This afternoon was a relatively quiet one at the patient care centre, a different world than the crowded – packed, congested, mobbed, bursting… you get the idea – roads and hustling malls that I had traveled through to get there. Singapore on a Saturday is unbelievable; Singaporeans are going all out, quite literally. Perhaps this is why I enjoy spending Saturday afternoons at the centre. It’s a respite from the bustle. But that is only part of the reason. The other part is that, every time, there would be someone to talk to – this same someone I’d serve, and also learn from.
Today, it was the girl with the Pyssla beads. When I saw her, I was surprised to see a familiar face who was not asleep, but sad that she was still warded. Today was the second time I chatted with her. I stood outside her ward.
“Do you still remember me?” I asked tentatively.
She nodded, and I took that as a cue to enter. That was when I realized her father was fast asleep on the safari bed beside her. He must be really beat to be sleeping so soundly in the afternoon.
The girl was once again working at her Pyssla beads. She looked much cheerier than the previous time, and was definitely chattier. She told me that volunteers are helping to sell her finished products; probably explains why she was hard at work. I was amazed at how she was opening up to me so much more than before. It does take time to build relationships – sometimes more, sometimes less. We chatted about hobbies, school, friends, and technology… although most of the time she was the one doing the talking. I just listened and watched her tweezing and beading.
What struck me most was when she shared her discomfort about how one particular teacher always treats her to meals and even paid for her class t-shirt.
“I don’t like, you know. I feel like I can pay myself. I [may be] financially challenged a little, but not that bad what.” (Singlish alert).
I guess nobody really likes to be treated as charity. Sympathy isn’t always helpful.
At that point, I thought I understood how she feels – I told her I did. But as I pondered over it while the day went on, did I really? I often see specific individuals and groups of people as…others. As much as I hate to admit it, I do view them in a different, less privileged light. Although I have always thought of myself as empathetic, I really am high in sympathy, not empathy. Maybe if I were her teacher, I would have done the same.
As she went on about her class, her best friend, learning to play pool and using the iPhone... I realized how similar she was to myself. I respected her optimism, her leading a happy life despite the illness, but reminded myself not to think of this as unexpected. Don’t assume that someone else’s life is any less colourful than it really is. Just don’t assume.
As I bade goodbye, she told me she could be out, finally, in five days. Phew – I stopped myself in time from saying “see you next week.” I’d miss talking to her, but I hope she gets to go home.