Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Diana Chang, Ida Eva Zielinska
Tzu Chi New York has a tradition, which is, at the end of each lunar year, to distribute gift bags to seniors and long-term care recipients while bringing heartfelt best wishes. The practice has been going on for five years. Many look forward to their visits and company since the volunteers have helped them get through low points in their lives. Some even became volunteers themselves because of this ongoing custom. And sadly, a few of the care recipients Tzu Chi volunteers got to know passed away during that time.
“Compassionate Care in New York During Lunar New Year and Beyond: Chapter Two” is the second in a series of four blogs sharing stories about New Yorkers under Tzu Chi USA’s long-term care. The gifts Tzu Chi New York volunteers offer during the Lunar New Year celebration period are just one part of their ongoing support.
Liping Zhang, a New York City resident of Chinese descent, has Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease for which medications to control it cost hundreds of dollars per month. For a long time, she felt down on her luck, suffering from the painful symptoms of this illness and struggling due to the loss of income it caused as its debilitating effects deprive her of even an ounce of energy for work.
“I flew over here from Malaysia in 1995 for a better life, full of piss and vinegar, and I felt I could do anything. It would just be alright if I made some money to support my family,” Liping recalls, looking back at her life. But now, it’s hard for her to just move about, and she even has difficulty boiling water or brushing her teeth.
As did many immigrants before her, Liping Zhang, back when she was still young, also yearned to make it on her own and have her version of the American dream come true. Yet in 2012, at the age of 50, she hit a rough patch, and her life was about to take a dramatic, unexpected turn.
“Initially, it was just itchy skin, very itchy indeed, and then the skin would swell to the size of a coin. Sometimes, the pain deep in the bone, and especially around the wound on feet, made worse as if bitten by fire ants, would mean another one of many sleepless nights,” she recounts.
It took a year and a half before Liping finally got the correct diagnosis for what ailed her, which ultimately brought home the bad news that she has Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: An incurable disease for which medication can only manage the symptoms.
By then, the mounting medical bills kept piling up, having already wiped out all of her savings. “Two types of lupus drugs in one palm,” she says, pointing to one pill and adding, “This specific one alone costs more than $290 …”
In her darkest moment, a friend managed to introduce Liping to Tzu Chi, and a team of volunteers soon started to accompany her along her difficult journey, providing moral support. While doctors handled the medical treatment she required, the volunteers took it upon themselves to relieve some of Liping’s financial burdens and tend to her spiritual needs.
Nowadays, what motivates Liping to keep going and bolsters her spirit is that Tzu Chi volunteers never give up on her and are always ready to help. Each month, Tzu Chi New York volunteers provide Liping with a monthly stipend of fruits and vegetables delivered regularly to her door. Their encouragement and care also help lift her spirit whenever she’s at a low ebb due to the illness. The whole team, with over ten volunteers involved, has accompanied Liping on her life’s journey for four years now.
“Our Dharma Master (Master Cheng Yen) taught us that, following the path of Bodhisattva, we shall connect with the multitudes and be concerned about everyone’s suffering, while always remaining grateful, respectful, and compassionate in taking care of each person in each case.” Zhuoying Zheng, one of the Tzu Chi volunteers on the team, explains, echoing what is in every volunteer’s mind and heart as they serve on a long-term care case.
The all-round support from Tzu Chi has helped Liping to rekindle her optimism and regain her strength, both of which she remembers she possessed only in her youth. Unavoidably, she is still battered physically by Lupus from time to time, but she now enjoys the power of independence in seeing doctors and living her daily life. What’s even more, she is now motivated to help others as well.
One day, the volunteers on hand at the Tzu Chi New York office were delighted when they saw Liping walk in, gracing the moment just with her presence. But then she pulled a heavy tube made of bamboo out from her backpack, spilling out all the coins she saved up inside to donate towards Tzu Chi’s missions. “Oh! The Bamboo Bank came home!” they announced joyfully.
As a personal well-wish ritual at each lunar year’s end, Liping Zhang is sure to arrive with bamboo barrels full of small change, sometimes bringing friends along with contributions too. Even when facing the troubles stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic already in its second year, Liping won’t stop what she has grown accustomed to doing.
This time, she announced that she intends to bring back three bamboo banks at the end of the next lunar year, making a vow: “Tzu Chi welcomes a monthly $5 in donation, which accumulates to an annual total of $65. I say YES!” Upon hearing it, the friend who had come with her immediately chimed in, “Good! Good! Good! Count me in, too!”
Tzu Chi’s help, tailored to specific needs, strives to bring relief whenever someone encounters trying times due to illness or other hardships. Such efforts have enabled hardworking immigrants like Liping Zhang, who has shouldered many trials and tribulations, to tough it out and hang in there. Because if there is breath, there is hope, and Liping is doing well.
Your love can help support the needs of Tzu Chi USA’s long-term care cases nationwide. Together, let’s be their hope!