Life is a series of experiences; each experience we face prepares us for the next. This is true even when the experience is negative or harsh. Many years ago, I faced a situation when life threw a curveball at me. But, instead of shrinking away, I faced it. I emerged from that incident and I kept moving to the next. Each experience unfolded, like the petals of a rose, new learning for me. Friends, it’s a story about how I was inspired by a rebel, a misfit, an iconoclast; it’s about involvement with the community, and it’s a story about redemption, renewal and rejuvenation.

It was in the year 2006. I was living in Austin. One day, I came across a newspaper article about Jugal Bhuyan, a young man from my home in India. He was an ex-rebel who was once involved with an armed insurgent group. Eventually he and other group members surrendered when the Government offered amnesty. But unlike others who took government cash and favor, Jugal took the path of serving the poor and underprivileged. I was so moved by the story that I decided to personally pay him a visit during our family vacation to India. However, when I reached home, some of my well-wishers advised me not to go there –unfortunately, the stigma of his past became an albatross around his neck. I didn’t agree -he was someone who had redeemed himself and was doing commendable work for the community. I choose to visit the orphanage and residential school established by Jugal. There I met those children abandoned and neglected by society now cared for by him and his staff; I witnessed firsthand the tremendous dedication of this young man.

The school, situated in the countryside, was abundant with natural beauty. I was enthralled to see a rose garden, a place which Jugal tended to every day with great love and attention. The sight of the radiant rose blooms struck me as I was handed down a flower from the garden. I smiled and held on to it. Like the veritable rose, this man emerged radiant and a new bloom. He learnt his lesson from the wrong choice he made. He was tortured by the police; he was shunned by society, but he didn’t wither. He rose from darkness, turned his life around and became a role model to many.

After returning to the USA, I decided to promote his cause by reaching out to our community. I planned a fundraising and an awareness campaign to raise money for the orphanage. Unfortunately, the prevailing situation was not favorable. The September 11 terror attack was still fresh in people’s mind. Some members questioned the rationale of supporting someone who had a violent past despite the fact that he had redeemed himself. It appeared Jugal wouldn’t get a second chance. I was disheartened and soon overpowered by doubt, cynicism, and disillusion. The radiant rose within me withered and fell away.

I decided to call Jugal, to covey my regret and to let him know that I had failed. Although it was a long-distance call, I heard him loud and clear, “I only need your love and affection, money is not that important. I am grateful to you for talking to me”. The conversation left me dumbfounded; this man had suffered tremendously, yet he never let bitterness break his spirit. He recognized the good in me; I just needed to find the goodness in others. His words set me free, and my fundraising campaign resumed with renewed vigor.

In the year 2006, I attended our community non-profit (Assam Foundation of North America) annual meeting and delivered a speech about Jugal –how he turned his life around and how we too, like him, show our innate capacity for compassion and forgiveness. This time my words resonated with the audience and I was assured of our community support. In the year 2008, I ran the Austin Marathon and raised $5000 towards the school. In the year 2009, the chief minister ( Tarun Gogoi ), the highest executive of my state in India visited Jugal’s school and the story of a rebel’s transformation into a reformer was published in various prominent newspapers.

At each milestone, I experienced growth and blossoming. I transformed from someone, who feared speaking in public into a public speaker, who struggled to run a single mile into a marathon runner, who never wrote outside of the office into a newspaper writer. Friends I feel complete. (Showing the whole rose flower to the audience).

We all have choices to make. (Holding the barren stem in one hand and whole rose flower in the other) – The path of doubt, fear and cynicism or the path of conviction, courage and optimism. I learned from Jugal which one to choose. Life is not easy easy, and life will throw a curveball; what matters is which path you choose to take. Friends, choose the path of greatness, let reach your full potential, let yourself become a radiant rose. (Throwing the rose to the audience)

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