On September 28, 1993, I began my journey into independence. The vivid scene of the tearful company I bid farewell to was locked in the depths of my memory. A pressing question nagged me as I boarded the plane: Why was I given the opportunity to go abroad?
I was preoccupied with reading cards from my family and friends during my trip. Many at the moment of my departure expressed heartfelt appreciation for my friendship. I remembered feeling very blessed and loved as I attempted to pen into my journal the names of every person who had turned up to bid me farewell. I said my first prayer of thanksgiving: "Thank you, Lord, for my family and friends who love me dearly."
I spent my first week getting oriented to the borough of Cambridgeshire, England. This included a tour of some colleges belonging to the University of Cambridge. My first visit to Trinity College, the largest and wealthiest of these colleges, left me awestruck. The architecture of its courts is individually distinct and magnificentâ€”a towering fountain and a huge clock take center stage in the old court which is lined by buildings made colorful by creepers budding out of every wall crevice. The back of this college enjoys a picturesque view of the River Cam. Here, clay-like Mandarin ducks sashay down the river in groups. Amidst the vast expanse of greenery that enfolds, two rows of trees line the driveway leading to the back entrance of the college. The golden brown leaves falling from the trees add to the beauty of the entire scene. When I took in the sight before me, I recalled the words of the psalmist, "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, You who set your glory above the heavens!" (Ps 8:1). On this occasion, I said my second thanksgiving prayer to God, "Thank you Lord for the beauty of your creation."
As I left the dream-like paradise, I was struck with the thought that beautiful as nature may be, life consists of more than just ducks, rivers and trees. Whether we like it or not, life consists of people and our dealings with other human beings. This practical consideration was jolted into harsh reality when I witnessed shivering, homeless souls on the poorer streets of London, covered only with worn-out woollen blankets. Many had posters hung across their chests which read, "I am shivering and hungry. Please help!" I was in a dilemma: do I give them dinner to satisfy their hunger, gloves to keep them warm or a shelter to rest their bodies? I realized then while I had shamelessly taken all these for granted in Singapore, of life. I said my third thanksgiving prayer to God with a lump in my throat, "Thank you Lord for others were sadly deprived of even the bare necessities food to fill my hunger, clothes to protect me and a shelter over my head."
On the last afternoon before I left for my end-of-term holiday, I was strolling down to town, unwinding after a very hectic first term. The question that had nagged at me when I left Singapore, returned once again. Just as I was gathering my thoughts and reflecting upon the events of the past eight weeks, a robotic "Excuse me" sounded behind me. I whizzed round and was about to apologise when I stared agape at the person who had made that request. Seated in a motorized wheelchair that had a computer screen attached to its side, was the renowned theoretical physicist, acclaimed to be the Einstein of our time, Professor Stephen Hawking. He is a man I had previously heard about and whose battle against ALS I had marvelled at. To see him being guided by his nurse along the busy streets, to witness his attempt to live life normally despite his paraplegic appearance, was a totally humbling experience for me. I was at a loss for words. I quickly apologized and walked ahead. After two minutes, I turned back to catch another glimpse of him. He was barely ten meters from where I first met him. His motorized wheelchair had strayed towards the direction of the road and had to be guided back to the pavement by his nurse. I walked on silently for half an hour. When I regained my composure, I found the answer to my nagging question. I had been sent abroad to experience how blessed I am in all God had given me. This time, with tears flowing from my eyes, I said my final thanksgiving prayer to God, "Thank you Lord, for making me whole."