One Way Ticket Out

The corporate world destroyed me, I was burnt out, and stressed. My self-esteem was at rock bottom, my relationship had fallen apart, and my health was a mess. As I looked at my severance package, I took it as a metaphor for my life. I didn’t have anything left to live for and so I bought a one-way ticket to Vietnam and intended to die there. I chose my “Expiry Date” – January 31, 2015. I decided to give myself six more months to live so I could see the people I wanted to see and do the things I still wanted to do. And I intended to spend the last three months of my life volunteering with disabled children in Vietnam. 

Room Five at the orphanage was a room unlike any I had ever spent time in before. It’s where 20 children who were left alone by the world came to live. More than half of them were abandoned by their parents. They either had a medical condition their parents couldn’t afford to care for or chose not to bother with. There was a minimal level of care for them. They were given food, shelter, clothing and medical care. They were safe. Yet, there was something powerful about Room Five that I just couldn’t ignore so I became their regular volunteer for three months. 

For eight hours a day, five days a week, my purpose was to care for those forgotten children. And as the days and months passed, my spirit for life found its way back to me. I played with their pet rocks with them. I bought socks and hats for them. We played Legos, went outside so they could breathe fresh air and did what I could to keep away from rats and sewage.  The culture shock was what I needed at the lowest point in my life, and it began to bring me out of my haze of depression.  

As my time in Vietnam included Christmas, I decided to spend my final Christmas Day, bringing Santa Claus to the orphanage. The pure and innocent interactions with the children that day sparked a renewed sense of purpose. One of the girls in the orphanage was incredibly ill and we were told on Christmas Day that she wasn’t expected to live through the night. While looking in her eyes and watching her struggle to breathe, I questioned my plan. Why was I giving up when I had so much more I could give and do in the world? In a beautiful shared moment, I learnt I had a “Reason to Breathe” and I chose to live.  

My time spent in Room Five gave me a sense of hope and joy for life that nowhere else in the world could have possibly shown me. And I’ve been back four times since – twice more as Father Christmas – to give back to that special place that taught me how to smile again. 

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