Saturday, 12 March 2011

Fed with Love

While I may never ever have a child of my own to feed, today the Lord allowed me to experience feeding a few of the residents in St Joseph's Home, where I now visit every alternate Saturday as part of my pastoral formation. Not that I have never fed my younger brother or cousins before, but today's experience somehow fed me with a whole new perspective on feeding - it was as if I was actually the one being fed by each of these residents who taught me these valuable lessons.

The Art of Feeding
Firstly, feeding requires sensitivity and conscientiousness which I'm sure many of us have already taken for granted in this seemingly simple act. But it isn't, at least not when the one you're feeding isn't yourself. Feeding someone else actually requires you to look into so many simple, important yet often forgotten aspects.

Is the porridge or noodle too hot?
My first few attempts got me in trouble to the point that the poor lady refused to eat anymore. Then I realised I almost burnt her mouth cos' I didn't remember to check how hot the food was! From this, I learnt to place my face near the bowl to detect any heat coming out from the food, and to blow each spoonful before serving the resident if necessary. I remembered to also spread out the rest of the food in the bowl to allow it to cool faster, something I remember my parents teaching me to do when I was younger, but had plainly taken for granted at this stage of life.

Is the portion too large?
I received my next lesson from a lady who spat out all her food after my first serving. Then a nurse had to tell me this particular lady eats small portions at a time. I gave a sheepish apologetic look on my face to the nurse and the lady, and began to feed smaller portions, even if it meant taking a longer time and many more spoonfuls for her. This truly taught me patience, and to accomodate to each person's specific needs and preference.

How to scoop each spoonful?
As silly as this may sound, I had to also learn the art of scooping each spoonful, especially when it came to noodles. At first, some of my spoonfuls had too much noodles, other times, there was too little, especially when some strands would slide off the spoon immediately after I proudly thought I had scooped up the ideal portion. Then I got a little frustrated with strands of noodles hanging by the side of the spoon which I didn't know how to get rid off other than re-scooping it. It was after many frustrated attempts that I got 'enlightened' enough to cut off the dangling strands by pressing the side of the spoon against the bowl. Believe me, I felt so stupid I wanted a room there to curl myself in.

Is there food bits left on her lips or chin?
With the greater sensitivity I learnt from each resident I fed, I began to take notice even of the tiniest grain of rice or spot of gravy left on their lips or chin. I could imagine how uncomfortable that might feel for them, and immediately wiped it off the minute I caught sight of it. I knew it made a difference, for when I was just about to raise my hand to wipe off that smudge of gravy, so too did the lady synonymously raise her hand wanting to do the same. That made me more determined to make even the act of feeding as discomfort-free and pleasant for them as possible. It was the least I could do for them really.

I must say, through such a seemingly simple task, I had a very humbling experience, realising how often we take for granted of so many things in life which others have to struggle to do for themselves. This greater awareness makes me more appreciative of the simple tasks I am able to do on my own, and to be more attentive and sensitive to the particular needs of others, especially when I am called to love and serve them.

The Art of Intimacy
As I got better at feeding, just quietly sitting beside one resident and patiently feeding her spoonful after spoonful, somehow drew me into a deeper connection with her. There seemed to be this unspoken act of intimacy between us as I faithfully fed her and she faithfully trusted me enough to allow herself to be fed by me. What deepened that intimacy was the realisation that she depended on me to be fed. She not only trusted me, she NEEDED me to feed her, something she couldn't do on her own. Somehow, that made me realise what an important, life-giving role I played even if for that few minutes. And it was one of the most beautiful exchanges of love I ever felt, especially from an older person - I loved her by feeding her, she loved me in return by allowing me to feed her.

This brought me back to the time when I was a child, when I depended on my own parents to feed me. We hardly ever remember that life-giving act of our parents, that mutual exchange of love and trust, let alone feel appreciative of what they did for us. But to now feed someone who depended on me for food, I realised how we can never ever live our lives merely for ourselves, for the very fact that we exist today comes from the very fact that someone lived not for themself alone, but lived for us even by the simple act of feeding us when we were young. And from that selfless act of someone else, we rightfully and dutifully owe it to live the rest of our lives for others, if not feeding, then serving others in any way possible. From the day we were born and had to depend on others to feed us, bathe us, care for us and bring us up, we were meant to learn the very life lesson that life was not meant to be lived in isolation as if we could 'take care of ourselves', but to be lived within a family, community, and society, where those who were able and blessed, were to serve those who were unable and not so blessed.

The Art of Small Acts
After their meal times, I was pushing some residents on wheelchair back to their rooms. Then I passed by one of the residents I had only fed for the first time today. She recognised me and threw me this big, toothless grin on her face that just melted my heart and made my day. Never did I expect a small, simple act of feeding her earlier that day made such an impression on her that she remembered, and expressed her gratitude in such a similarly small, simple yet powerful way. Feeding her that day may have seemed like the simplest of things for me, but to her, it may have meant the greatest act of kindness anyone could have showed her.

With the many seemingly small and simple things we take for granted in life, we also take for granted the huge life-giving potential these small and simple acts can do for someone else. Be it a simple, ressuring touch on someone's shoulder, a smile and a nod to a stranger, a desperate attempt to spew what command of hokkien or cantonese I could put together just to strike a conversation, or even just to sit quietly beside someone and make your presence felt - all these I realised make such a huge difference to each of these residents, and also to so many people out there who crave for these small and simple acts of love, if only we take notice of such needs, and if only we take notice of how lacking we are in these small and simple acts.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, "We can not do great things. We can only do little things with great love."

I am glad that today, the residents of St Joseph's Home fed me with the opportunity to do just that for them.

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