone would fill several suitcases!
I ended up bringing a dozen and leaving the rest in storage. I thought I would have trouble with far fewer shoes to choose from to wear. But I didn’t miss the shoes left behind in storage. Living and working in another country, I had far fewer possessions at hand, and I came to find that what I did have was enough. I didn’t need to have all those things I had before, much less the sixty pairs of shoes!
And then I took the trip to Cambodia where I saw the kids with no shoes. Never would I again complain about not having enough footwear or even clothes on my back. From then on, every time I wanted to buy another pair of shoes, I’d ask myself if I needed them and if I could do without them. Usually, the answer was that I could do without them. Whenever I feel an urge to buy a pair of shoes, I can still see those kids with bare feet and often refrain from buying more shoes unnecessarily. In all practicality, I learned that we buy far more things than we need and need fewer things than we possess.
It was a simple passing scene of encountering bare feet on the gravel, but it left an image in my memory bank to forever remind me to be grateful for what I have and that I don’t need that many things for a content existence.
Perhaps the bare feet children happily playing on their gravel-ridden roads were enjoying a happy existence of fun. It was only me thinking they were in pain. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, but I perceived it to be an encounter that gave me food for thought in analyzing possessions and what we need to be happy.
A moment of a perspective called: The Young Prisoners
Who could have guessed that visiting a prison would be a location for touring as a tourist to Vietnam? Not only was it unique and different, but it left an indelible impression on me.
Sitting on a small tour bus, I looked out the window to see plots of land divided up for growing vegetables. The tour guide said that if prisoners wanted to eat, they had to grow, harvest, and cook their food. Near each plot of land, I also noticed one-room dark brown wooden houses. The tour guide stated that it was the home for each prisoner, and it was their responsibility to maintain it. This scene alone was eye-opening.
Never had I seen jail like this. Prisoners were not locked up in cells, but they were limited to roam around in a specific land area defined by roped parameters. The conveniences of life were far away as you could only see long stretches of fields surrounding the institution. How they got meat, and other food was a mystery to me. Our guide said they got plenty of space to exercise and move around in the fields. The grass was yellow and dry, and it seemed like there was nothing else around for miles.
After seeing outside, the bus arrived at a small building. Soon after entering, you’d see trinkets or other small things hand-made by the prisoners. There wasn’t anything useful or practical, but knowing that the prisoners made them to earn a little money for themselves to trade for things they may want, I stopped to look around. There was nothing I wanted to buy, but I bought a wooden spoon so that prisoners could earn a bit of money.
I never heard of education like this in prison, but I don’t know much about prison systems. From what I saw, it sounded reasonable and educational for prisoners to grow their vegetables, maintain their own homes, make things to earn money to buy a few things. The prisoners had minimal items, but I believe they were gaining much in learning about working for what they want in the bare basics and appreciating what they have.
After walking through the small row of merchandise where we had ample time to shop, workers there finally directed us to sit down in two rows of folding chairs. We were going to see a show. As I waited, I wondered what we would see; I had no idea.
What I was about to see was what left a mark in my memory bank. Out came a dozen prisoners. They all had on plain white t-shirts and black pants. They all appeared to be so young-looking. They must have been all teenagers. And they had long prison sentences. They were dancing in unison, and their faces were full of smiles. Their young faces looked so innocent, and their smiles seemed so pure. The image that got stamped in my mind was the expressions on their faces.
These were young adults who would be in jail for a long time; how could they put on such happy and smiling faces? I couldn’t understand it. Even if they were doing it just for the dance performance, I couldn’t see how they could do it. I was dumbfounded. Their faces appeared so innocent I couldn’t see an inkling of how they became murderous felons. I was baffled.
As I watched them dance, bouncing up and down and side-to-side with faces full of smiles, not one smile would appear on my face. My heart ached to see the young adults be in their situation. How will they ever realize any hopes and dreams? They won’t; I wanted to cry, but I controlled my tears from coming out. For a person who doesn’t have much compassion for others, in the moment, I felt myself have a heart. Whether the smiles were genuine or not, it didn’t matter. What does matter is that we learn a lesson from these young felons.
When faced with adversity, we can overcome or move forward by shifting our perspectives. Though we cannot change things that already happened, we can always change the story, the interpretation, the views that would help us move forward or find joy in between.
Watching the young inmates dancing, I reckon they created the dance routine and found a little joy in between through dance. I have no excuse; you have no reason to not also find something that will create smiles on your face when confronted with adversity.
Key Takeaways: Though each musician lost a leg from the minefields in Vietnam, they found a way to band together to make a living playing music. What excuses could I have for not starting a business?
Though some young schoolchildren ran barefoot on gravel-ridden streets because they couldn't afford shoes, they appeared happy. Who am I to complain about anything when I have sixty pairs of shoes and plenty of clothes to wear on my back?
Though the young prisoners faced a lengthy prison sentence, they danced with smiling faces in front of me. The next time I face adversity, can I put on a happy face like them?
Next week, you will hear three new real-life stories called Left to Fend for Myself, Love and Songs, and The Wonders of Perspective III.
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