There’s a story about a warrior who led a powerful army and led them to new lands and to victory. In his later years, he was too old to fight but he still showed support to the army which was still full of energy. So he would watch his army fight in a valley as he stood on a cliff overlooking them all. He realized that as he lifted his arms up to the sky, his army in the valley would fight with great strength and overcome their opponents, but when he dropped his arms, his army would deter in strength. It was as if the army knew the support their seasoned leader was giving them from above. So, to ensure the strength of the army below, the protégés of this warrior leader came alongside him to hold up both his arms. When he had no strength, they would support him – morally and physically. And the support that all the parties showed to each other eventually led to the army winning.
We may not be fighting a war but we all need support from the ones around us. I recently had the privilege of visiting two people who have neuro muscular conditions. Mrs. Wong and her family were kind enough to invite me and some of my students to their home and share their experiences and struggles with us. We met Mrs. Wong and her daughter, who both have neuro muscular conditions, at the train station and they guided us back to their home. At their home, we also met Mr. Wong and their older daughter, who both do not have the same condition. As we listened to the family members’ sharing, we were all blown away by their strength, optimism and perseverance.
Mrs. Wong started realizing that she wasn’t well after giving birth to her younger daughter and realised she couldn’t lift her arms. After a slow degeneration of her muscles, she ended up having to sit in a wheelchair and has limited motion. She shared how she feels happy to have an electric wheelchair as she would not have the strength to push her own manual wheelchair. She shared with such positivism and despite her limitations. But she also shared that living in Hong Kong has been difficult in some ways. Many buildings and malls don’t have ramps so she is unable to enter them. She shared a story where she looked into a store window, wanting to go in and buy and item but couldn’t because there was a small step to go up into the store. I listened to her share and wish that more people could hear it and help.
Her daughter, also sitting in a wheelchair with the same degenerative muscular condition, shared that the most challenging she faces is going to work in her wheelchair when it’s raining hard. She needs to maneuver her wheelchair, whilst avoiding obstacles and holding her umbrella at the same time. To hear about her challenges and how she faced them with such determinism was so inspiring.
And through my experience of visiting this family with my students and their parents, I walked away with some insights from their sharing:
1) Importance of Family support
As we heard the sharing of Mr. Wong and the older daughter, both who have made life changes to accommodate to the needs of Mrs. Wong and the younger sister, we were so touched. They shared that they did their best to help in whatever way they can and provide them opportunities to experience the same thing as others, like providing for them financially and bringing them on overseas holidays. As a family, they encourage each other and support each other, despite challenges. Many families don’t face the same challenges as them but there will always be good times and bad in every family, and family support is so essential.
2) Importance of Friends’ support
The Wong family also shared how they have been blessed by the support of friends around them and how they too have showed support to others with similar conditions and how it helped their friends. Mrs. Wong shared how she knew a friend who was homebound for 3 years because she didn’t have an electric wheelchair and didn’t have family members to take her out of her apartment. Mrs. Wong lent her her electric wheelchair and for the first time in 3 years, her friend was able to leave her apartment and enjoy life outside. Having the love and support of friends enables one to experience the joy of life.
3) Importance of Community support
Before the Ice Bucket Challenge, very few people knew about neuro-muscular diseases, like ALS and MD, but the challenge caused a worldwide wave of awareness and fundraising. As the Wong family sat in the living room sharing with us, they shared that for them, it’s not the money that they now have that they have felt most supported by. Through the movement, the fact that people understand people with muscular conditions makes them feel valued and cared for. And we all need to feel valued and cared for. As part of the community, we have the responsibility to show support to those around us. And as they welcomed us into their homes to share their stories with us, we were touched to be able to be part of their community.
Most of us reading this may not have neuro-muscular diseases but no matter what we’re going through, whether joys or hardships, green pastures or dark valleys, health or sickness, we all need the support of family, friends and the community. Let us first extend a helping hand to ‘hold up the arms’ of others and show support to our friends, family and community. Together, we can make a difference.
JEMS Learning House
Founder and Principal