When Words Fail, Let Our Actions Do The Talking

One week of mourning is drawing to a close. I have been drifting in and out of a mixture of emotions the past week, at times more emotional than others. My mind devoured countless of narratives and counter-narratives in the form of articles, forum posts, Facebook posts, that make the landscape of social commentary this week. As an educator in the civil service, we wear our teacher masks and tell our students of this great man and the history he has shaped in the form of our nation. Yet in doing so, we remain intellectually engaged by emotionally detached from the happenings. We all need some time to find words for how we are feeling and thinking. At this point, my mind is still incoherent, and there is little to say, although much has been coming in waves.

I still wonder how this man could evoke such powerful feeling in Singaporeans although we only read about him in our history textbooks and newspaper articles, or seen him on TV. Wouldn’t making him a public icon also render him impersonal and above us?

I think I am most moved by the idea of this man. He stood firm for the visions and beliefs he had in Singapore, arguably, he lived his life for Singapore. It is hard to imagine why someone would do that.

I am also moved by the unity of Singaporeans. Yes there are also negative criticisms that went out of line this week. But in this week, I felt a Singaporean heartbeat. A heartbeat that weakened in grief because a great man who started that heart beating had left us. Whether I was driving on the roads to work or walking in a public place, everyone seemed more resigned, quiet, silent. I hear about kind deeds Singaporeans showed to one another – taking turns to wait in line, distributing drinks, buns and food to those queuing, looking out for one another, practising patience and empathy when paying our respects. I witness how civil servants and NSmen came together to support the same cause – taking 12-hour shifts, putting other priorities and interests on hold for this one purpose, and in our own way, doing our bit to pass on this legacy to the next generation. As educators, we struggled to contain our emotions and transfer our gratefulness and understanding of a shared history to our students in the classroom. Others volunteered to manage the queues, disseminate information, and all these acts driven by gratefulness and appreciation for what Singapore has become, is indeed powerful.

The interview segments that followed the state funeral let the words and actions of a lot of Singaporeans, both young and old, testify to the legacy and influence of Mr Lee. I was pleasantly moved that toddlers and young children, could offer up their own words of thanksgiving and goodwill even though they would only have heard of him through documentaries or their parents. I am heartened that as one nation, we have come together to show our gratefulness for this one man.

In one article, it described us as the politically silent ones who only in his death, are now compelled into action, and given a voice. After watching the state funeral, I am convinced that I need to become less politically-apathetic and stop taking the peace and security in Singapore for granted. I wish we future generations will be able to continue to do justice to this country we call Home.

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