Heart & Soul: Stop and smell the roses

  • Family
  • Saturday, 04 Jan 2014

Take a moment to put things in perspective, and live in the present.

LOOKING back at my undergraduate days, I am grateful to have had the privilege of meeting individuals from different walks of life; some of whom left great impressions on me. With 2013 having just ended, I think back and recall a particular encounter that I had while I was in Geriatric Medicine.

Mrs Allie* (de-identified) was a sweet 87-year-old whom we jokingly referred to as one of the “long-term residents” of our ward, as she had been there for quite a while. Every two to three days, her daughter would come visit her with a fresh bouquet of flowers, before heading off to work. Mrs Allie would then change the flowers in the vase by her window sill. Occasionally, while walking past her room, I would catch a glimpse of her smelling the flowers and smiling.

One day, I was assigned to draw blood from her, and while I was doing so, I casually asked about her liking for flowers. To which she grinned and replied: “Well, the smell of flowers is something in life that I enjoy very much. It makes me happy!” I smiled and left, without putting much thought into it.

I learned that after she lost her husband to the war, she became the sole breadwinner and raised two children on her own. Mrs Allie admitted that she has never been a “woman of many words”. Many a time, we would just sit by her window, looking out in silence. Initially I felt rather awkward and fidgety, since I’m quite a chatterbox, but I soon became accustomed to it. In fact, I enjoyed these quiet sessions with Mrs Allie, more so after a hectic day.

Once, I told her that my legs were aching terribly, from having to walk long distances to get around town. “Well, child, that’s good, isn’t it? It means your legs are functioning! I need a wheelchair!” Then she added with a chuckle: “And now, I need you to help me to the bathroom!”

Another time, I was feeling anxious about an upcoming presentation. Without realising it, I must have had a lot going through my mind, because Mrs Allie said that I was “unusually quiet” that evening.

The subsequent day, I visited her after I was done, feeling all relieved. “How did it go?” she asked. I happily replied that it went well and I had given my best shot. “You knew you were going to try your best. Why so much worry, dear?”

On quite a number of occasions, I recall smiling sheepishly upon hearing her responses, as I felt quite embarrassed and foolish. Thinking back, her words carried plenty of truth.

In our first year of undergrad, we were taught the concept of “going through life on autopilot mode”, which I personally interpret as a “I’m-not-putting-much-thought-into-it” routine. In this fast-paced world, it is something many of us can relate to. It can be quite easy to feel overwhelmed and lost.

We work. We plan for the future. We’re always talking about “needing more time”. At times, we become so caught up with what we do, that we forget our priorities (e.g family, our own wellbeing). And before we know it, life passes us by, and we regret having taken certain things for granted. We forget to be contented, and to live in the present.

We face conflicts: Not just with others, but within ourselves as well. We worry, we get frustrated, we complain. We forgo dreams. We procrastinate, because we think “I still have time”.

We may not have exchanged that many words, but Mrs Allie taught me two important things: one – appreciate the little things in life; and two – to ask myself the simple question: “That thing in your mind, will it matter when you’re 90 like me?”

That dinner with your parents and siblings? The vengefulness you experience after being scolded by your boss? That fight with your husband because he left the toilet seat up? The dream you had of opening your own restaurant? If it is important to you, you can choose to pursue it. If it brings negativity, you should learn to let it go. Because in, say, 10 or 30 or 50 years down the road, what is it that you will remember, and what is it that you will regret?

And while change can seem dauntingly difficult, big changes begin with small steps. It is always better to have tried than to not have at all. As the late Nelson Mandela once said: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

By The Window

As I sit by the window, I can see,
A little girl running about as happy as can be;
Her eyes widened in amazement and delight,
As the beautiful butterfly on a leaf took flight;
She squealed in excitement to see such a thing,
Such innocence and joy a little one can bring.

As I sit by the window, I can see,
He glances quickly at the clock as it strikes three;
His little girl’s dance recital has just begun,
But he had another very important meeting to run;
When he got home, she was teary-eyed and glum,
“But Daddy, you promised me that you would come.”

As I sit by the window, I can see,
She scrolls her phone while leaning on the tree;
The word “Home” on her contact list catches her eye,
She decides to dial the number, just to say “Hi”;
While on the receiving end of the line,
Her parents’ faces light up, with such a shine.

As I sit by my window, I can see,
He sits in the rocking chair, drinking his tea;
Flipping through albums of precious times,
Of family, friends, his falls and his triumphs;
His eyes twinkle and his lips curve into a smile,
Knowing that his journey all along has been worthwhile.

Whenever I think of Mrs Allie, sitting by her window, smelling her fresh flowers with a smile on her face, it makes me feel warm inside. I was lucky enough to have met her, and to have shared those quiet sessions with her. Sometimes all we need is to take a moment, put things into perspective, and remind ourselves of all the things in our lives to be grateful for.

Happy New Year 2014! :)

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