As regular readers of this column will know, I love to have conversations with older people. For the most part, it’s like receiving free entertainment and an education all at once.
Last week, I was grateful to be in the presence of Mr Raja Reegon, a spirited gentleman from Klang who never fails to hold visitors captivated by his storytelling, and uplifted by his words of wisdom.
Sadly, Mr Reegon’s health isn’t at its best, which leaves a greater impression when he enquires more about the welfare of those who visit him rather than talk about his own problems. If I have half the stoic resolve he does if I get to live to old age, I’ll count myself extremely blessed.
As we spoke, he told me of his working days in Port Klang, and shared insights into his life-long involvement with the church and the community. A proud family man, he is testament to the notion that the more we give, the more we receive. It’s clear that Mr Reegon is a man who is as much respected as he is loved by everyone around him.
After a while, we discovered a shared admiration for the saints Padre Pio and Francis of Assisi, and our discussion turned towards religion and spirituality. I asked him, “What would you say is the most important lesson you have taken from the Bible?”
I expected a recital of a few favourite verses, but like anyone who truly lives their faith, Mr Reegon possesses wisdom beyond the words and was able to offer his own insights.
He replied, “The most important thing is to look at how we are living, how we are with others, and what we’re doing to make our society better.”
Whenever I get the chance to visit Mr Reegon and his wonderful wife, Mary, I always feel at peace. It’s obvious that the family’s admiration for St Francis is deeply reverent, as they offer their delightful hospitality and show their faith through a graceful humility that is always kind and affectionate.
In my previous column, I wrote that young people would do well to spend more time in the company of elders who have valuable life lessons to share (“Learning from our elders is our greatest investment”, Nov 20; online at tinyurl.com/star2-older), but I also realised that spending time with older generations brings us more into the present and enjoy the experience of each moment we have.
Certainly, being sat next to Mr Reegon made me forget time altogether as I listened to his stories and shared a few jokes. Even with his health issues, he was able to be joyful, entertaining and informative as we talked about work, religion, and current affairs. I would be grateful now to have a mind that’s as sharp as his, let alone when I’m old!
Making my way back home, I reflected on why it is that I find solace and inspiration in being with people like Mr Reegon.
After a few moments, the reason came to me that it’s because these kinds of hard-working, faithful, kind and patient people live life well, to the point where even looking towards the end of life can be done with an acceptance tinged with joy.
I’ve read many books on what it means to live a good life, and how to be the kind of person that leaves behind positive memories and loving relationships. And yet, some people are able to simply get on and do it, led by their faith, love for family, and a sense of duty towards their community and wider society.
I sincerely count myself fortunate to be able to spend time with people such as Mr Reegon – and Mr Edward Louis, also of Klang – and family members, as they provide me with more insights and inspiration to be better than any book I’ve read.
The American psychologist, Carl Rogers, would ask himself the question, “Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?” Whenever I spend time with anyone who lives authentically (which, in my experience, is found mostly in older generations), I’m reminded to keep striving towards not just reading more about how to live a good life, but actually trying my best to live it.
In Buddhism, there is a saying, “What use are holy words if you don’t act upon them?” When we simply think or read about leading a good life but don’t do much to act on it, it’s like having a medicine bottle and just reading the directions without bothering to take the medicine.
Having the privilege to learn from gentlemen such as Mr Reegon, Mr Louis, and Major K.F. Teh (more on him soon), I’m reminded of the importance of two things for those of us who still have much to learn: to accept ourselves as flawed humans who will mess up from time to time; and to be active in shaping the lives we want to lead, with the recognition that it takes more than desire to be the best we can be.