“Love is not something you demand from others, but give to others” –Dharma Master Cheng Yen
In a hospital, we witness the different stages of life, including birth, aging, illness and death as manifestations of suffering. These can be valuable life lessons for everyone. I underwent a unique volunteer experience at the Tzu Chi Medical Center in Hualien, Taiwan, which allowed me to realise that a truly beautiful life is a life in which we can help others.
Through helping others and reflecting upon the source of joy within our hearts, it further awakens our potential for goodness, which thus guides us to make lasting, meaningful decisions in our journey of life.
Every Sunday, Tzu Chi volunteers from all over Taiwan will make their way to the various Tzu Chi hospitals island-wide to start their week of hospital volunteering. This time around, we were honoured to volunteer alongside Tzu Chi volunteers from Taiwan’s Changhua County. Their willingness to take a 5-hour train ride from their hometown to Hualien to spend a week volunteering at the Tzu Chi hospital there spoke volumes about their dedication. Though most of them were homemakers or retirees, some of them actually took leave from work to serve at the hospital.
After registering at the social work department, we were allocated to various departments, such as Emergency Department, Endoscopy Centre, Intensive Care Unit, Outpatient Clinics, General Wards, etc. I was assigned to the General Surgical Ward, where I got to know Sister Shu Zhen, a tall, slim bespectacled lady and Sister Xiu Er, a genial lady with a head full of snow-white hair. Both of them had served as Tzu Chi hospital volunteers for several years, and they aimed to volunteer in a Tzu Chi hospital at least twice a year.
Methodically, they made their way around the wards, bidding the patients, their family members and caregivers a cheery “Good Morning! How was your night?” Their other duties included simple portering tasks, meal service, providing emotional support to patients and their family members and caregivers. If a patient did not seem keen to open up, they would respect his/her decision and try to interact with him/her again later in the day.
The volunteers were also meticulous in taking notes on the needs and concerns of the patients. They would alert the local Hualien volunteers to keep a closer eye on patients who needed more care. And they effortlessly calmed the heart of an anxious spouse who travelled daily to be with his wife at the hospital, even though he was tired from a long day of work.
They also opened up the heart of a 94-year-old elderly male patient. The patient was sitting alone on his bedside after a successful urological procedure, his face looking forlorn. Unbeknownst to the team, he was hiding a secret.
A volunteer happily said to him: “Cheer up! Your surgery is a success! You must be happy to be so fit, healthy and mobile at your age! You have lived to a ripe old age.”
However, no amount of compliments or cheer would bring a smile to his face.
He retorted, “What is there to be happy about?”
But Sister Shu Zhen did not give up. She patiently and tactfully navigated through her conversation with him. Their conversation soon moved to his hometown. He shared that he was from the same hometown as Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty of China.
Slowly, the conversation steered to family. It turned out that the elderly man lost his eldest son to a mountaineering expedition more than 50 years ago. He had developed a knot in his heart since then, thinking that his son’s expedition leader did not make an effort to save him.
The volunteers lent him a listening ear and tried their best to comfort him. At the end of their conversation, the elderly patient was beaming. He was finally able to let go of the hurt in his heart.
Master Cheng Yen puts it aptly: “We must not make light of a caring gesture, be it a simple action or a few kind words. We must have respect for and place importance on every person’s voice and actions. Even a few gentle words or a kind gesture may bring awakening to someone who is lost and struggling in life. Our hospital volunteers must always maintain a gentle demeanor in order to bring comfort to people’s hearts. When the patients’ minds are at ease, their physical conditions will recover easily.”
Age is not a barrier for one to be of service to the community.
Sister Huang Cai Kuan from Changhua County only started volunteering when she was 70 years old. Now, at 101 years old, she has accumulated more than 30 years of experience and is still going strong!
Without the selfless efforts of Tzu Chi Volunteers, the Tzu Chi hospital volunteer programme would not have been as successful as it is today. Countless patients, families and caregivers have experienced firsthand, the Great Love of Tzu Chi.
By serving as hospital volunteers, we may gradually untie the knots in our hearts, too. Modern people live affluent lives, and many are very knowledgeable and highly educated. Yet many people have a strong urge to compare themselves with others (and would get upset if they lose out). Without a heart of gratitude and contentment, one will never be satisfied in life. When we love others genuinely, others will care for us as well.
It is possible to bring back this spirit of Great Love and spread it around Singapore, too! Would you be willing to give love to others as a Tzu Chi volunteer? Let me leave you with the lyrics of a heartwarming song – “Give Love”, while you ponder on your answer.
Love’s the language of our souls
Love’s held in hearts and not hands alone
Love’s our small wish for you to enjoy
We wish you forever peace and joy
Love walks tall while sharing smiles
Love’s found in silent gratitude’s eyes
Love’s giving more than yesterday
Believing strong, brave and not afraid
Give love openly
As the sun shines warm light on you and me
Across every distance
So shall our love dare to dance
Spread love readily
Pave the long road ahead tenderly
Your soothing blessings
Heal all pain and suffering
“We must use our eyes to ‘hear’ and our ears to ‘see’, and closely observe everything in detail to experience life’s lessons.” – Dharma Master Cheng Yen