Learning from what life presents to us.
THE thing I love most about the new year is the wonderful opportunity it presents to all of us to become better persons, as we prepare to embrace the challenges before us for another 12 months.
Oftentimes, in my life, this is best done by looking back and learning from the experiences of the past year.
Life is the best teacher, as they say; for me, 2013 proved to be an exceptional year of acquiring courage and learning from others.
Disability is no respecter of persons – it can strike anyone at any time. This was the recurrent theme in many of my stories in this column last year.
Remember the elderly Malaysian couple who were living in the lap of luxury overseas by staying in five-star hotels and eating in the most expensive restaurants?
A sudden and major stroke changed their lives forever. The husband had to look after his wife who was virtually reduced to a vegetable from then on.
The hubby was forced to convert their living room downstairs into the space where his wife did everything – from sleeping to eating and even having bed-baths.
However, the incredible part of the story is that the couple found true love through the disability episode instead of allowing the disease to break up their marriage.
By caring for and sharing with each other, they became closer than they ever were before, as the days, weeks and months passed by. They now see the disability aspect as “a blessing from God”.
Another middle-aged woman shared her struggles in coping with blindness in the world of the sighted.
Not only was it very difficult for her to admit the fact that she was growing blind but when she lost her vision, she didn’t know how to cope with the blindness.
Fortunately, it was only after meeting up with some positive-minded blind people that she began to learn how to cope with her condition. First, she learnt how to use the white cane and move about in the house.
Today, she even cooks for her sighted family. And I hear that her chicken rice is to die for!
Never believe anything you hear unless you hear it directly from the horse’s mouth.
This was the precious lesson I learnt when some quarters accused the Fire and Rescue Department of “cruelly putting down” eight of its search-and-rescue dogs.
Because I work with service dogs that help the handicapped, I simply had to find out the truth for myself.
I visited the department’s headquarters in Putrajaya and spoke with the trainers of the top-notch dogs. I came away, satisfied that the right thing had been done for the extraordinary animals who were already suffering and in pain from incurable illnesses linked to the hazards of the heroic canines’ tasks and missions.
Many of you may remember how I lost my nine-year old senior service dog Biman III to an illness just last month. Although my German Shepherd is sorely missed, he was the luckiest dog during his final moments.
My able-bodied chum Andrew was around then and rushed him to the animal hospital. The chief veterinarian was already in the operating theatre and attended to him immediately.
Biman was also under general anaesthesia and, according to the vet, didn’t feel any pain when he drifted off.
Finally, sadly, I also said my last goodbye to two special human friends, both women, who passed away last year.
The first was someone whom I had met through this column. She was interested in my work with the disabled community and never failed to give her support when we needed it.
When she was stricken with cancer, she refused to let it get the better of her, and remained positive to her last day – sending us her progress reports, through SMS, of the treatment and even cracking jokes about it.
The part I will remember most about her is what she told me during happier days. During her treatment, she had to use a wheelchair during rehabilitation.
She said that even though she knew she needed it, she somehow couldn’t mentally accept it.
But my dear friend went on to say that during those moments, she kept thinking about me and how I’ve been using a wheelchair since I was a kid. That inspired her to start using a wheelchair.
My other friend is someone I had never actually met but knew through Facebook. She also took great interest in my work and was always ready 24/7 with a cheerful word, thought or prayer for me whenever I was down.
She called me her “hero” and encouraged me, saying that I was “a blessing from God in (my) wheelchair!” I didn’t find out until she passed away that she was mostly bedridden because of rheumatoid arthritis.
With people behind me like these shining examples, I am more than ready to meet the challenges that 2014 holds for me.