Hand on Heart

10 May 2020

“Ms Ong, is that Mother Mary?” a young voice rang out during zoom tuition.

The kids on zoom saw the painting of the Madonna behind me as I adjusted my notebook.

“Yes, she’s the Perfect Mother. She knows when to hold on and when to let go,” I explained.

When I assured the kids that Mother is always watching our zoom meetings, the girls smiled and one of the boys started singing, “Let it Be.”

To soothe a fearful child or animal, we often hold them close to our chest. And babies and animals often place their hands or paws on the heart area of those who are cuddling them.

It’s an honour to have one’s heart physically touched like this, and perhaps even healed.

So hand on heart, on this Mothers’ Day, may I wish that all male & female hearts be touched and healed of all imbalances, for our own benefit, and for the benefit of all sentient beings. 🙏🌈🐾

“Feed others as you are fed.”

15 April 2020 (三月二十三)

Today is the birthday of a deity in the female form called 妈祖, pronounced as Ma Zu.

Ma Zu is the Mother Goddess that watches over oceans & seas, and is highly revered by fishermen and all who make their living by water. In Taiwan and Kinmen Island, shrines and temples are dedicated to her as she grants seafaring safety and plentiful harvest.

Last year we visited a Ma Zu shrine on Kinmen Island that was about 600 year old.

This morning I brought clean water and cat kibbles downstairs for the block cat, Aquarius. I dedicated that feeding to the Mother Goddess Ma Zu since it is her birthday.

As Aquarius was slurping up her water and eating her kibbles, a voice in my head repeated, “Feed others as you are fed.”

I didn’t think too much of it as I was more concerned with the cat getting her sustenance and me not seen by anyone to be lingering longer than necessary. I had my mask on and identity card with me in the event that my presence raised question during this semi-lockdown.

A short while after I got back from feeding the cat I would receive food gifts of biscuits, bananas, mango and even a coconut!

Gifts from Ma Zu, courtesy of a friend who dropped them off today.

For that one meal I gave to a cat, I was given more than enough to last me a few meals.

Unsought mercies like this helps me to give, while fighting off the urge to hold & grab.

I also read that Ma Zu was the deification of a young girl who protected her village with her life.

And perhaps during difficult times as we learn to protect and care, instead of destroy & blame, each one of us is potentially a goddess or a god in the making. 🙏♥️

Invoking Grace

13 April 2020

This is Day 7 of the semi-lockdown in Singapore in response to Covid-19 and the 6th day of my cat, Grace’s passing.

This morning on a piece of blue bandana I assembled some of the items that have supported Grace in the past few months as her health deteriorated.

Nebulizer kit for breathing, syringe for hydration and flower essences to comfort.

The nebuliser kit that helped to unblock her nasal congestion so that she could breathe, the eye drops that moisturized her eyes so that she could blink comfortably and the syringe that delivered liquid to her mouth to quench her thirst were duly thanked as I visualised the Medicine Buddha through the fire of a blue butter lamp.

Her little turtle neck of blue & white argyle that protected her from chills and cushioned her as she lay in her cat condo on days she needed to rest was also blessed.

There were other important containers such as her stainless steel water bowl that had to be of a certain weight and depth so that it wouldn’t topple over when she accidentally walked into it and the carrier that served as a nebuliser chamber.

Then there were the flower essences and comforting oils that calmed both of us down as her end drew near.

Every birth has an end. And every end is an invitation to practise grace.

My cat has given me 13 years’ worth of lesson on grace, the quality from which all good springs from.

On the night of her passing, when it was evident that all the external tools were no longer required, I recited “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha,” to help her to cross to the other shore.

And today, by looking at the tools that facilitated her exit with gratitude and affection instead of dread and fear, I hope this little ritual will invoke grace to come & stabilise the hearts of all healthcare professionals and we who are now learning to walk in the shadow of Covid-19.

May ALL be well. 🙏🌈🐾

Holy Week

10 April 2020

This week little pink buds in clusters of fours are appearing quietly on the palm sized plant that I received during the lunar new year this January.

“Clusters” has taken on an ominous tone these days, so I hope seeing clusters of flowers helps to provide some balance.

3 days ago the super pink moon graced the night sky even as residents in Singapore retreated indoors to avoid Covid-19.

And on that full moon night among the pink buds and under the pink moon, I sat up with Grace, my 13-year-old cat.

She had suffered rat glue trapping in her kittenhood while living on the streets of Little India and endured spaying and dental surgeries after her rescue. Now in her old age she had to battle blindness and ill-health.

Her life hadn’t been great in the normal sense, but she was loved, treated for her discomforts and had outlived the vet’s projection of her life span by 11 years.

After a final drink of honey water to quench her thirst and in anticipation of a sweet rebirth, eye drops on her eyes to regain her sight in the life to come, and a brief cuddle, Grace left her body without struggle.

The stars were sparkling that night as I lit a butter lamp to give thanks for her easy passing and to guide her home. 善终 meaning a peaceful death is one of the 5 blessings (五福)

Yesterday on Maundy Thursday, Grace’s ashes came back to me in a small porcelain urn.

Amidst the restrictions of physical movements, sufferings of loss and shortages of tangible goods, I hope that acceptance of whatever we’re facing will also allow compassion to flow, so that our heart can expand a little & we can breathe a bit easier, even as our body retreats temporarily from the outside world.

Tools of Compassion

6 April 2020 (Holy Week)

When the old cat draws her breath, after her blocked nose is cleaned with a freshly wrung warm towel;

When her thirst is quenched with honeyed water syringe fed via the side of her mouth without bruising her gum;

When her blind eyes shone with eye drops carefully applied without shocking her;

And when she finally settles down to rest;

I know why I have hands.

Truly Empowered

4 March 2020

Ollie, my own cat, approves of my shelter work. I hope many cats at shelters will have access to bigger spaces.

The skinny Girl Cat hurried towards me, pressing her bony face against the wire mesh, seeking comfort.

She’s been on medicines to manage diarrhoea. Meanwhile her beddings were soiled and her fur were unkempt from the runs.

My friend, with clean beddings in hand bravely entered Girl Cat’s enclosure. She had to remove the dirty ones from their aerial bed frames before putting on the fresh ones, while trying not to inhale the smells.

Prayerfully, I wiped down Girl Cat’s body with donated good quality wet wipes and removed as much stains from her fur as possible. Her tail was crusty.

Like all children, Girl Cat received the cleaning of snot and tear stains on her face with a bit of protest, but was generally grateful for the human touch.

Admittedly, the handling of bodily fluids or wastes of another creature is not a task to be taken lightly. So we wear gloves and masks for protection & to create a psychological buffer for peace of mind. But the heart is a store house of emotions.

And even as we flinched at the sight of a sickly cat and her mess, the awareness of how her tummy must have hurt, and how sore her lower body must have felt, gave us the power to overcome our personal misgivings and get on with the cleaning.

Girl Cat would need time to respond to her medications. Till then she would continue to soil herself and her beddings. Till then she would need help in keeping clean. She was hand raised from birth, and now in sickness, continues to be cared for at the shelter, the only home she has ever known.

But in her sickness, Girl Cat has cured us of our fears of bodily wastes & reminded us how wonderful it is to be alive and to be able to offer up our breaths, our strengths and our sensibilities for the mitigation of misery in others.

For my friend who was born and raised in comfort & cleanliness all her life, making her rounds of litter box cleaning and bedding changes for 100 plus cats at the shelter the whole afternoon afternoon had successfully freed her from her scatological anxieties.

Hers was truly an experience of empowerment.

Self-blessing

20-2-2020

“The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;”

– part of “St Francis & the Sow,” poem by Galway Kinnell

I found this poem years ago in Oprah’s magazine. When it was time to discard the magazine, I removed the page that featured Kinnell’s poem & used it to dress up the cover of my journal.

Since childhood, I had compulsions to touch tree barks and flowers, and greet them. Warnings about getting bitten by insects on the vegetation, or simply that they were “dirty” kept me from acting out my fantasies.

Galway Kinnell’s poem liberated me. 😊

And now I’ve even got a cat to join me.

So here’s wishing the gift of self-blessing on all my friends. May our flowering from within grant us the capabilities to help others from without to flower.