A series of motivating true stories that will inspire us in our journeys to age with love, purpose, hope and dignity.
Written by Mei Ling Fok, PhD
I interviewed a delightful 90 year old man, Yu Ngan Lun, affectionately called “Little Yu” by the staff in the Home for the Elderly where he now stays. With his easy-going personality and natural charm, no one would have guessed that he has had a very harsh life, spanning the Japanese Occupation, Civil War in China, Mao Regime and culminating in total blindness for the last 20 years. There is no shred of bitterness in his voice or demeanor. Instead, there is ample room in his big old heart to be not only self-sufficient and independent, but also to extend help to others, his visually or mentally impaired peers in the Home, to cope with their suffering through music and kindness. As a self-taught musician, he teaches them with patience, compassion and love.
As we all know that at some advance stage of aging, there are those, especially living in institutions, who easily give up living and take up existing. Many have succumbed to life’s hard knocks, defeated by circumstances or disease, moribund and passively await the ultimate end of suffering in this life. Yu, is the exception and he is exceptional.
As a teenager, he was subjected to adverse conditions under Japanese war masters, and as a young man he encountered the pangs of wars in China and the economic apocalypse of the Mao Regime. He recalled that during the many years, he was doused everyday with never ending news of death, massacres, suicides, executions and torture of his close family members, relatives and friends. Many perished without trace. This etched indelible painful memories which were conducive for the nurture of animosity, life-long revulsion and disgust. On the contrary, Yu saw the destructiveness of hatred, anger, greed and war. Instead, he found forgiveness and perceived soldiers, not as warmongers and archenemies, but as human beings with families, who became political pawns with little choice in the matter. He seems to be the embodiment of an ability to see goodness in everything and everyone.
After much struggle with his career in very harsh economic times, he came to Hong Kong in 1953, tried being a barber and then as a very low-paying security guard until his eyesight completely vanished all of a sudden, while crossing a road. He was knocked down by a bus! Fortunately, he survived. With the onset of total blindness, his family could no longer care for him and enrolled into a Home for the Elderly, at 70.
Making the best of the situation, Yu worked his way to become a star resident and was even recently nominated for the SCMP’s “Spirit of Hong Kong” award because of his selfless contribution to others and for overcoming personal challenges. He is extremely active. Age and visual disability did nothing to thwart his participation in different musical and singing activities including drum competitions with his team aptly called the “Energetic Eagle Drum Team”. A tough act to follow, and I suspect even for someone half his age !
After a lengthy discussion, he offered his secret of staying happy and composed, in spite of the turmoil’s. He said (verbatim):
“Don’t think too much. Take one step at a time. Don’t look at the past. It is over. If you don’t harm anyone, you will have no regrets, no matter how old. I am very happy now because I never harmed anybody nor did I hurt others for my own good (不損人利己). Also, at times, be not afraid to lose out (不怕蝕底).”
When asked if he had a wish (I had intended to buy him a nice present), but his answer took me aback. He said pensively but bravely, “Yes, I just hope my departure from this world will be peaceful. No pain. That is my wish.” Although he was, clearly, not a man wanting or waiting to die, at 90, death was indeed on his mind.
As they say, “memento mori” (remember death) because it is when one is sincerely aware of imminent death and the frailty of life, that one will really and truly remember to live -“memento vivere”!
As no stranger to personal difficulties myself, I found my meeting with Yu, totally inspirational. Whatever life has hurled at him, including two decades and more of total blindness, he never lost sight of the art of living happily including having 4 great-grandchildren.
Thinking of him now, I am reminded of the ethos:
“That which did not kill him, made him even stronger.”