Life is like the ocean, where wonders lay below the surface
Student-inmate studying for a degree from institution TM1
Have you ever seen an ocean? In my 43 years of life, I have been blessed to have sailed across three of them. Magnificent bodies of water, so vast and multi-faceted that most people are never able to fully grasp or comprehend beyond what they see on the surface. Yet I have been able to identify the vicissitude periods of my life with this very incomprehensible nature of an ocean. Sometimes mundane, sometimes turbulent, and sometimes surreal.
In my first 15 years of my life, my family and relatives all had their own image of who I should be. Maybe an obedient son, a joyful cousin, or a good student. Yet, I was never asked who I wanted to be. Whenever I tried to voice my opinions more often than not, they were brushed away as simply childish banter. Even when things went against their expectations like a poor PSLE grade for example, I was never asked for reasons why. Being older, everyone had the answer to why things were the way they are. All they had to do was of me to being just a mediocre student with complete disregard of my voice. I lived like a diver trapped under a glass dome in this dark ocean of indifference, powerlessly watching the cable that connected me to the outside world snap and knowing that I will never be pulled up soundless depth.
As I sunk into the dark abyss, I became more withdrawn and started to speak less. Everyone just thought that I am one who prefers to be quiet. Nobody noticed the change in me. I simply became a mirror sea, with a surface free from any waves or disturbances, providing a perfect reflection for all who looks upon it. I simply grew to be the image of being lonesome and mediocre. Being solely focused on the image of me that they have in their heads, none noticed all the restless under our undercurrent cunning below the surface.
The next critical phase in my life was from my teens till my late thirties. It was like the raging Pacific during the height of typhoon season, where an orchestra of crashing waves, howling winds, daggers of lighting and rumbling thunder play out a pitiless symphony. I started to join gangs and got into fights and illegal activities such as drugs and gambling. When all attempts by my family to change me failed, they sent me overseas at the age of 16, hoping that things will get better. The only change that came out of that decision was my immersion into the world of drugs. Drugs in any form, liquids, pills and even vapours became my constant companions - they became the substitute for my lost inner voice.
When I came back to Singapore, I was beyond the reach of my family and relatives. I became a force of nature that was fuelled by enters the tides of negative influences from gangs and charged by endless waves of paranoia and mania from drugs. I was so deeply entrenched that none could enter. I pushed, I shoved, and I clobbered the worries, the care, and the love of all those around me. I pulled, I tore, and I ripped asunder my career, my life, and most of all, my family!
This was the time where I lost many basic emotions. Happiness, loneliness and even fear were strangers to me. All my outer being knew was a sense of anger and a need to hurt. When I was arrested and subsequently sentenced to 22 years and 8 months imprisonment, an abysmal sense of despair co-mingled with my constant anger to send me into a quagmire, one that that I way out of. Even after the effects of drugs have worn off, this sense of anger and despair never left me. When I tried to look deep within myself, there was only blinding darkness and a deafening silence. Yet it was during the later part of my sentence that I found myself again.
This became the third critical phase of my life. When I was 40, I was blessed to meet an amazing person, L. L came into my life like the blazing sun rising over the horizon burning through the darkness of my past. L saw beyond the anarchy of my life and dived below the waves of my outer shell and discovered the trapped me within. L remains the only person whom I had shared the full details of my past with, a past that was filled with much violence and countless nefarious deeds. Rather than simply judging me, L wanted to understand my thoughts and feelings. L's candour and sincerity helped me to see the light of the outside world again, and also to trust once more.
Over time, L helped me to rediscover not only myself, but also the hope and courage to break free from my past. This led to the most memorable moment of my life. On that day, I shared with L that I had decided to start a new and break all may past associates. L's first reaction was not one of happiness, but of worry! Without any knowledge of how gangs operate, L was concerned that I may come to harm for wanting to leave them. At that moment, I knew that in L, I had found the friend who I will cherish for life.
As different as we were, I discovered a friendship that is as beautiful as an ocean sunset. At the very moment when the sun touches the horizon and gives off a riotous burst of glorious shades of red, brilliant orange and elegant purple, and the entire ocean surface is a panoply of dreamlike colours. This phase of my life serves as the greatest motivation for me to start a better life and rebuild all the broken relationships that I had caused.
As I look through the different phases of my life, over things that I had destroyed, the lives that I had hurt, the hope that I had rediscovered, and the friend whom I had come to know, I know that I will face the future with a whole new perspective and belief. Just as the ocean is difficult to grasp, life is like the ocean, where possibilities lay to be discovered by those who venture its depth and look beyond its horizon. Let’s all look beyond the surface of those around us discover who each of us can truly be.