Mar 31, 2015

On Death

I've watched and read every eulogy of the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew that has been recorded over the past couple of days - albeit with varying degrees of attentiveness. PM Lee Hsien Loong's eulogies (at the funeral service, especially the meditation bit, and at the private cremation ceremony) were extremely poignant, but I think the most touching eulogies were by Lee Hsien Yang (particularly at the private cremation ceremony, followed by the one at the funeral service.)

I have dreamt about my death twice before. The first was when I was young; I had died in the lift of my HDB apartment, my soul floated away from my body and I watched from above as my mother cried over my lifeless body. The second time was a year back? - I dreamt that I only had two days to live, and I spent the time not rushing to meet people, but simply writing many letters. Mum came to me and said "You know what's going to happen, right?" and I simply nodded, at peace.

The annoying fact about death is that it's never just about you. I often say I don't mind dying now if I had to, but I'm often more afraid of others leaving my life. I'm not particularly close to my parents or brother, and I don't even live at home now, but I cannot imagine losing them. I'd probably be in denial for a long time, with bouts of eternally dark pits hitting my heart every now and then, throwing me into inner chaos, before I pull myself back out into denial. Not denial as in believing they're still alive, but it'd take a long time to register that I will never see them again in this lifetime, and possibly forever.

Imagine tying your soul to another's. Your lives join; you vow to live as one. He is your most intimate refuge, your pillar, the hope that covers you, heart of your heart. One day he leaves to get the week's groceries, or goes to meet an old friend. Hours tick by. The sky is dark. Then you get a call, but not from him, and never from him again, ever.

How would you react to seeing a close friend, or your partner, or your family member, lying lifeless in an emergency hospital bed? Maybe I would scream, or shut my eyes and shout angrily. I use sound to drown out reality - when the terrifying fire alarm rings, I scream and cry as loud as I can to drown out the alarm. When I'm walking somewhere dark and quiet, or when I'm haunted by a scary thought, I sing to myself. I probably would hug them and not let go. Letting go means letting go forever. As long as I can still touch their skin, hold their hand, they are still with me.

Then again, I've never been particularly sad at goodbyes, because I've never had to say goodbye forever to something close to me. My friends cried the day we stepped down from the Students' Council, the place where I found home; but I was like "hello, tomorrow we're still all going to sit by the bleachers in the morning. Goodbye is goodbye only when we let it be so." And we have photos and videos and vivid memories. More often, we let people die in our hearts before they actually die. There are just too many people to keep up with, and life goes on.

I often treat breakups like death, and they are in a way. He will never again be the him you knew. You will never again get to hold his hand, or sit with him in the same way. Those memories will always only remain memories. Soon you both become different people.

Perhaps I trivialise it. I've never known the death of a close one. A friend recently almost committed suicide, and I was one of her closest friends, and I had all the power to stop it. I hadn't paid attention to the signs - if only I had bothered to ask how she was doing, paid her a visit, and not be so caught up in my own selfish to-dos. If she had committed suicide in the end, I wouldn't know how to deal with that guilt.

Singapore's founding father, the man who turned the country from a dismal third-world state to one of the world's most prosperous nations in fifty years, died last week. I've never seen him in real life, and I'm not particularly sad about his death, and I don't agree with all he's done, but I am immensely appreciative of where he got us, and of his strength of character. A role model not just for us, but for other, bigger, more powerful nations. A few friends and I attempted to visit the Parliament House on Thursday at 4a.m., but it seemed that the whole of Singapore had that same idea, and the queue's waiting time was 10 hours - we would have to miss a few classes, and Lee Kuan Yew wouldn't have wanted that, would he? I was amused at our national, collective kiasuness. He had built that in us, too. At the same time, we didn't really need to see him - all one had to do was to wake up in their bedrooms, take the train, go to school, appreciate the safety of our streets, to pay tribute.

A friend shared this poem on her Facebook status that I thought was incredibly apt for Mr. Lee's death and Singapore:

Do not stand at my grave and weep 
I am not there; I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow, 
I am the diamond glints on snow, 
I am the sun on ripened grain, 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning's hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry, 
I am not there; I did not die. 

- Mary Elizabeth Frye

Mar 30, 2015

The story of humanity

"On the day you were born, no one cared about you. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.

"And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' Yes, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you," says the Sovereign LORD, "and you became mine."

"Then I bathed you and washed off your blood... I gave you lovely jewellery, bracelets, beautiful necklaces, a ring for your nose, earrings for your ears, and a lovely crown for your head. You ate the finest foods- choice flour, honey, and olive oil- and became more beautiful than ever. You looked like a queen, and so you were! Your fame soon spread throughout the world because of your beauty. I dressed you in my splendour and perfected your beauty," says the Sovereign LORD.

"But you thought your fame and beauty were your own. So you gave yourself as a prostitute to every man who came along. Your beauty was theirs for the asking. You used the lovely things I gave you to make shrines for idols...In all your years of adultery and detestable sin, you have not once remembered the days long ago when you lay naked in a field, kicking about in your own blood.

"In fact, you have been worse than a prostitute, so eager for sin that you have not even demanded payment. Yes, you are an adulterous wife who takes in strangers instead of her own husband. Prostitutes charge for their services- but not you! You give gifts to your lovers, bribing them to come and have sex with you.

"Because you have poured out your lust and exposed yourself in prostitution to all your lovers...I will give you to these many nations who are your lovers, and they will destroy you... They will strip you and take your beautiful jewels, leaving you stark naked.

"I will give you what you deserve, for you have taken your solemn vows lightly by breaking your covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you."

Verses taken from portions of Ezekiel 16. Everything's from the NLT except verses 6 and 7, which were taken from the NKJV.

Mar 29, 2015

Lee Hsien Loong's eulogy to LKY, on meditation

(Please forgive the quality and background noise; I screen-recorded this part of the speech from Channel Newsasia's Youtube screening of Lee Kuan Yew's funeral.)

Transcript taken from Channel Newsasia.

"After my first wife Ming Yang died, my parents suggested that I tried meditation. They gave me some books to read, but I did not make much progress. I think my father had tried it too, also not too successfully. When his teacher told him to relax, still his mind and let go, he replied: “But what will happen to Singapore if I let go?” 

 When I had lymphoma, he suggested that I try meditation more seriously. He thought it would help me to fight the cancer. He found me a teacher and spoke to him personally. With a good teacher to guide me, I made better progress. 

 In old age, after my mother died, my father started meditating again, with help from Ng Kok Song, whom he knew from GIC. Kok Song brought a friend to see my father, a Benedictine monk who did Christian meditation. My father was not a Christian, but he was happy to learn from a Benedictine monk. He even called me to suggest that I meet the monk, which I did. He probably felt I needed to resume meditation too. 

And to give you some context, this was a few months after the 2011 General Election. I was nearing 60 by then, and he was nearly 90. But to him I was still his son to be worried over, and to me he was still a father to love and appreciate, just like when I was small. 

 So this morning, before the ceremony began at Parliament House, we had a few minutes. I sat beside him, and I meditated."

(pause. Lee Hsien Loong takes a drink of water. Members of the audience dry their eyes.)