Much like the Greek mythology of Melpomene (Tragedy), and Thalia (Comedy), our day spent at the Army Open House was one that saw us the tragedy of mankind, as well as the fortune of kindness.
The day started off on the ugly side of Singapore. One that in the past, I’ve always gone above and beyond to make excuses for. People riding their motorbikes on the pavement? That’s just a Singaporean quirk. Cyclists blocking an entire street lane when there’s a perfectly good cycling path alongside? Oh, it’s no big deal. Cars blocking the path of a wailing ambulance? Maybe no one’s letting them change lanes.
But this day, I couldn’t make excuses anymore.
On this rather innocuous morning, much like any other, our members from the Disabled People’s Association (DPA Singapore) met at Bugis MRT Station so that their wheelchair accessible transport could take them to the Army Open House 2017.
Having to wait for the lift to descend so that our final member, David, could get in, and go up to the street level, I’m making small talk, biding the time. The lift descends, misses our level (probably cause it’s full).
“It’s fine, we’ll get it on the way up” I think to myself. The lift ascends, misses our level once again. This happens twice. We continue waiting. My small talk gets smaller, as the frustration in my mind weighs heavier. The lift finally opens its doors at our floor.
It’s packed. I hold onto the button, waiting for a few people to step out and make way. No one moves. Instead, I get back blank stares.
“Um, I’ll need some of you to take the escalators so that we can get in please”. Uncomfortable shifting, but no one leaves. Blank stares shift downward uneasily.
“Can some of you please take the escalators so at least this man can get in?”. A couple of people leave, the rest press themselves against the lift walls, but still there isn’t enough space for a motorised wheelchair to enter. I’m fuming at this point.
“Can some of take the escalators please? They’re right beside the lift.”
One bright young lady quips from the back, “He’s got enough space to squeeze in.” I stare at her, marvelling at her incredible apathy.
I turn to David and tell him to,”Go on ahead”. He hesitates because he might roll over their shoes. I prompt him “Go ahead David, they said it’s fine”, and he goes ahead. He’s barely able to fit in, with the shutting doors scraping the back of his wheels. I run up to the next level and guide him out.
The incident stays with me throughout the day. I replay the scene over and over in my mind.
But as the day progressed, and I was mentally preparing myself for more obtuse behaviour, something interesting happened.
We arrive at the F1 Pit Building where the Army Open House was taking place. We were immediately approached by a group of 5 NS men and women, who introduced themselves as our guides. And throughout the day, their kindness slowly erased the unpleasantness of the morning.
Anytime we, or our members required assistance, they would immediately get help. When it got too hot, cold drinks would magically appear before anyone said anything. When the sun beat down on us, they gave us goodie bags and umbrellas. The day went like clockwork.
When questions arose, the interest in learning and concern was palpable. Body language is a mighty thing, and having soldiers who had spent their entire career in the army, not having much of an opportunity to interact with people from the disabled community, lean in and genuinely wanting to know how our members spent their day was heartening.
There was no hesitance when something needed to be done. It just… was done. They asked questions when they weren’t sure, and seemed genuinely interested in knowing more about our members. But most importantly, they knew that should any one of them need help getting something done, there would be three more of his buddies readily alongside him.Having come from the military myself, this was a rather defining moment, one which made me feel rather proud of my brothers in arms – of the proactivity, and the initiative. Of how they weren’t afraid to step forth and offer help just because they might make mistakes.
It brought to mind a line from the SAF Officer’s Creed, “I lead my men by example”.
And that was exactly what this was. Each and every soldier that day led by example. And in that moment, I realised that while the actions of the Selfish Lift People did have weight in how I saw us as a society, so did these group of men and women in green.
It was a day of mixed emotions. But I think at the end of it, we all went home a little calmer, knowing that maybe we can all rest a little easy, knowing our society was being watched over by people who cared about each and every one of us, disabled or not.