I Expect to Pass this Way but Once…

“I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

~ Etienne de Grellet

I stuck a poster with this exact same quote on the back of my school file, back in those glorious IJ days, when I was still clad in a blue & white pinafore and had a bouncy ponytail. I must’ve been (what) 14 or 15 years old?
When the poster was eventually replaced by one of Australian tennis sensation Pat Cash, I stuck it up on my bedroom wall, facing my bed. Right beside the one that said, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it is yours; if it doesn’t, it never was.” Yup, those were two wise quotes I carried in my heart all through my growing-up years, into adulthood.
I’m reflecting on this partly because on my bedside table now is a book which I started reading in Kathmandu, Nepal. It’s called The Time Traveler’s Wife, and it tells of how a man named Henry travels back & forth in time, to visit his one true love Clare, and to live & relive various aspects of his life, especially the traumatic ones (like seeing his mother killed in a car crash).
I sometimes wish I could. Time travel, that is. To go back to moments in my life that I could savour again and again, to undo wrongs, to once again spend time with people I didn’t cherish before and who are now out of my life… I don’t like regrets. I don’t like living with “what if’s” and “if only’s”. That’s why Ning & I decided to put an unexpected pause on our successful careers to tick big, fat items off our Bucket Lists.
But that aside, the truth is that we only go ONE WAY. And that is, forward… forward… forward… There is no turning back, no rewinds, no replays. If you’re walking along a road and see someone who needs help… if you hesitate for just a brief moment, you’re likely to walk on by, and that opportunity is gone forever. You may think about it the rest of the day, but you can never go back to that moment.
When Ning & I were in Bhutan, we had a guide called Sonam. He is devoutly  Buddhist, and always sharing with us about the rich history & culture of Tibetan Buddhism. Most Bhutanese are Buddhists, and the whole country is bursting with colourful prayer flags, giant prayer wheels, temples, monks, and Buddhist thangkas, paintings & sculptures.

Colourful prayer flags flapping in the wing at Tiger's Nest (Paro, Bhutan).

Once, when we were strolling through the beautiful Bhutanese countryside at Punakha, heading to the Temple of the Divine Madman…

Sonam walking ahead of us in the countryside, when a flock of birds take to the skies with a grand flutter of wings.

… Sonam stopped by a barbed-wire fence to help free a child who was stuck there. She was a farm child, quietly struggling to untangle her clothes caught in the wire.
Our devoutly Buddhist guide, Sonam, stops along the way to free a child stuck in a barbed wire fence, Bhutan.

Sonam did not hesitate at all. He gently approached her, said something to her in his deep soothing voice, and she stopped struggling. He leaned over and tugged her jacket off the barbed wire, and she scurried off to join her lil’ friends down the field.
The Buddhists believe in Karma. You do good, good comes back to you. You go bad, bad comes back to you. It’s the law of the universe. And I’m sure we’ve all seen that principle operating in our lives…
This reminds me of something I heard on Channel NewsAsia, when Melissa Hyak was interviewing a panel of speakers for Singapore Kindness Movement 2011. I really liked what the Deputy Principal of Raffles Girls’ School said on that episode of  Talking Point. To make something part of your life, it’s as simple as: KNOW, DO, BE.
You KNOW you should do good, to go beyond your comfort zone and help another human being in need, we all KNOW it. Well then, don’t hesitate. Just DO it, when the opportunity presents itself. And when you DO it again and again, until it becomes instinctive, spontaneous, automatic, you BE it. You become that person who is wise and compassionate.
I think one thing I’ve learnt from my travels to the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet is this. And although I’m brought up Catholic, I think there is a strong pull for me to understand the precepts of Buddhism better, because there is just so much wisdom and compassion in those teachings.
May you take this quote with you, as you start your Sunday. Here’s wishing you courage and boldness (as I wish myself, too!) to do good or show kindness, without deferring or neglecting any opportunity that presents itself to you today. We do, after all, pass this way but once.


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