This morning, decked in traditional finery that spoke of ethnic pride & brimming with benedictions fresh from morning prayers, First Tutee touched the back of my hand with his forehead to wish me peace.
For the past few years, my home has been his first place of visit after prayers at the mosque on Hari Raya mornings.
This year he brought a friend with him. He wanted to show him how to interact with Oliver the Cat.
First Tutee explained to his little friend how he used to be scared of cats before he met Oliver.
He then taught him how to sit still while waiting for the cat to approach, and how to offer food respectfully to the animal.
“Don’t touch him when he’s trying to eat cos it makes him nervous,” said the older boy to the younger one.
While they were sitting by the window, First Tutee pointed out the direction of Batam, Indonesia, to his fascinated guest. He also told him the body of water he saw was called a reservoire, not a swimming pool.
Although First Tutee and I are not related by blood, and these days we don’t see each other much, he seems to have taken after me in the way he explains things. And now & then when he spots a full moon, he’ll send me a picture of it.
While we make material provisions for our children, showing them how to live peacefully with all despite our differences could give them the wisdom & compassion to journey further & do better under all circumstances in life.
Getting in and out of a vehicle for me require a certain level of coordination & focus.
One day I hailed a cab along the road. When the cab driver slowed down for me, the bus driver behind us sounded the horn while I tried to get onto the cab as swiftly as possible.
In the calm cocoon of his seat, the thin & bespectacled driver with his praying mantis liked arms must have picked up my panic of not being fast enough and getting in the way of the bus.
“Miss, please take your time and get onto my cab safely,” the cab driver alerted me authoritatively even as the horn continued to blare.
As he drove on, he continued, “We all have our jobs to do. Your job is to get on my cab safely. My job is to take you to your destination safely. If the bus driver can’t wait & decides to blast his horn it is his right to do so. And maybe he’s in a bad mood. But you don’t have to let the sound make you frighten & lose your balance, and I musn’t drive recklessly because I’m irritated by the driver.”
Last week the young boys at the tuition centre asked me if I knew who The Rock was. It was their way of checking if someone of their grandmother’s generation knew anything about their interests.
To their amusement, I not only could tell them The Rock’s real name but also put on one of his signature poses. One boy chortled admiringly when I bellowed The Rock’s famous slogan , “Know Your Role!” 😂
Recalling The Rock’s, “Know Your Role,” brought back memories of the cab driver’s insightful lesson on what doing our job, fulfilling responsibilities & expressing our rights can mean.
So regardless of how long it takes or how hard it is, if it’s a path that we’ve chosen and a role we’ve taken on, we must play it out faithfully, even if someone else’s role is to specialise in derailing us by placing obstacles in our way.
Markers pointing to roads, exits & entrances, ramp, lift lobby and carpark pick ups are very important for someone with limited energy like me because getting lost has very serious consequences
For most people, mixing up Lobby A with Lobby B in the mall or hospital is a small matter. For me it can mean how many turns and rest stops I need to take before I find my destination.
The frustrations & exhaustion of losing one’s way is real for an ageing person even without dementia or mobility issues.
I seldom accept rides or lifts from well intentioned people because dictating where they should me pick me up, drop me off or where they should park would make me sound like an ungrateful and demanding old woman. 😄
Pre-covid days at the airport check-in counter, any departure gate from letter E onwards on my boarding pass would fill me with unease even before the flight took off. On occasions when I needed wheelchair service, I made sure to tip my airport escort handsomely.
As such I have little desire to go on pilgrimages to make peace and to learn acceptance.
Each step out of my flat, presents enormous potential to make peace with obstacles.
When I walk, there are detours needed to avoid a wet corridor or curb too high for me. When I take public transport, there’s the anxiety of whether I can find a seat before the bus or train moves and the worry of whether there’s a hand grab for support at my exit stop. Little steps which the able-bodied make almost mindlessly require the focus of a zen master for me.
Over the years, I’ve turned down invitations to meet not because the company is less worthy, but because of what it takes for me to show up.
Singapore may have good medical amenities but its population density, building configurations and fast paced living make it a challenging place for those in advancing years.
Active Aging is a good aspiration provided you have the right set ups, physical conditions and national mindset.
Even in supposedly easy to navigate places with escalators and non-slip flooring I’m either constantly dogding people who are in a hurry, or keeping a distance from those whose eyes are glued to their phone screens. The latter have the tendency to brake suddenly or back into people behind them.
That said, it is also not reasonable to expect human traffic in public places to slow down for the old.
Thus I understand why elderly folks cling to familiar places and are reluctant to move to new neighbourhoods. They would have to learn the terrain of their physical environment all over again. A ramp in their new housing estate may not have the same gradient like the one their legs have been used to in the past 40 years.
“With a click of a button,” as the catchphrase goes, we’re told that digitization has made the world more accessible to many. But precisely when everyone seems so well connected and mobile, the isolation for some feels even starker & more incomprehensible.
And thus I cherish every trip I can make to the grocery store, every step to my tuition class and on special days, a visit to the animal shelter, or a live performance venue while my body and senses do not have too many adjustments to make.
Finally for those of us who harbour thoughts that people who can’t keep up with changes are just being too stubborn, we can try giving up some of the things we’re used to, and see how that affects our sense of calm before we earn the right to call someone too rigid to keep up with time.
In my youth, stairs & steps gave me anxiety attacks not just because they were hard to ascend, but also because I was ashamed of how ungraceful I looked when I climbed. It did not help that my campus was built on Kent Ridge which follows the undulating terrain of the landscape.
I used to joke that NUS stood for University of Steps.
Yet, despite my dread for steps and slopes, Providence gave me a job as student assistant in the Central Lending Library I was waiting for my letter of acceptance/rejection from the university.
Each day I would report to the Senior Librarian, Ms Susan at 9am. My job was to manuelly cut and paste selected news articles on A4 papers to be turned into microfilms for archival purposes.
This went on for a few months. By the time I matriculated, I knew every floor and every corner of the library. I even knew which desk by the window received the best natural lighting at different parts of the day.
By the time I became an undergraduate, the senior librarians and deputy directors were familiar faces that evoked feelings of discipline and kindness. They were nothing like the grouchy librarians depicted in movies.
Years after I became a teacher, I paid the staff, Ms Hema and Mrs Lee-Wang a visit to thank them for their powerful and nurturing influence over me. Ms Namazie had retired by then, but it was from her I learnt that a hard boiled egg and some salad made a good lunch.
The Central Lending Library as it was called in my time not only supported me financially, but also emotionally & academically.
In between lectures when I had no one to hang out with, the library was my friend. When lectures ended early and I did not want to go home to face family dramas, the library had me.
And if I liked a particular author that was in my required reading list, I would seek out all his or her other titles and read them obsessively sometimes literally from dawn to dusk.
Each day after the library closed, I would make my way slowly from the administration block to the Pasir Panjang bus stop. The long walk down the tree lined slope gave me time to mull over what I read and rest my eyes.
Some nights when I looked up, I could see the full moon weaving in and out among the tree branches like a shy protector who didn’t want me to know she was there for me.
With or without the pandemic restrictions, my compromised mobility makes me very conscious of where I go and allows me to develop very strong attachments to locations and buildings.
Last week I had a picture taken of me outside the library just like I did as a young girl decades ago.
The time lapse of 39 years being in the same space that has meant so much to me felt as if I was on an overseas trip.
In “Mango Dreams,” the onset of dementia prompted a man to travel over 400km to his childhood home before the disease robs him of his most cherished memories.
Perhaps while waiting for travel restrictions to ease, we could consider visiting local places that have made us who we are and given us the means to travel far.
So here’s wishing all friends the good fortune to arrive at where they started and without having to go too far.
This is the main entrance to the Boudha Stupa. Yesterday my friends at Street Dog Care posted this picture. Road repair works have begun.
I’ve stood at this entrance 8 times in my life.
Each time when I looked at the Stupa for the first time, I would feel tears welling at my heart and making their way up my eyes.
At the same time in the midst of the surrounding chaotic traffic & commercial activities, I would also experience a profound quiet that was unshakeable.
“You saw your mind,” my Taiwanese friend who lives at Boudha told me when I narrated my encounter to her.
She went on to elaborate that when the mind is unfettered by judgements or desires, it is clear and free.
So perhaps I had tears in my eyes because at the Stupa entrance I caught a glimpse of how my mind could have been were it not shackled onto fixed patterns of ignorance & pride.
These days I think I learn to suffer less because I try to watch my mind before thoughts become words and deeds.
While the well trodden path to Boudha Stupa is being repaired on this auspicious day of enlightenment, may I take this opportunity to wish my friends and all sentient beings divine guidance as they forge their own paths to liberation. 🌈🙏🐾
Vaccination issues dredge up old memories of regret & guilt about missing the one that was supposed to protect me from contracting childhood poliomyelitis.
In Singapore, many who are fit for vaccination are showing up for the jab to protect themselves and keep others from covid-19. I felt had to do my part too.
After reading up and consulting with my doctor on whether there were risks for post-polio patients, I registered to receive the vaccination.
I took a cab to the Yuhua Community Club for my first dose of vaccine.
I had lots of practice with medical appointments since I was a kid. As an adult, making them alone when I still can, is good training for old age.
Of course I had the good sense to arrange for someone to come & get me if I needed help in going home after the vaccination.
However, despite all that preparation, I still approached the vaccination venue with some trepidation.
As I trudged along the corridor leading to the registration counter, a man appeared in the opposite direction. He was wiping his face as he walked towards me.
And his built and gait looked strangely familiar. Is that my youngest uncle walking towards me? Or am I so stressed that I’m hallucinating about having a family member meet me at the centre?
Better not make a fool of myself, and go around calling strangers ‘uncle,’ I warned, even as I wished hopefully to be right. 😆
As it turned out, that man was indeed my youngest uncle! He was there to collect his safe entry token.
He was very surprised to see me in his neighbourhood. He thought I would have opted to go somewhere closer to my home for the vaccination.
My uncle walked with me to the vaccination registration counter and my unease disappeared as we chatted.
Before seeing me off at the waiting area, he gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
Looking back I now realised I am never alone. And the reason why someone’s built and gait could exude such strong vibes of familiarity and peace even at a distance, and even before I could ascertain his identity, was that they reminded me of my late grandfather, my uncle’s dad. ♥️
An encounter such as this is never merely just a coincidence for me. I hope by sharing this episode, those who have to do things on their own for whatever reason, will never feel alone.
Susana Robledo shared the following words in “Flamenco at 5:15,” with her students:
“Stand still and feel the earth’s support coming through your legs even if you don’t dance.”
On finger work:
“Reach out as if to take something, and then give it back.”
On dancing solo:
“Have the courage to dance alone.”
Two words that sum up 2020 for me are “mutation” and “isolation,” courtesy of Covid-19.
The virus’ ability to mutate in order to thrive shows that to transform, to morph, to shape-shift and to change is really part of the circle of life.
As a planning species, we think we can dictate what to change and what to keep. But Nature doesn’t discriminate.
Covid-19’s medical protocols also change my understanding of isolation.
While fretting over the inconveniences, financial & time losses brought on by quarantine requirements & stay home notices, we’re also forced to confront the reality that in matters of life & death, we’re naturally on our own.
And that no matter how loved, how popular and how powerful we think we are, no one can take the swap test on our behalf.
Perhaps if we try to dance through change and isolation, instead of staying frozen by fear, we might be able to weave a path through obstacles that lie in wait for us, like the way gypsies & displaced people stamp and twirl off all that dust.
Incidentally as I was wrapping up this post, I learnt that Susan Robledo passed away at 93 years old on 1 January 2010.
May the wisdom of all who have gone before us and lessons learnt in 2020, guide our steps through 2021 and beyond.
These days the safe entry requirements make me think twice about going anywhere.
Two days back I was running through my mind the logistics of getting flower offerings to celebrate this new moon, and Ganesha Charthurti this Saturday. Would the florists be operating? Would the familiar short cuts I know be blocked?
I was on the verge of saying to Ganesha, “Sorry, there’ll be no flowers for your charthurti celebration this year because going to the florists is getting a bit complicated for me,” when a Muslim friend offered to drop me off at the florists in Little India.
He would settle his errands at Mustaffa Centre and come back to pick me up and send me home when I was done with my jasmine garlands and marigold shopping.
Some time back when mosques were closed because of circuit breaker measures, I was very honoured that he and his nephew conducted their prayers in my home. He also blessed my home and thanked me for facilitating their spiritual obligations.
As we seek to connect with the Divine in our different ways according to our race, culture, history and geography, may we be secure enough in our own beliefs & practices to facilitate the spiritual journeys of others.
Happy New Moon to All Sentient Beings!
May every gesture to harmonise and facilitate for the benefit of all be blessed.
“Remember, no matter what you see, the whole thing is just up to my knee!” the kindly museum guide assured me. I was trembling a bit in my walk on the glass surface of installation art piece by Mark Justiniani.
“Stardust: Soaring Through the Sky’s Embrace,” takes the form of a bridge lined with mirrors, creating the illusion of endless depth.
Half way through the short bridge, I felt a bit sick as I peered down at the abysmal blackness beneath my feet.
But the museum guide’s voice brought me back to the reality that the nauseating depth I was fixating on was in fact only knee deep!
How often have I allowed my flawed vision to dictate what I should think or feel? How do I differentiate reality from the utterances & projections of the ego?
When I finally cleared the “depth” open-eyed without falling down, I felt immensely grateful to the museum staff, my friends for walking beside me and my cane.
And one of the verses in Psalm 23 which I learnt in my teens came to me: “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.“
May we be guided by Benevolence as we scale the steps of Life.
I stood at the top of the steps outside Grantral Mall to wait for the rain to pass. On the last step sat a couple and a man. They too were sheltering from the rain. They were careful to occupy only the far left and far right of the steps so as not to obstruct the way.
A granny with a head of platinum silver hair approached the steps from below. She saw the couple and the man leaning on the hand rails. Then she studied the steps pensively to assess their depth.
Before she raised her foot to get on the first step, I called out to the couple, “Excuse me!”
When they turned to look up at me I explained, “Could you make way for the granny please? She needs to hold the handrail to get up.”
Immediately the man rose and led the granny to the handrail. The woman gave me an OK sign.
And I’m glad that I didn’t judge the couple, but just let them know that they were in the way of an elderly person even as they were careful enough not to block the way for others.
With the handrail for support, the granny got up the flight of steps safely. Her eyes beamed with gratitude as she showed me a thumbs up.
As she kept repeating, “You very good!” in a childlike voice, I felt Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, complimenting me. 😄