Duke Tsering, headmaster of the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) School in Selakui, India, was in constant pain most of his life because of an ill-fitting prosthesis. His leg was amputated when he was about 10 years old, and the prosthesis provided to him never fit quite right. Thanks to the generosity, of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Sunday School and congregation, Duke was brought to the United States and arrangements were made for him to be fitted with a state-of-the art prosthesis. In thanking the congregation, he said, "Now look at me. I can dance, I can run." He said that he was grateful, not only for the relief of his suffering, but for "all the messages of love you have given me."
To understand the context, we need to back up a little. A few years ago, Rachel von Roeschlaub, artist, geneticist and daughter of Priscilla and Fr. Kurt von Roeschlaub, St. Stephen's Rector, went to India to work with the Tibetans in exile. She taught science and genetics at the Tibetan Children's Village and to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan monks in Dharamsala. Duke, whose name means "long-life dragon" in Tibetan, was Rachel's translator. Rachel has returned many times since, and on a recent visit she invited Jane Massingill, then a high school senior, to join her. Jane noticed that Duke was limping, and in typical teenage straightforwardness, asked him why. When he told her his story, she was determined to help somehow. When Jane came home, she spoke with her mother, Sue Dietz Massingill, RN, vice president and chief nursing officer at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center and with Priscilla von Roeschlaub, director of St. Stephen's Church School. The result: a plan was made and executed to bring Duke to New York and arrange for him to be fitted with a new prosthesis.
The Church School children, with some assistance from the youth group, embarked on fund raising activities, which included an all-day "dance-a-thon." Jane and Priscilla spearheaded the fund-raising effort. Sue Massingill and another parishioner-Ellen Shields-found a prosthetist. Tulo Rivera, C.P.O. from Prosthetic Professionals, Inc in Brooklyn donated his services and provided the prosthesis at cost. The hospital also donated the majority of its costs.
During the month he was in New York, Duke stayed at the von Roeschlaub's home. Duke commented that because he was orphaned at age 3 and brought up in the TCV, "This is my first experience living with a family. I was not sure I knew how to behave." (Priscilla assured us that he was an ideal guest.) The von Roeschlaubs, and other parishioners, arranged a full schedule for Duke so that he could take full advantage of the New York area's offerings. Among other things, he saw a Broadway play (Les Miserables), marched with the Tibetans in the Immigrants Day Parade in Manhattan, toured a local school, attended an AA meeting (Duke admitted to having had an alcohol problem in his youth), joined an informal men's group luncheon, went to a Mets game, visited "Ground Zero," took full advantage of the Port Washington Library, went boating on Manhasset Bay, traveled to Boston to see Rachel's art in different galleries, and took a psychology course at C.W. Post (they waived the tuition for him). "I am having a great time," he said. "I am keeping myself busy to experience as much as I can to share with my colleagues. I am getting a real taste of what it is to be an American."
When we asked Duke how he managed to bear the pain all those years, he said that he did rely to some extent on medication, but that his Buddhist faith was an enormous help. Specifically, he mentioned being inspired by the writings of a Buddhist saint, Milarepa. Duke said, "When I read about his life, I thought, 'I am nothing.'" Duke added, "Maybe my suffering comes from something in previous incarnations." While remaining true to his Buddhist beliefs-Duke thinks that he might become a monk one day-he appreciates what he described as "the good things of other religions." While he was here, he participated fully in the services at St. Stephen's. Duke also mentioned having done a 22-day bike ride in the 1990s for the Tibetan cause (and this with an ill-fitting prosthesis!), where, he said, "I slept in churches, mosques, temples, whatever." He deeply believes in individual responsibility and in the reality that every sentient being is interdependent.
In expressing his gratitude for the gift he has been given, Duke emphasized how the new leg and the experiences he has had here will enhance his ability to make contributions in his home country. In particular, he mentioned the children at his school, whom he e-mailed regularly. He said, "The children here are helping me, I am helping the children there." Duke also mentioned the practicalities: where he works requires a lot of walking, with a lot of steep hills. In his farewell talk to the congregation, Duke said, "I have learned so much about love and compassion. I will go back and carry on all the messages of love that you have given me." He added, "I was born a Tibetan, and I have much to do under the Dalai Lama. My country needs me. Now I can serve better with love in my heart."
Duke is returning to his wife, also a teacher, and an 11-year-old son.
As is always true, the givers receive as much or more as the receivers. Fr. Kurt summed it up, "We usually give to people who are far away. Here we could see the day-to-day changes in Duke."