Sunday, 3 June 2012

"Life is So Short" She Said

I rummaged through the piles of plastic that came with the large stock of eco-baskets which the weavers just brought to the office.

I grabbed a hand-woven piece and read its serial number out loud to Lucy so that she could note down the stock. It wasn’t easy when there was so much information on the label. Lucy bobbed her head up. Adjusting her glasses, she looked at the basket I was struggling with.

“Is that a ‘Pinnochio Shoe’?” She suddenly said, referring to the unique piece I held in my hands.
“Err, yeah.”I replied.

Nodding, she recited the whole serial number to me, that bought me time to catch up with her on the next few items. She was one fast middle-aged lady!

And a one-woman show for the eco-basket project!

Aww, I'm smiling already!

Lucy’s commitment to volunteer work with the eco-basket project at eHomemakers and the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) Association (not to mention her duties as a wife and mother) – sees her traveling back and forth between Kajang and Kuala Lumpur / Petaling Jaya (that would be about two hours, one-way. Four hours, daily, goodness!), rushing to catch the next bus or a train, walking to offices from public transport stations, running errands and making preparations for events or coordinating other volunteers. 

Although it is so easy for a busy woman like Lucy to get cranky from exhaustion, or maybe even big-headed for being so indispensable, she doesn’t behave this way at all. She just does her tasks, smiles at young interns like me who make mistakes in front of her, and excitedly tells you stories from her past (and maybe offer you salt-sprinkled oranges for lunch).
Lucy wasn’t always the chirpy, passionate, confident, 'go-get-em' kind of person she is today.

The woman speaking to crowds at SLE events and eco-basket exhibitions, the woman confidently delivering her story in the 'Portraits of Perseverance' documentary, the woman dedicated to volunteer work that she’s passionate about – a few years ago, that woman was in a shell, shy and passive.

The turning point in Lucy's life happened, because of a fellow Lupus patient – her close friend, Justina Low Yew Lee.
One strong, unique lady - Justina Low.

In life, there are just certain things that trigger some sort of change within a person. That change could be due to a desire spark to make that change, or it could be purely involuntary. Change that can make or break a person.

I know of a boy who was extremely sweet and bubbly as a kid. He had a very creative and colourful imagination, and he often would chatter on about things beyond his years. He had a bright, sensitive, yet confident natural instinct.

Many things about him changed ever since he entered primary school.

Due to his upbringing in an English-speaking home, he found it difficult to learn Chinese language. His Chinese language teacher would pick on his Chinese language homework, telling the whole class how he had ugly handwriting and that he was not as "smart" as the rest.

I don't know if the teacher did what she did intentionally, but the impact on her students was made. Many of his classmates repeated the teacher's insults on him, poked fun at him, and refused to play with him. For a boy who was barely eight, the continuous bullying from both his classmates and his teacher reduced his self-confidence.

From a child who seemed to take the sunshine with him everywhere he went, who could play with action figures, make up his own clever role play scripts, and name several species of dinosaurs from the top of his head - the bullies in school made him a sullen and sheepish individual, too shy to speak up.

I'm not directing this at Chinese school teachers, because I have had the privilege of having strict but loving and tactful ones. The teachers he had obviously weren't meant to be teachers.

Although the story has a happy ending (he grew up to be a successful individual, with a sense of humour), it's sad how some events in our life can change a person for the worse

Lucy’s was a different story than the boy's. Justina was chatty and adventurous. She was a very positive, happy woman who always tried to push Lucy out of her shell and to live life to its fullest. She was that type of person - a source of joy - wanting others to be as happy as she was. Justina had succumbed to Lupus in 2011.

Lucy and Maria Skouras (Photo credits to The Advocacy Project

So it seems lightning does strike twice in the same place. Within three months of Justina's death, a very dear aunt of Lucy's passed on. Then, her mother-in-law - whom Lucy had been taking care of - passed away as well.

A loved one’s death is never an easy thing to deal with, especially if it’s sudden. Having someone close to you - laughing with you, involved in your life actively and making plans with you one moment - and then, losing her for good in the next moment... 

When you finally realize that you wouldn’t have the chance to do the things that you've been planning to do with her anymore - it would be a harsh blow to anyone.

Lucy could’ve allowed Justina's untimely death to affect her. She could’ve stopped volunteering at non-profit organizations. She could’ve let herself continue to mourn her loss. She could have gone into depression. She could have kept staring at door that Justina had closed. That her aunt, her mother-in-law had closed.

And her name was Justina. (Photo credits to The Advocacy Project)

But she didn’t let herself fall into that state.
In many ways, Justina's passing had sparked a desire in Lucy to change her way of life. Lucy could hear Justina telling her, "Go do it, don't be afraid!"
Remembering her friend's wisdom about life, Lucy started to make changes to hers. She began to step out, speak up, explore, travel and meet new people – things Justina had wanted for her quiet, shy friend.

This new perspective of life saw her traveling on a boat in Cambodia with the documentary team, making new friends at an international conference, speaking at SLE events, learning to be a group leader in the eco-basket project, telling her story to the world through the "Portraits of Perseverance" documentary, befriending other strong women figures, and impacting more lives through her passion for volunteer work.

 Lucy - with some of the eco baskets - flashing a winning smile.

Justina’s death propelled Lucy to try and do things that she never would have had the confidence or drive to do otherwise. And because Lucy begin to have that drive, she has accomplished so much a year after Justina left her! Watching her handlng her work with leadership and independence, speaking confidently and brightly, I find it hard to imagine that she used to be a benchwarmer, a passive player who was afraid to step up to opportunities given to her.

“Life is so short,” has become Lucy’s new life motto.

"Life is what we make of it, you can either do nothing or you can do as many things as you can every day!" She told us young interns who were (okay, maybe some of us still are) trying to figure out what our lives are all about.

Justina strutting some marketing skills! (Photo credits to The Advocacy Project)

I did not know Justina personally. But I can see part of who she was live on through the way Lucy lives her life now. Lucy now steps up without shying away from new people or situations, she has overcome her comfort zone. As she is doing all these, she has become even more of  an inspiration for others to do the same. All I can say is, Justina must have been quite a person to be able to leave such a great impact and mark on Lucy’s life.
Photography by Wang Junmey
There will come a time where we will be faced with news or events that might threaten to take away something that is dear to us - our confidence, comfort or people we love. That's where we have to choose between curling up in a sad ball and refusing to move on, or to address the issue, solve it and keep walking.

We're only human. Experiences can bring us down. 

As cliché as this may sound, what I've learned from Lucy these few months is, it’s alright to fall, it’s alright if you don’t handle these hard times perfectly and it’s alright to be brought down, as long as you find a way to get back on your feet and overcome adversity. Don't let it drag you down and change your positive outlook of life.
While you do what you choose to do, just remember that, what Lucy says is so true  - life really is so short.

We only have so many days. So, live.
Just live, test your waters, make mistakes, learn from them, climb high and get back up when you fall, love yourself and love others without fear.

Beyond the obstacles that dominate our sight, are stars to be reached. 

You only live once.

by Junmey