18 January 2019
I was advised from a very young age not to run lest it called attention to my deformed leg. Yet whenever someone paid me a compliment whether it was for being clever, or pretty, some of the female folks in my family would rush in to respond with a sigh, “What’s the point? She has a bad leg.” I resented their speaking on my behalf. But most of all I resented them for robbing me of the joy of receiving a praise, however transient, and for using my leg to negate all the other possible positives that I could be experiencing.
In trying to prepare me for the “real” world, they could have thought that by highlighting my handicap earlier on in life each time I got complimented, they were training me to be realistic so that I wouldn’t be easily hurt by remarks pertaining to my leg later on when I grew up.
But protective measures that are motivated by guilt and fear have a way of increasing the burden of the very person or animal we claim to be helping.
Long after my folks had stopped reminding me of my leg, I carried their collective responses in my head like a favourite chorus from a childhood song.
“What’s the point?” was there when a handsome boy asked me to dance at Chatsworth Drive. “What’s the point?” was there when Mr Lee said my manuscript writing was nice. “What’s the point?” would show up to sneer and jeer each time something good happened to me.
It took me a long time to exorcise “What’s the point?” from my system.
By then my leg had taught me to recognise students and people who had been similarly hurt by the good intentions of the adults in their life.
The girl who smiles while pursing her lips, the boy who dares not sing in a group setting, the lady who refuses to wear certain garments etc. They all carry voices in their head tactlessly commenting on their dental structure during childhood photo shoots, their singing ability during primary school choir lessons and their body shape during secondary school P.E lessons.
So when I see handicapped people or disabled animals, I try to rein in my own fears and see them for who they are – not quitting even when it hurts, and not letting their defects or lack of symmetry prevent them from trying.
In my visit to Street Dog Care last December, one disabled dog called Andy fought his way with other clean limbed dogs to get a cuddle from me. Andy’s legs were damaged by motor vehicle when he was living on the streets.
I thought that being paraplegic, he would retreat to a corner & wait for his turn. But not so with Andy!
On & on, Andy circled us in his pair of shrivelled legs like a relentless little shark, trying to find a gap to come closer while another dog called Old Man was leaning smugly on me & barking at him. Old Man was equally determined not to let Andy into our circle of embrace.
It was very comical watching wormlike Andy on the ground challenging Old Man safely seated above on the bench with me. El commented that even without functioning legs Andy is still a formidable threat. Imagine if he could run!
Finally vet tech, Junu, had to intervene. She peeled Old Man away from me to allow Andy to come closer, so that he could show me how much he had grown in strength & confidence since we met in 2016.
Up close, I saw that Andy’s “useless” legs & bruises from contact with roughness did not harden his facial features one bit. His hazel brown gaze were soft and liquid, while his signature caramel coloured nose stood out against the creamy beige of his smooth fur. I hugged him for being so brave, so beautiful & so buttery!
It is fairly safe to say that every one struggles with some imperfections. And we are defective in manners of form & severity in one way or another. But becoming complete is not about hiding or killing the parts that we are less proud of. Becoming whole is about accepting all parts, so that even the so called unfavourable bits can be harnessed to work in our favour.
My “bad” leg has given me some restrictions but it has also trained me to be observant and shown me the goodness of people, even complete strangers.
Andy’s “bad” legs have inspired a community beset with all kinds of unthinkable challenges to secure a set of wheels for him to improve his mobility, instead of euthanizing him.
So when the bad happens in our life, it could be a portal to the good, if we don’t get stuck on judgement, guilt & blame.
At the Boudha Stupa last year, I gave thanks for my family for trying their best to raise me. But it was when I sought forgiveness for the trauma & hardship my handicap had caused them, that I realised, “What’s the point?” is finally & completely exorcised.