Sunday, 20 August 2017

A tribute to Jason Chee - a true fighter.

In 2012, a terrible naval accident took both of Jason Chee's legs, his left arm and three right fingers. 

Yet that did not deter the 34-yr-old. He signed up for the Asean Para Games and won multiple medals for table tennis. 

Now, another tragedy has struck Jason when he felt sudden partial blackness in his right eye one morning. 

It turned out to be choroidal melanoma, that is, cancer of the eye. The tumor was 1.5cm in circumference. 

As the disease had not metastasized elsewhere, his doctor took the preventive route and removed his right eye. 

Within two weeks from that grim diagnosis, Jason lost his right eye; this is in addition to the lost of his legs, left arm and fingers. 

What did Jason do after that? He did what he has been trained to do. He went back to training for the Para games. 

Now, Jason is no doubt a self-proclaimed optimist. He said this, "Once a fighter, always a fighter. I still have one eye. I can be happy day by day." 

Jason added: "I can't prevent this from happening to me but I can control how I respond to it." 

It is tempting here to turn this post into another self-improvement talk where I churn out clichés after clichés in a bid to lift spirit or emotions this morning. 

I believe many reading this at this point would have reserved great admiration for Jason, and some may walk away with a numb struggle in their heart trying to understand and reconcile the trials they are facing with that of Jason's. 

It may be comparatively less grim than Jason's but yet it is still very much dreaded. For it is said that only the one who wears the shoes knows where it hurts. 

Each of us wears our own pair of shoes, we confront our trials or challenges in our own way, in our own unique circumstances and with whatever temperament, outlook and strength we are born with and develop over the years. 

Our outlook and temperament may not be as positive as Jason's. Neither is our resolve nor resilience as robust and enduring as his. 

We can no doubt be as inspired as we hope to be by Jason's fight in life, but life for us is still difficult regardless of what color-tinted glasses we are wearing. 

More importantly, I do not want to downplay that rugged cobblestone side of life that people like Jason have to lumber through everyday away from the media and spotlight. 

Jason himself has to support his 75-yr-old father, a retiree and a former vegetable seller. Jason is the only child. 

Jason's mom, who had always encouraged him to face adversity head on, passed away in 2011 of kidney failure. She was 65 yrs old then. 

And mind you, one year later he met with the tragic navy accident. Jason has every reason to give up then and there, and can we even blame him if he did?
Even Jason lamented when he said "I tried to find treatment to save my eye, but there was no way. I was quite down, and wondered why this would happen to me."

But it did, it happened, not once but thrice (mom, navy accident and right eye) in a short span of time in his relentlessly young life. 

So, forget about lemon and lemonade please, let's talk about life itself, and let's put our hands into the grease and grime of the rawness of living. 

Lesson? This morning, at the risk of turning this into a kind of self-improvement screed, I have three lessons riding on Jason's earlier quote.

1) "Once a fighter, always a fighter." 

If we are still alive today, reading this and reflecting on it, we are a fighter. Whether in school, at work, at home, as a student, parent or employee, or running a company, we are a fighter. 

Fighters are not defined by what happened to their life, it is defined by how they move on after that. The picking-up-the-pieces and moving forward is what defines a fighter in us. 

Needless to say, it may be a two-step-backward kind of struggle, but it is always countered by a three-step-forward momentum pulled by faith, hope and resolve. 

Here's a cliché for you as Mark Twain puts it: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

And Jason has shown me that the size of the fight in his heart is without a doubt bigger than the size of the circumstances he faces. 

It is something I will carry with quiet resolve in my fragile heart whenever I meet the mountain of my own struggle, and with that resolve, scale over it eventually. 

2) "I still have one eye."

Indeed he has. And it is still a good eye. How's that for perspective? 

I will let Jason lead this 2nd point in his own words and it's no cliché:- 

"Look at me - I've lost a lot. But life has to go on. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. We must defeat our fears and not be afraid of anything that we think we can't do. I don't want to see myself as a person with disabilities. I want to see myself as a cheerful, normal person."

You can't have greater and deeper clarity of sight than that. 

Helen Keller once said: "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision." 

I will thus ride on Jason's amazing clarity of vision any day and anytime when I am facing my own trials in life. 


3) "I can be happy day by day."

After he lost his eye, Jason continued to do household chores. He said he enjoys "whipping up dishes like chicken curry" but he "has to be more careful with his movements to avoid falls and injury." 

He said "getting ready in the morning now takes an hour, 20 minutes more than before. Picking up the table tennis bat again also required considerable effort."

It reports that "rather than believe that life has been unfair, (Jason) wants people to see how undeterred he is. By picking himself up time and again, he hopes to inspire others." 

There is a Jewish saying that "I cried because I have no shoes, until I saw a man with no feet." 

Jason doesn't have them, legs that is. On top of that, he has no left arm, no right three fingers, and now, his eye is gone. 

I am sure he has shed silent tears for them. But yet, he kept on going "day by day." 

When tragedy first strike, it's like your world collapsed. The pain seems irreconcilable and the unfairness incomprehensible. 

But for Jason, he takes things day by day. He doesn't ask himself when will all this be over. He takes it day by day. The day may take longer than before, every effort more painful and arduous, but he nevertheless takes his healing as they come, yes, day by day. 

Alas, there is no magic or grand formula to living and moving forward day by day with each day slowly opening up one small step for you at a time. 

Just as we can only scale the mountain one step at a time (and not with one giant leap), we overcome trials one day at a time. 

Each day adds up. Each day makes a difference. Each day will take back what's ours in the soul, spirit and strength. 

Thanks Jason for showing me that indomitable spirit. Now, go give your best for Singapore! Cheerz.

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