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Monday, August 14, 2006

Growing Old...

Alas, I found some time to write, thanks to some of friends who have persistently sent me sms to push me. I realise blogging is no longer just leisurely, it comes with some 'responsibilities'. :)

I am inspired to write about 'growing old' after meeting up with Sister Teresa Hsu at the Theosophical Society Singapore Lodge on the 12th August 2006. Sister Teresa Hsu is born in the year 1898. This makes her 108 years young! At her age, Sister Teresa does Yoga everyday, reads extensively and helps old folks a lot younger than herself. Perhaps it is her active life and love for people that have kept her going and made her forget to grow old.

She also has an amazingly sharp and witty sense of humour. Throughout the talk at the Lodge, she kept the floor stuck to their seats and laugh our stomachs off with her funny answers to our questions.

After a brief introductory video about herself, she spoke for about fifteen minutes where she told us that when she was young, the family was so poor that when nobody was watching, she would pick up some blades of grass and eat. Then, she resolve that if she can one day, she would make sure than no one she knows of will ever have to survive by eating blades of grass.

One day in 1931 in Shanghai, coming out of a restaurant after a meal, she saw a beggar outside. As she had no money to give the beggar, she held his hand to show her gesture of support. The beggar then turned around and told her that though she did not give him any money, her warm hold on his hand is better than any money he has gotten for the day, as some people would just throw coins at him without even looking at him. This further inspired Sister in her quest to help people in need.

One of the most memorable incidents was when she was in Singapore, along the corridors of the one-room apartment block. She noticed that a few doors further from where she stood, there was an apartment that had the door opened ajar and also with no lights in it. Thinking that that was odd, as if there were people in it, the lights would be switched on, otherwise, it could be that the owner had forgotten to lock the door.

As she approached the door to the apartment, she saw an old woman inside lying on the floor near the door. She said she had fallen down three days ago and could not get up. Nobody noticed her, so she remained there and had not eaten or drank for three days. Immediately, Sister told her that she will go down to buy her some porridge for her to eat, but actually, she had gone downstairs to make a call for the ambulance. When the ambulance arrived, the old lady refused to go with the attendants as she said that whenever ambulance come for old people, they are brought to the hospital to die. Sister then told her that she was not going to the hospital to die but to go for a sight-seeing tour, and get some fresh air and sunshine. Attracted by the sight-seeing and so on, she agreed. By the time she reached the hospital, she had already fallen asleep, so she didn't complain and was brought to her bed.

In the hospital, Sister stayed by the old lady and held her hand. As she woke up, she told Sister that that was the first time anybody had held her hand so lovingly. She said that all her life, nobody said anything nice to her. Everyone that ever come to her would be scolding her. She said she was a lowly cleaner and everyone was scolding her. Sister sat next to her for six hours, holding her hand. She refused to let her go, until Sister told the old lady that while she already had her porridge, she (Sister) hasn't. With that excuse, the old lady allowed Sister to go back.

The next day, the old lady passed away. Sister said that the experience of holding her hand at the last moments of the old lady's hand was a memorable and beautiful experience.

Needless to say, the audience at the Lodge were so amazed with Sister and flooded her with so many questions, many of them actually turned out to be quite hilarious:

Q: Sister, do you think you have lived so long, because you are vegetarian?

Sister: I don't know because I don't have another life to compare. I have been vegetarian all my life. When I was small, as we lived near the sea, my auntie gave me some fish and I realised I am allergic to fish. So I have remained a vegetarian. My auntie ate fish and she died, while I am still around, so may be yes, this is proof that being vegetarian helps.

Q: When was the last time you fell sick?

Sister: In 1982, in the midst of a cold, I was given some pills meant to work against the cold had resulted in complications, as I was allergic to it. As a result, I was hospitalised and was in coma for 42 days. Everyone thought I was going to die, the priests were called in, but the heaven gates were not opened so I remained here.

Q: So how was it when you were in coma? Did you hear any voices, speak to voice or what?

Sister: I was in coma, so I was unconscious. Sorry to disappoint you, no near death experience tale to tell. (laughter)

From the audience: We are Theosophists! (we are much into these astral stuff)(to laughter)

Q: What religion do you practise?

Sister: I practise the religion of "Love my neighbour as myself"

Q: Do you believe in God?

Sister: No. How can I believe in God when I have not met him? It's either you know him or you don't, you cannot create something to believe in. That is cheating yourself.

Sharana (her assistant): But Sister, in this case, many in the audience here may be cheating themselves (laughter).

Sister: Well, everyone is free to cheat themselves if they so wish to. (To the amazement of some.)

Q: How do you raise funds to help the needy?

Sister: We don't really raise funds in an organised way, but whatever we need we get. When I need eggs, I get eggs, when I need rice, someone will give some rice, then someone else will give vegetables,... and I asked her, "Did you hear me think?", and the person who brought the veg went puzzled and said "Huh??" We always tell the people we help that we can only give when we have, and we have always been able to give.

Such is the amazing stamina and love Sister Teresa has for the people. She is indeed the grand dame of charity in Singapore. Her attitude reinforced my belief in Providence. Whatever we need will be given to us, as long as our heart is in the right place. Her secret to longevity is her simplicity and just by sharing her smile with everyone she meets. Speaking to her, we did not feel she is a 108 years old. Sister joked in the beginning of the talk that if we want to listen to her story, we need to sit there for 108 years! (To the laughter of everyone!) Sister's story is one that is so simple and yet so beautiful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i love reading this, Micahel.
it is so impressive.