Words of Blessings

Bad Legs, Good Faith

by Lisa Ong
18 Jan 2018 

Meeting Andy on wheels for the first time on full moon day in Dec 2016.

I was advised from a very young age not to run lest it called attention to my deformed leg. Yet whenever someone paid me a compliment whether it was for being clever, or pretty, some of the female folks in my family would rush in to respond with a sigh, “What’s the point? She has a bad leg.” I resented their speaking on my behalf. But most of all I resented them for robbing me of the joy of receiving a praise, however transient, and for using my leg to negate all the other possible positives that I could be experiencing.

In trying to prepare me for the “real” world, they could have thought that by highlighting my handicap earlier on in life each time I received a compliment, they were training me to be realistic so that I wouldn’t be easily hurt by remarks pertaining to my leg later on when I grew up.

But protective measures that are motivated by guilt and fear have a way of increasing the burden of the very person or animal we claim to be helping.

Black Lion (“Or Sai” in hokkien dialect) is the emblem for Centre for Communicable Diseases at Moulmein Rd. I spent 3 months in it when I was a baby after contracting poliomyelitis which led to permanent paralysis of my left leg.

Long after my folks had stopped reminding me of my leg, I carried their collective responses in my head like a favourite chorus from a childhood song.

“What’s the point?” was there when a handsome boy asked me to dance at Chatsworth Drive. “What’s the point?” was there when Mr Lee complimented me on my manuscript writing. “What’s the point?” would show up to sneer and jeer each time something good happened to me.

It took me a long time to exorcise “What’s the point?” from my system.

By then my leg had taught me to recognise students and people who had been similarly hurt by the good intentions of the adults in their life.

The girl who smiles while pursing her lips, the boy who dares not sing in a group setting, the lady who refuses to wear certain garments etc. They all carry voices in their head tactlessly commenting on their dental structure during childhood photo shoots, their singing ability during primary school choir lessons and their body shape during secondary school P.E lessons.

So when I see handicapped people or disabled animals, I try to rein in my own fears and see them for who they are – not quitting even when it hurts, and not letting their defects or lack of symmetry prevent them from trying.

Andy crawled his way to me to get a cuddle.

In my visit to Street Dog Care last December, one disabled dog called Andy fought his way with other clean limbed dogs to get a cuddle from me. Andy’s legs were damaged by motor vehicle when he was living on the streets.

I thought that being paraplegic, he would retreat to a corner & wait for his turn. But not so with Andy!

On & on, Andy circled us in his pair of shrivelled legs like a relentless little shark, trying to find a gap to come closer while another dog called Old Dog was leaning smugly on me & barking at him. Old Dog was equally determined not to let Andy into our circle of embrace.

It was very comical watching wormlike Andy on the ground challenging Old Dog safely seated above on the bench with me. El commented that even without functioning legs Andy is still a formidable threat. Imagine if he could run!

Old Dog pretending to look chastised. He wouldn’t let Andy or anyone come close to me. But this Old Dog is so endearing and when he still refused to let Andy join us, SDC staff, Junu, just scooped him up & put him in a cage temporarily.

Finally veterinary technician, Junu, had to intervene and peel Old Dog away from me so that Andy could come close to show me how he had grown in strength & confidence since we met in 2016.

Andy the shape shifting canine. He can morph into a shark or a worm depending on the situation.

Up close, I saw that Andy’s “useless” legs & bruises from contact with roughness did not harden his facial features one bit. His hazel brown gaze were soft and liquid, while his signature caramel coloured nose stood out against the creamy beige of his smooth fur. I hugged him for being so brave, so beautiful & so buttery!

It is fairly safe to say that every one struggles with some imperfections. And we are defective in manners of form & severity in one way or another. But becoming complete is not about hiding or killing the parts that we are less proud of. Becoming whole is about accepting all parts, so that even the so called unfavourable bits can be harnessed to work in our favour.

My “bad” leg has given me some restrictions but it has also trained me to be observant and shown me the goodness of people, even complete strangers.

Andy’s “bad” legs have inspired a community beset with all kinds of unthinkable challenges to secure a set of wheels for him to improve his mobility, instead of euthanizing him.

So when the bad happens in our life, it could be a portal to the good, if we don’t get stuck on judgement, guilt & blame.

At the Boudha Stupa last year, I gave thanks for my family for trying the best they could with me. But it was when I sought forgiveness for the trauma & hardship my handicap must have caused them, that I realised, “What’s the point?” is finally & completely exorcised.

The symmetry of consecrated structures such as the Boudha Stupa encourages the seer to achieve his/ her own inner balance & alignment.

Ode to Tables

by Lisa Ong
29 Dec 2018 

Among all the pieces of furniture in a traditional Chinese home, great emphasis is placed on the altar table and the dining table. Before they are purchased, measurements and placements have to be carefully considered and discussed.

The altar table is where the family gods and ancestor spirits gather. It basically marks the soul of the house.

The dining table is for meal gatherings and family discussions. If you’re of my vintage, it’s also the place to settle our homework, complete the art project and grow bean sprouts for the science teacher.

2 years ago in 2016 at Street Dog Care in Nepal, a battered and scratched plastic table was witness to our very special gathering among friends of different nations, all united by canine concerns.

Worn out from exposure to the monsoon rains, year end cold and even the 2015 earthquake, the table was retired when Street Dog Care needed to relocate.

I had fond memories of this cracked table but trusted that its spirit of harmony will follow the SDC staff & volunteers to their new home.

On 3 Dec 2018, we visited Street Dog Care in its new location and of course right at the heart of the centre a round plastic table welcomed us, complete with its own live dog display, Tara, the guard dog on it.

After we had placed our animal supplies on it, Tara presided majestically over the goods.

No matter how we coaxed her with words & treats, she refused to come down from the table, but stood guard regally, as if protecting the peace & abundance that the table held.

She finally made way for us briefly to gather around it for tea.

I looked at the mass produced table where supporters and well wishers of Nepal’s street dogs continued to congregate, & felt humbled.

It is common looking and made of plastic, yet its capacity to draw local & international support may be as strong as those that are made of oak & mahogany in the offices of power brokers.

So as we bid goodbye to 2018, and declutter to make room for 2019, we can still ask for the spirit of benevolence in the discarded items to stay, the way the collective goodwill bestowed upon the old mangled table continues to live in the new table at Street Dog Care. 

Touching Thor

I had fond memories of this cracked table but trusted that its spirit of harmony will follow the SDC staff & volunteers to their new home.

by Lisa Ong
12 Dec 2018 

Thor sat on his haunches and watched from afar, while the other dogs in the treatment centre crowded excitedly around us for cuddles. 

Against the winter morning glare & dressed in a fawn coloured dog sweater for warmth, Thor’s crusty skin blended in with the sandy slope where he sat. 

He was a recent arrival at the centre, skeletal and full of sores from untreated mange. 

Besides medicating and feeding him, his caregivers also named him Thor, after the Norse God of Thunder. They wanted to imbue in him the much needed power to overcome his poor health. 

Mange is a skin condition where parasitic mites burrow into the dog’s skin to feed on it. The disease is curable. However if left untreated, mange causes incessant itching, scratching, fur loss and open sores, while secondary infections set in to weaken the dog’s immune system further. Their deteriorating conditions make them look repulsive and smell terrible too. Death by starvation & organ failure is a fate that awaits mangy street dogs as they are less likely to evoke sympathy & get fed or helped.

As a newbie, Thor was the lowest ranking member of the dog pack at the centre. He couldn’t come to me even if he wanted to or even if I had called for him. 

Panda, the alpha dog makes sure Thor knows his place & remains there. They will work out their dynamics in good time but just not at my visit yet. 

So before we left the centre, I asked the carers if they could take me to Thor instead. I just wanted to touch him and let him know that I saw him and that he mattered. 

“Hello, Thor!” I called out his name excitedly while moving in his direction with his carers. 

Instead of sprinting happily towards me as I imagined, he got up to run away. 

Luckily his carers were fast & caught hold of him before he bolted further. They assured him. 

As he was brought to me, it dawned on me that it wasn’t me that he was scared of. He was afraid of what I had in my hand. My walking stick! 

Living on the streets & scavenging for food in his conditions, Thor must have had his share of beatings from shopkeepers, hawkers, householders and even from those who felt justified to have a go at him just because of the way he looked and smelled. 

And with my stick in hand charging towards him like that, I had all the visual cues of his abusers. From Thor’s point of view, what else could I be doing there except to hit him too? 

I didn’t want to stress him further and decided not to get any closer. But his carers wouldn’t give up. They coaxed Thor and brought him nearer to me so that I could touch him. 

I then had the honour of praying over this battle worn, terrified being by placing my hand over his gritty skin. I implored the elements to come to Thor’s aid and to remove all unpleasantness in his life. 

At first he stood rigidly and I could feel him tensing. But as I lowered my face to his, and stroked his head while repeating my wishes for him, he began to understand. Peace. 

How presumptuous I was in my initial interaction with Thor to think that he would know I meant to help him! 

And how grateful I am to his carers that they wouldn’t allow Thor to stay frightened. They brought him to me so that he could see that not every human being who holds a stick will hurt him. 

So may we cherish our hands because they can cause great misery to others. 

And for all sentient beings that have been harshly treated, may they receive kindness even from those who resemble their enemies. 

And may tormentors turn into friends. 

Namaste. 

🙏♥️

“May the road rise up to meet you.”

by Lisa Ong
10 Dec 2018 

I was puzzled that the Gaelic benediction, “May the road rise up to meet you,” should find its way to me while I was in an obviously very buddhist setting.

On the first day when we were settling into our lodging at Boudha Stupa, the first line of an Irish blessing kept playing in my head like a song that wouldn’t stop. 

The next day we met our friend who would guide us to the dog treatment centre for which we had brought some meds and animal supplies to support local people helping street dogs. 

I always approach such journeys with a mixture of joy and worry. Joy, because we are meeting the animals and their carers. But because I have little control over my left ankle, any obstacle the size of an acorn on the road can cause me to lose my balance and so I worry constantly about falls. To add a touch of absurdity to my undertaking, there are the chaotic traffic, roadless terrains and remote locations of animal relief setups in this Himalayan country. As our taxi neared the hill where the treatment centre was located, our friend declared merrily that we had come at a very good time. The recent monsoon storm had opened up a new path and created a short cut to our destination! 

“A week ago this road we’re now on didn’t even exist. We would have to cross that bridge over there to reach the centre. It’s a long walk,” she said with relief as she pointed us to a bridge we were supposed to cross. It had been the only access to their centre before the storm. “Now we can practically drive up to the village!” she declared brightly, as if a special prayer had been granted. 

I felt a bit emotional as my eyes took in the heaps of sand & chunks of road building materials surrounding us while the river gushed below. 

So this is a new path. 

I told her about the Irish blessing that had been playing in my head since I entered Boudha Stupa. 

“Good! Then you must come here more often. Now we have a new road because of you!” she smiled kindly.

And who could have known that the fearsome monsoon storms that cause such havocs would also create a new road that eases the life of handicapped people like me and grant travelling ease to villagers and animal rescuers in that vicinity? 

So with a grateful heart, I wish for all my friends & every sentient being a calm & hopeful spirit during times of uncertainties. 

And if there are storms in your lives, may they open up new roads to meet you as they did for me & my friends in Nepal. 

Namaste. 🙏♥️


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