17 Dec 2019
I was 10 month old learning to walk on my own by holding onto the wall for support when poliomyelitis found me.
3 months of hospitalization later, I got back my life in exchange for a permanent limp. Considering many afflicted peers with paralysis that bound them to wheel chairs for life and some even needing machines to help them breathe, my crippled leg was just a slight dent on the paintwork.
After surviving polio, maintaining balance became a lifelong preoccupation that took up a lot of my energy. It is a bit like someone training to be a world class gymnast, only in my case, this wasn’t the path I would have chosen if given a choice.
I grew up envying those who could walk effortlessly, dance and skip freely, while I had to and still do, think about every step that I make.
Are there things on the ground to trip me? Pine cones? Satay sticks?
Have I missed a spot of alage on the step of a world heritage site that might cause me to slip?
Will the curb after the zebra crossing be too high for me to get onto?
Will there be steps? If yes, how many? How deep are they? Will there be a railing for me to hold onto? Is the railing sturdy enough to bear my weight or is it there for aesthetics purposes only?
Over the years these questions for self-preservation have trained me not to jump to conclusions, and not to make light of other people’s difficulties. They have also prompted me to listen for the unspoken anxieties and to observe the invisible pain of others.
A couple of months back, I was at an outing to the Esplanade with overseas students studying at a private school in Singapore.
As we were walking towards the open stage facing the Singapore River, a 24 year old student from India asked me, “Ma’am would you like me to hold your hand? You’ll feel more balanced and it’s easier to walk.”
He went on to explain that he came from a village that hosts pilgrims two to three times a year. He’s very familiar with aches and pains. So for the rest of the evening India & Singapore held hands and walked all over Esplanade, exchanging looks of amusement with each other when passers by went all judgy over a handsome Indian man holding hands with a woman of his grandma’s age. 🤣
During our Nepal trip this December, whether it was for worldly reasons such as ascending the stairs of hotels & cafes, or to meet spiritual agendas such as circumambulating the Boudha Stupa and carrying medical supplies, El and Ron took turns to hold my hands and walk with me at my pace.
Boudha pilgrims stopped to look at us but usually to smile and make remarks in Tibetan or Nepali in encouraging tones.
For many of us, having a hand to hold onto in this pilgrimage called Life is a pragmatic necessity. It is beyond romantic as popular culture would have us believed.
So I like to wish for all my friends to study and respect your hands and the hands of others, so that at the right time, they may become gateways to the Divine.
Namaste. Tashi Delek. 🙏🌈🐾