Older and hopefully wiser
by Peter Tan. Posted on August 11, 2013, Sunday
AGE is not just a number. Each is a marker of our journey through life. For good or for bad, therein lies the stories about us. My age went up a notch a few days ago. I turned 47. The day was spent in quiet contemplation of the year that was.
It is said that people mellow with age. I can attest to that. As I look back, I realise I was brash as a teenager. I carried that temperament into my adulthood. Fortunately, over the years, age has tempered the fire within and the imprudence has been supplanted by patience and perseverance.
Although life is less exciting like that, I know very well how impetuousness can result in fatal consequences. I have a family now and there are responsibilities that go with it. I can no longer be happy-go-lucky and live without a care for the world and the people around me.
When my mother was alive, she would colour a tray of hard-boiled eggs red and cook birthday noodles to commemorate the anniversaries of my birth. These small celebrations were very symbolic in nature.
Cracking the shell and peeling it off the hard-boiled egg signified renewal and growth, in emulation of the moulting process in nature. The long strands of the birthday noodles represented longevity. I always enjoyed waking up to these on the morning of my birthdays. This tradition ended after she passed on.
I do not even celebrate my birthdays any more. Every day that I am alive now is a celebration in itself. I am grateful for the time to spend with loved ones. I am fortunate to be able to do the things that I love and the things that matter.
I had not expected to survive this long after the accident. People with spinal cord injury have a shorter than average life expectancy. This is due to the increased risks and complications from renal failure, septicaemia and pneumonia.
The fact that I am still around 29 years after the injury, albeit living with Stage 4 renal failure, is somewhat short of amazing. A few of my friends in similar condition have succumbed to one complication or another in less than two decades.
Nonetheless, I must say that 46 was a good age for me. The missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of my life came falling into place one by one. This is due in no small part to friends who have unreservedly supported me along the way.
My friends are my greatest asset. They add colour to my otherwise monotonous days. They open doors of opportunity for me. Most importantly, they believe in me in spite of my shortcomings. Indeed, friends are happiness multiplied. And to these friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your generosity.
This birthday, I was reminded of a quote that I read in the Reader’s Digest a long time ago. It went roughly like this: “To be happy, one must have someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.” I have every reason to be happy because all three converged during the 46th year of my existence.
I have someone to love, very deeply if I may add. Wuan and I are into the sixth year of our marital bliss. We are still as lovey-dovey now as we were when we first fell in love with each other. She inspires me. She gives me hope. We cherish each and every moment that we get to spend together.
I have something to do. In fact, I have been kept busy by a couple of things. Since last year, I have begun facilitating workshops on Disability Equality Training (DET) on a regular basis all over the country.
The other is writing. I have been blogging on disability issues for the past 10 years. I started writing this weekly column in The Borneo Post in February and count it as my biggest achievement to date as a disability rights advocate. The reach of my articles has become as wide as the circulation of the newspaper and its online edition.
The best of all is that what I am doing now is changing my own life and that of other disabled persons for the better. I could not have asked for better things to do.
I have something to look forward to. I am currently working on upgrading my skills to become a trainer of trainers of DET. There is a need to nurture more trainers to carry on the work in educating society on the causes of disability and encourage proactive actions to make the environment inclusive.
With so many good things happening at the same time, it is difficult not to be joyful. Truly, life is great considering the circumstances.
When I first became severely paralysed, it was as if the world had collapsed on me. I believed then that I could never amount to anything. My accomplishments, especially in the past year, are testaments that given opportunities, and with self-determination, a disabled person can become productive again.
Human beings are resilient creatures. History has proven time and again that we are adept at adapting, adopting and improvising. We have learnt to live in regions with harsh climates and even in the outer space. Likewise, disabled persons should draw on these inherent traits to move on and make something out of their lives.
My success, if I can call it that, did not come overnight. I slogged at it for years. I failed more than once. There were times when I felt like giving up. I am glad I did not. Instead, I learnt from the failures and built on the successes. If I can make it, I am sure other disabled persons can, too.
So, I am one year older now, and hopefully a little wiser than I was before. I am still coming to terms with the reality that I am starting to build a career only at this late stage in my life. I am not complaining though. This is what I prayed for and this is what God has granted. I am blessed.
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