20 March (Spring Equinox)
Physical isolation was imposed on me at babyhood. Two months before I turned one year old, I contracted poliomyelitis. What followed was a 3 month hospitalization at the Centre for Communicable Diseases in Moulmein Road.
My young dad at 27 years old was devastated by the thought of his baby girl crying alone in a ward full of similarly afflicted older children under quarantine care.
During his era, hospital compound wasn’t so secure like it is these days. He was thus able to sneak in and watch me from a distance through a window. Everyday.
When I got better, visitors were still not allowed. But he somehow managed to drop by to feed me grapes by throwing them through the window like I was in a zoo! 😄
It was the only way a labourer knew how to comfort his 10month old child.
Of course he was duly chastised by the ward nurses each time for his illegal feeding acts. But my dad’s love was beyond logic and gave him the ability to tolerate all kinds of hardship & humiliation. He would often eat just a slice of fried sweet potato for lunch so that he could save up for the bus fare that would take him from our village in Zion Road to Moulmein Rd. Somedays he had to walk.
When he was finally allowed to visit me, he quickly found out who were the kids closest to my bed. Among the young recovering patients, there was a teenage caucasian girl who was very kind.
Despite the language barrier, my dad somehow was able to make her understand that if she could comfort me when I cried, he would get her gifts.
So my dad saved up even more and bought my Caucasian Angel snacks each time he visited.
My grandma used to tell me that my Caucasian Angel was on crutches, but she was very beautiful. And she worried who would marry her.
Towards my discharge from the CDC, my dad bought my protector a portable transistor radio which was an expensive gift in the 60s, and especially so for someone in my dad’s economic situation. But my dad knew he would never be able to pay her enough for those months of companionship she gave me.
So I recovered from poliomyelitis with a limp that would set me apart from others in physical appearance, impose further financial challenges & restrictions on my family in my growing years, and come to dominate all later decisions I would make in my adult life.
I will always be several steps behind others in movement. And this is nowhere more obvious than during fire drill or building lock down exercises. I can never gather in time like able-bodied people at reporting point to mark safe.
One time after the whole school building had been vacated during a fire drill practice, I found myself still struggling down 4 flights of stairs, as the classroom I was teaching in was on the 5th story.
It moved me so much when a young athlete who was training for her SEA Games in sports school at that time came running up the steps to hold my hands so that I needn’t have to walk alone.
Thus unable to alter my speed, I continue to plod on among panic shoppers with their trolleys filled to the brim to face covid-19, while carrying my one daiso shopping bag of groceries that my physical condition has permitted me.
But often in my solo marketing journeys, I meet supermarket staff and even perfect strangers asking if I need help.
Social distancing for now is necessary to break the spread of viral transmission, but my own childhood affliction that has set me permanently apart from others also assures me that being apart doesn’t mean being alone.
And so I wish for all my friends that whatever sets us apart, may we also recognise that with compassion & wisdom we are never truly alone.
May the loss of physical freedom that we face now facilitate the liberation of our spirit & mind, like the way having his little girl under quarantine builds in a young father the qualities of resilience, humility, ingenuity and trust. ♥️ 🙏