Value The Relationships You Have

My advice

Never judge a book by its cover, value the relationships you have and never give up hope.

Around 20 years ago I was lucky enough to get posted to Asia by my company. It went really well, I got married to a local and things were going nicely. Nice salary, nice lifestyle, but then it came crumbling down. I was to see rock bottom.

It was the usual “expat” marital troubles, leading to a really messy and expensive divorce which took five years to get through. Combine that with a narcissistic boss and I was struggling to function in normal daily life. Anxiety and depression (on top of ADHD) were taking their toll.

One thing led to another, and somehow I missed two court appearances, my anxiety had caused me to simply block them out. In that particular country the judge can ask the other party if they want the police to pick you up under an arrest warrant. She said yes. Quite drastic, I’d been easy to find all along and there was a good reason for me skipping the court appearance as my Doctor would later testify.

A week later, I found myself arrested in front of a large crowd of onlookers and then thrown onto a bare concrete jail cell floor, with bleeding wrists from handcuffs I’d worn for six hours. You see I had said upon admission to the police station that I needed medication for anxiety and depression, so for six hours, I was in the hospital waiting for a Doctor to say I was fit to be jailed. Six hours slumped in a wheelchair, hands and feet bound – they didn’t like to mess around.

I was sitting in a large empty cell, on the concrete floor for what seemed like hours when the keys jangled and an Asian guy covered head to toe in tattoos landed on the floor beside me. He was young and if this had been Japan I would have been sure he was Yakuza. I didn’t dare look at him, let alone talk to him.

About an hour later, we were given a polystyrene box, full of food. That was the only decent bit of the zero star accommodation. It was Asia so they’d left the slimy bits and all the bones on the meat and I didn’t much fancy the limp chicken skin and tendons. For some inexplicable reason I said to my “gangster” friend “would you like my chicken?”. He looked me in the eye and grabbed it as if he had not eaten for days. He probably hadn’t.

As he looked at me I noticed fear in his eyes. He talked to me, asked me what a Caucasian like me was doing in a place like this.

He started to tell me that he’d just turned 18, had been arrested for rioting (in that country that’s the equivalent of two people arguing and knocking over the table). It wasn’t his first arrest either, and he didn’t know what to do, he had no one to bail him out.

He explained that he had been fostered as a kid, he’d lost his parents when they disappeared many years earlier. On his previous arrest his foster mum had come to get him, but just days into being 18 he was now on his own. Here we were, no longer an expat ex-banker and fearsome gangster but two humans talking. The playing field was well and truly level.

What happened next was unbelievable. He started talking profoundly. There we were, poles apart, but this kid was now giving me a life lesson.

His words said with such passion and conviction that I will never forget them:

“Never stop telling your parents that you love them because one day you won’t be able to any more”.

It was an emotional moment I’ll treasure forever.

That young man will never know how he touched my life. Last year my Dad died. I was never one to tell my Dad I loved him, but I had done a year or so before as a result of my cell-mate. And there, now laying on his death bed, my Dad’s last smile to anyone in the family was to me after I said: “I love you Dad”.

I got to say those words one last time standing in the church at my Dads funeral. I told this story as part of my eulogy and mentioned what had happened on that concrete floor. I could see tears in peoples eyes. Although on the other hand, they couldn’t wait to get to the wake and asked me what I had been arrested for.

I really believe that my young friend and I were put together in that cell for a reason. At first, an onlooker might have thought I was there to try and inspire the young man, and that might well be the case. But I hold on to the belief myself that I needed to hear the wisdom of that troubled, unfortunate young man and that even from where he was standing – he was wiser than I would ever be.

Sadly I never got to say goodbye to him. He’d fallen asleep on the hard floor just as I was frog-marched out of the cell to be released under bail. My biggest regret was staying silent when ordered to by the Policeman as we left the cell. I hope that the young man didn’t wake alone in an empty cell.

Never judge a book by its cover, you just don’t know what is behind someone, or what they are thinking unless you ask them. Value the relationships you have, they are worth more than anything. If you don’t believe that relationships are so important to happiness go look up the long-running Harvard Study.

Lastly and importantly, even if you hit rock bottom never stop hoping. Because, from that jail cell and the depths of despair I’m now running my own business, helping people with mental health issues. My friend in that cell should probably be listed as a co-founder of my business. He inspired me. Thank you A, wherever you are, you touched my life.