Solomon King

I did my graduate internship with the Humane Society of the United States a couple of years ago. And I had to look for a place to stay in Maryland. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know anyone in it.  And I couldn’t have imagined my time there would lead to this post today.

Mieko King was the landlady of the house I finally rented a room in. Her son was Solomon. And over the time I spent with Mieko, I got to know Solomon. But I never met him.

Solomon was killed in a hit-and-run on Travilah Road, Rockville, Maryland, USA on 13th November 2004. The driver was never caught. Police have described the car as a dark Honda with dark, tinted windows, a 4-door model from 1998-2000. They said the right-front section of the vehicle may have damage from the collision.

Courtesy Mieko King.

But he was more than a faceless victim. Through Mieko, I learned about this special young man.

Solomon was a courageous soul.

Solomon’s life as a child was not easy but he overcame the challenges to become a brave, compassionate and witty boy who brought much laughter and joy to others.

Solomon’s father died when he was four. Mieko King, his mother, brought him up to be a strong young man with sound values so as she put it, “people would never have reason to say he was lacking in any way because he came from a single parent family”.

Solomon suffered third degree burns on his right arm when he was young in an accident at home. He covered his hands for a long time, afraid of stares and what people might say. Then with the love and support of his friends, one day he bravely bared his scarred arm. He inspired great respect for his courage. At one time doctors predicted that Solomon would not write; yet he went on to even continue with his etching artwork.

"I raised Solomon for 16 years and in a second someone took his life away" - Mieko King

Solomon was a poet

Solomon was an artist. 

Hana, Solomon's beloved dog

Soloman was a friend.

Solomons’ friends loved him. They still get together with Mieko on his death anniversary – almost ten years after he died.  That is testimony to the kind of person he was.

Here’s what two of his friends said about him after he was killed:

He was a friend, he gave advice when someone needed it and most of all you could trust him to never leave your side when you needed him… During the school year, Sol and I would always talk about what we were going to do later that afternoon. …These talks helped me to get through many things I couldn’t have gotten through by myself. Sol helped me to get a better understanding through by myself. Sol helped me to get a better understanding of myself and everyone else around me. Sol I love and miss you so much. Life is going to be a lot harder without you.

– TL

You were one of the most caring, loving, whole-hearted funny people I have ever known…. On my fifteenth birthday at exactly 12.00am you called to wish me a happy birthday and came over to celebrate with Alex Santini and I in the snow. You made me feel special. Then we went to sleep and when I woke up my driveway was shoveled. What a wonderful surprise birthday present from my best friend.

– AL

Solomon and Friends

Soloman was a friend to animals too.

He adored Hana, his dog.

And when birds crashed into his home window, he would bury them in the garden, remembering what his mother had taught him on respect for even dead animals.

Solomon was thoughtful. 

 

Mieko transforms Pain to Love

“I raised Solomon for 16 years and in a second someone took his life away…I don’t want to see young people die.”  – Mieko King

Despite the grief of losing her only child, Mieko has acted with such grace and compassion.

She made the decision to donate Solomon’s organs after his death.

Solomon loved art. So Mieko set up a scholarship in honour of Solomon’s extremely giving spirit. The scholarship aims to support Wooten High School students who would like to take pursue art-related courses outside school. Priority is given to students from single parent families. The Scholarship Fund is managed by Wooten High School. Mieko aims to include students who may not be straight-A students but who have a passion and inclination for art. She wants the scholarship to let them know she believes in them – and so would have Solomon.

Mieko King with Wendy, a scholarship recipient

Solomon, Hana, Mieko and I

When I first rented a room in Mieko’s house, Solomon’s room was left in the same way it had been since the day he died. Hana hid under his bed a lot. She didn’t used to when he was alive.

I only stayed for part of that summer. But Hana , Mieko and I became friends. She looked after me like family.

A thoughtful note Mieko left me on the first day of my graduate internship. I appreciated it alot especially as I was in a new place and knew nobody, and so far from home.

 

Mieko's kindness and thoughtfulness transformed her from my landlady into a friend.

 

Life sends us in such unexpected directions where we find unexpected friends.

The next time I visited Mieko months later, something had changed. Solomon’s room has been tidied up and I stayed there. I wasn’t afraid because I had come to know who he was.

During that trip, I took a photo of Solomon’s photo in the living room. And suddenly the flowers near his photo caught the sunlight and became very beautiful. It was like he was the Light. I felt a warmth in my heart.

As I took a photo of Solomon's photo, suddenly the flowers beside the photo lit up with sunlight.

 

I write this for various reasons.

I want to humanise Solomon and Mieko. They represent the many faceless people whose wellbeing we may not think of as they are “strangers” we’re just passing by on the road or through life.

Yes, it would help  if the person who hit Solomon owned up now. But I write this also for the rest of us.

Let us learn to be present wherever we are, especially if we are behind the wheel. I now see many people using their phones when driving. Each time you feel like doing that, please think of Solomon. You may hit someone just like him. 

Hit-and-run accidents happen not just on roads but in our daily lives. Sometimes we hurt people emotionally and move off not knowing the impact we have had.

I never met Solomon but I got to know him through Mieko’s eyes.  He was precious – as precious as each of us.  And so is Mieko. May we learn to be conscious of the impact we have on each other’s lives.

Let us learn the value of owning up to our mistakes and understand that we may hold the key to greater closure for someone.

Let us learn to apologise: Sorry – Part 1,  Sorry – Part 2 I often feel we are so advanced technologically but have forgotten the basics of how to treat our fellow human beings. If for some reason, you cannot apologise directly to someone, you can post on the Levine’s Apology Page. You could donate to or support a cause that is related to how you may have hurt someone. And of course, the best sorry is personal transformation. 

I thank Mieko for continuing to allow Solomon’s story to touch and change more lives. To me, he is an angel, still helping us after he has left.

How has this story impacted you? Please leave any feedback so I can share it with Mieko.  Let her know how Solomon has left a legacy in your life. Thank you.

Accidents on Montgomery Road Kill Two Teens

Neighbours Dedicate Playground to Solomon King

We don’t know what was happening with the driver that caused the accident. But I do know that texting and driving is becoming a threat to many lives today so please support the Stop the Texts campaign and take Oprah’s No Phone Zone pledge. Help share this powerful video.

Against all Odds

In “The Path to Love”, Deepak Chopra shares a deeply moving true story that happened during the Holocaust. A doctor was performing a tortorous medical “experiment” on a young Catholic woman. The woman suffered immensely and died a slow and painful death. Just before that, she whispered something softly. The doctor thought it was a curse and withdrew from the young woman. The young woman reached out. She had difficulty lifting something from her neck. Finally she held it out to her torturer. “For you”, she whispered, as she handed her rosary to the doctor, leaving this world with a blessing in exchange for her suffering.

Do you have a gunshot wound? We all do.

I took a transformative workshop by Dr Donna Hicks when I was at Columbia University a few years ago. It was on healing and reconciling relationships through the power of dignity. And one image she painted through her writing has stuck with me for years – that emotional wounds are like gunshot wounds…

“The desire for dignity is a powerful force and the time has come to recognize and understand it. What is so critical to understand is that the experience of humiliation, resentment, and anger that these dignity violations instinctively create does not go away on its own. The injuries are as serious as a gunshot wound, but no one is rushed into an emergency room when they happen. There is no 911 call for when we have been shamed, misunderstood, treated as invisible, or had our identity dishonored, and these unattended injuries can fester in our inner worlds for a lifetime, severely affecting how we feel about ourselves as well as our capacity to be in relationship with others. They leave a vengeful and often crippling mark and without attention paid to these injuries, they can linger on in perpetuity, dominating one’s personal and group consciousness. (by Donna Hicks, as quoted in Berfrois. Donna has written “Dignity:The Essential Role it Plays in resolving Conflict.“)

Our emotional wounds can affect us in different ways:

– As she notes above, our relationships can suffer. We can unknowingly inflict our unhealed emotional wounds on others. I have also noticed that I attract certain relationships (whether at work or on the personal front) that seem to mirror any unhealed wounds I have.

– We can become physically ill.  Scientists are now discovering how our emotional and mental states are linked with our physical wellness and illness.

So healing our emotional wounds has immense benefit for us.

The way we choose to heal may vary. There are many methods, tools, professionals – some more effective than others. We need to use our intuition and wisdom to choose wisely.

I have tried different tools over the years. Finally though what helped me were simple and fairly inexpensive things

– sharing my feelings and unmet needs to deeply compassionate and wise people (some were not even helping professionals). Some may have gone through a similar experience and come out wiser and more loving (not bitter or fearful).

– listening to the life lessons in the wound. What could I learn from it? If the wound could speak, what was it trying to tell me? How could I become a better, instead of bitter, person because of it? What was I grateful for?

– accepting that it is part of my story with grace and thinking, “How I use it for the betterment of others is what matters now”.

reading books and articles that have wisdom to offer. These books often chose me instead of me choosing them. They would draw me naturally at bookshops, or online.

homeopathy (at specific times only)

What could help you heal? Set a powerful intention to heal, and can attract the right resources (people, tools, books etc) to help you on that journey. Please note that sometimes professional therapeutic help is needed.

(This piece focuses on our wounds. However we are not only wounded beings.  We have strengths such as resilience, courage and compassion. We have both light and darkness.)

Related: Forgiveness

Crushed – What Can We Do?

On Saturday, 18 Feb 2012, a worker from China got folded into a dough-mixing machine as it began churning. He was crushed and killed.

The dead man’s girlfriend, Ms Feng Weijia, told Chinese newspaper Lianhe Wanbao, that they were going to get married next year. Apparently, her boyfriend had said that he had a good boss but that he  was working overtime – about 12 to 16 hours at a time – almost daily.

Investigations are undergoing.

I couldn’t turn the page when I read this news report. Various thoughts emerged:

– Let’s say it was true that he was working 12-16 hours frequently. Could working shorter hours have meant he is alive today? Could he have been alert enough to withdraw his foot fast enough? Or been more mindful of his safety? Or remember any safety instructions he had been given? Was he too tired? Maybe.

– How about his employers? Do they work long hours too that affects their own wellbeing adversely? Is that why this practice is probably trickling down and affecting their workers? If they knew in their hearts that compassion is a big part of being joyful, could this death have been prevented?

What if we know his employers, or other employers or realise that we are “employers” ourselves? We belong to clubs, associations, alumni groups, schools, places of worship and of course our own places of employment. We know others from there.  These places have staff, both permanent and contract workers. If we have influence in these settings, we could use that to enable these employees to be safer and happier. What conversations could we start to enable this? How would we invite family members, friends and others in our affiliated groups to run their businesses more consciously and compassionately?  How could we support them to be compassionate to themselves, as well as those they work with?

Remuneration, working hours, workplace safety, medical support when injured, accommodation, food, transport, and potential for growth – these are some key areas we could pay attention to. I don’t currently have a precise list of questions we could pose to contractors etc. For now, let’s try common sense and what we would want for someone we love dearly.

How could we create systems of transparency and accountability where we really get to know what’s going on the ground for contract workers especially? What could we witness and check first-hand?

– There’s alot of talk on Corporate Social  Responsibility these days. My thinking is that the best CSR starts with one’s own employees. No need to go far to find suffering to alleviate or to bring joy to others.

If you agree, and have opportunities, could you help shape the CSR discourse to integrate more of such a view?

Yes, some changes require more money.  Are we willing to pay more to enable these employees to have a better life? What would it feel like to vote for compassion with our money? How about using some of the money we want to give away in the name of CSR to actually making changes in our own companies/organisations that can help protect more lives, and help employees be happier?

How could we do as much as our compassion and wisdom guide us to, and not only follow legislation? Fo example, it’s legal to transport workers in goods vehicles. But if we really cared about their safety, we could transport them in passenger vehicles.

This week, another worker, Mr Ibrahim, 22, was killed when the lorry in which he was being transported in met with an accident. Others were injured.

But those are the few that we get to know of. I know there’s probably more employees who got injured this week. Maybe more died.

I now have a start-up that helps businesses help their employees to be happier. It’s my own small way of helping to change things. What could yours be? Where’s your sphere of influence? How could you use it peacefully and constructively?

Every small bit helps. Let’s not let this man’s tragic death be in vain.

For a start, could you bring/raise the ideas in this post to any upcoming meeting and start a dialogue around it? Or simply forward this to someone with a note on what could be done in the organisation you’re from?

(PS: I also try to heal my own blindspots, inconsistencies, short-sightedness as I believe that societal transformation starts with personal transformation. If not, I may be the unwitting cause of someone writing a blog somewhere about my actions, and how s/he needs to try and change mine!)


 

 

Scammed

I believe that I am a survivor of a scam (I don’t like the word “victim”).

I looked up some rental apartments in London and paid up and then the company didn’t give me further instructions or return my emails.

Here's the apartment I had booked

Then I looked up some forums and newspaper articles online about such scams. They

– ask you to wire money over and credit card is not accepted

– have great looking apartments at incredibly low prices

– have apartments which are available readily, even last minute

So I have now accepted the loss of my money.

Be careful so you can protect yourself.

It’s funny…I just was listening to Stephen and Ondrea Levine reiterate many of my beliefs on the power of forgiveness on Levine Talks and did a forgiveness process  two days ago and then got this opportunity to forgive.

The loss of the money does hurt. But I forgive the people involved, and hope they will be transformed by love and truth.

Now that I’m a strengths practitioner, I’m drawn to looking at people’s beauty even more than before…and everyone has strengths, even the people who have taken my money. May we build a world where we teach our children to use their strengths for a higher purpose…Do log on to the VIA Institute on Character and Realise2 to learn more about using your strengths…There’s a free version of the VIA Character strengths survey too.

Anyway, here’s my email to the person who took my reservation and stopped communicating with me when I asked for details about the apartment. I felt a strange, expansive beautiful and light feeling after I sent it.

Forgiveness and using people as mirrors so we can grow from such incidents feels very freeing.

Learn more about the power of love and forgiveness from The Fetzer Institute.

—————-

Dear Pedro or whatever your name is,

It looks like you have taken my money without having any real apartments to rent to me so I write this letter from my heart. (If I am wrong, please correct me.)

I forgive you.

I don’t condone your actions but I forgive YOU.

You have your reasons for what you do and you are trying to meet your needs in the way you know to be best. There is a story behind why you do what you do and I wish I could hear it.

I can see your strengths in being able to appreciate beauty (through the beautiful pictures of the apartments), in seizing opportunities etc. Perhaps you could learn more about your strengths or simply watch this inspiring video, “Re-building your life through character strengths“.

Imagine how life would be if you used these strengths for a higher purpose where you served people and brought them happiness…

I hope you experience Truth/Conscience/Higher Power/God/Love, whatever makes sense to you that has the power to touch you with the transformative and healing power of love.

You have also helped me look at myself. Where have I said something and done something else? Where have I wrongly led people (or myself) on, whether intentionally or not? Those are for me to investigate and forgive myself for and not do again to the best of my ability.

I hope you will return my money. I am trying to do good with it through a project to bring people greater happiness. Oddly that’s what I am coming to London for – to learn about peace in everyday life and creating systems where people are happier.

Your actions, if they indeed are what I think they are, could be hurting many people.

May you be blessed one day with the amazing peace and joy that comes from bringing happiness to others…

Vadivu

Broken Open

This passage by Parker Palmer describes one of my key life lessons.

—–

There is no way to be human without having one’s heart broken. But there are at least two ways for the heart to break – using “heart” in its root meaning, not merely the seat of emotions but the core of our sense of self.

The heart can be broken into a thousand shards, sharp-edged fragments that sometimes become shrapnel aimed at the source of our pain. Every day, untold numbers of people try without success to “pick up the pieces”, some of them taking grim satisfaction in the way the heart’s explosion has injured their enemies. Here the broken heart is an unresolved wound that we carry with us for a long time, sometimes tucking it away and feeding it as a hidden wound, sometimes trying to “resolve it” by inflicting the same wound on others.

But there is another way to visualise what a broken heart might mean. Imagine that small, clenched fist of a heart “broken open” into largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy. This, too, happens every day. We know that heartbreak can become a source of compassion and grace because we have seen it happens with our own eyes as people enlarge their capacity for empathy and their ability to attend to the suffering of others.

– “A broken-open heart” in “Weavings”

—–

 

 

Speaking Up for Safety

I’m delighted to share that a barrier has been put up at the place where I fell and injured my foot a few months ago!

In July, I fell on what I thought was a flat surface but was actually a step.  I called a friend and when she came towards me to help me, she fell on the same place too! A food vendor who was nearby gesticulated to me that he had seen other people falling there, including an “ah-pek” (Hokkien for old man). This really disturbed me. Perhaps people could be more seriously injured than me or face financial problems dealing with the medical treatment…

At the hospital with a cracked heel and torn ligament.

I had to use a walker, then crutches and an aircast. Those were painful and cumbersome days!

The place where I fell, a few days after the accident. Yellow line didn't help me I'm afraid!

I wrote in to Minister Khaw of the Ministry of National Development, Land Transport Authority (although I learnt later that this wasn’t within their purview) and the Building and Construction Authority, asking for empathy in design and for a barrier such as a railing to be put up.  I’m very pleased to report that  a railing has been put up! Lots of thanks to all who took action.

Accident-site, with new railings

This is only one small action I took but I’m a little more at ease knowing that railing is there, preventing more people from falling. That yellow line was meant to signal a potential hazard and that’s a good start but it wasn’t enough for me, my friend or the others who had fallen there.  I hope architects and others can pay more attention to greater empathy in design.

Let’s dare to care and take action on things that matter. Let’s ask for meaningful changes adopting a positive, constructive and helpful tone. Let’s thank the relevant parties when action has been taken. And let’s share our stories so we can improve our community in our own small ways…it adds up…

Where could you take similar action and speak up to prevent suffering to others? Are you a pedestrian who has fallen or almost fallen or even just noticed a safety hazard on the road/pathway?  Are you an engineer or safety inspector at construction/worksites who has witnessed safety violations? Have you noticed workplace safety hazards in your office?   One action of yours could make a huge difference to others’ lives – as well as yours, one day.

Or do you have a successful story to share on taking constructive action and having made a difference?

PS: As mentioned, I wasn’t using a phone when walking that day. Yet I fell. I often see people texting while walking. The chances of them falling or getting into accidents is even higher. One taxi driver shared with me that more people have been knocked down while crossing the road and looking at their phones….

 

Hope for our World translations

Mattie, Jeni and Micah on Larry King Live, spreading the message of peace and hope

Dear Friends,

In March I had appealed to you to help translate a peace poem, “Hope for the World”, by the late Mattie Stepanek.  Amber Sawyer, a reader and friend, mobilised her contacts to translate and we submitted translations in Chinese, Tamil, Hindi, Gujarati, French and Malay to Mattie’s mum, Jeni.

Huge gratitude to Amber, Kanya Kanchana, Sujata Cowlagi, Jocelyne Girard, Padma Navaratnam, New Fang Fang, Rachel Neo, Govind Cowlagi and Hayati Suaidi for enabling this poem to reach more people around the world.

Mattie’s new website is complete and the translations have been posted! So if the poem speaks to you, please send it on, use it in class/place of worship/at home in a language that is useful for your community.

Mattie inspires me because despite his illness and struggles, his didn’t become embittered about life. His resilience, hope and optimism shone through. He inspires me because he believed that to have peace in the world, we need to practise it in our lives, moment to moment. We can learn much from him.

Watch Jeni speak about Mattie’s life

Peace, Vadivu

—-

Here’s the poem again:

FOR OUR WORLD

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment…
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment…
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment…
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice…
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment…
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

Mattie J.T. Stepanek ©
September 11, 2001

Hope Through Heartsongs
Hyperion, 2002
Just Peace: A Message of Hope
Andrews McMeel, 2006

Peace Poem + Help Needed

Hi all,

In one part of the world, we watch the aftermath of the tsunami and in other parts we witness or personally catalyse man-made violence. We are shocked by nature’s fury and destruction yet we hold so much in our thoughts, speech and actions. So I want to share something very special today and ask for your help.

Mattie Stepanek was a gifted and wise young man, a poet and philosopher. The first time I saw him was on Oprah many years ago and I was moved to tears by his wisdom. I highly recommend his poems for both adults and children.

Mattie represents the good we can do, and speak and be even if we are dealt with harsh blows in life.

Mattie suffered from muscular dystrophy and died in 2004 just before his 14th birthday. I recently got in touch with his mum , Jeni Stepanek, author of “Messenger: Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs” to ask for permission to re-publish a few of his poems here.  She is on a mission to  spread Mattie’s poem, “For our world” as much as she can.

In a message, Jeni writes, “This poem was written by Mattie on 9/11/2001, as he watched his personal friends perish during terrorist attacks. It is his response to universal questions of “What now? What next?” He hoped that one day, these words would serve as an international poem for peace.”

Jeni’s looking to get it translated in as many languages as possible. So I’m hoping our community can help her. She has some European translations so she’s looking for languages from all other regions. She’ll publish names of volunteer translators on the new website. Or let me know if you’d would like to do this as a member of the happiness.sg community. 

Email me at vadivu[at]happiness.sg if you can help translate the poem by 2nd April. Let’s ensure we translate with accuracy so we can keep Mattie’s message true to what he meant. I’ll try and get translations checked so there might be editing of the original translation.

Let’s take a moment to read and share the poem in our networks – with self-awareness of how much more of it we could practise and how much we can intend for those we send it to to have enough space in their hearts to receive it.

I have highlighted my favourite section. What’s yours?

With gratitude, Vadivu

———–

For Our World
   By Mattie J.T. Stepanek
We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.
September 11, 2001
© Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek
Used with permission from
Hope Through Heartsongs, Hyperion, 2002 and
Just Peace: A Message of Hope, AMP, 2006

PS: Since I wrote this post today morning, here’s the status of translations in the following languages:

Chinese – kindly done by Bridgette New.

Malay – Yati working on it.

Japanese – possibility (no confirmation yet).

 

Tsunami Lotus

Dear Friends,

This lotus represents the healing and transformation that could come out of the tsunami that I shared about in my earlier post; healing and transformation related to areas such as self-care, wisdom in compassion, hope, balance, appreciating life and loved ones and being sensitive to more common silent tsunamis we may catalyse in others’ lives.  

If my earlier post resonated with you, I’d like to ask you to download and post this lotus as your Facebook profile or put it on your blog/website. But before that, I’d be grateful if you could

Connect with the contents of the earlier post, especially on what you already practise in your life or are striving to practise. Reflect on what else you would like to try more conscientiously. (Why? I believe that when we pass on messages that we ourselves practise, the impact is far deeper than if we don’t practise what we preach. We are overloaded with information and advertising so I believe that messages that ripple out from the actions of role-models have the highest chance of reaching people’s hearts.)

Intend that as you spread the lotus to others, you are spreading healing and positive transformation.

The beautiful artwork of the lotus is by Melissa De Silva with further design support from Winston Cangsuco from The Patatas.

Thank you for helping me help me spread this lotus with awareness, intention and love. May we evolve as a global community from this tragedy. ~Vadivu

PS: If you use the lotus, drop a comment if you feel inclined. Would be nice to know where the lotus travels. Thank you.