This has definitely been a long and hard week for both Singapore and her nation. Tears were shed like heavy rain, words of gratitude overflowed, private images and stories of the Lee family were exposed, and most importantly, a country saw the tightest it would ever see. I still remember how I woke up to the news of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing on Monday morning. It was as usual, a normal weekday for most other people while I, laid in bed a little longer than usual for it was my off day. Then, it came – in messages, on Facebook, on TV: The first of our forefathers is no more.
Having been aware of the critical state MM Lee was in during the previous weeks, tenebrific news like his dismissal shouldn’t come as a stupefying episode. Whilst everyone was preparing for the worst, no one was ready enough to expect and welcome the punch – and this, to me, will always be one of life’s greatest ironies. Unexpectedly, upon knowledge and acknowledgement of Mr Lee’s death, the tears which have welled up in my eyes started to stream down my face like a waterfall. To my consternation, I was actually crying. I was indubitably grieved and in a large way, bereaved with a huge sense of loss. Why am I crying? I thought to myself. It wasn’t so much about what I was doing, but more so of why was I crying?
Growing up, I’ve always had a passive interest in Asian history. I remember spotting Mr Lee’s face so frequently on my social studies and history textbooks, citing his significant contributions. Other than seeing him on TV screens and in print, I have never met this hero personally. (And this I find this to be a wasted chance as I have photos taken with both Mr Goh Chok Tong and PM Lee separately, but not with the first PM himself) I was born in year 1991 – an era where Mr Goh had just succeeded Mr Lee as PM, and sanitization and housing have more or less stabilised. Having lived in a HDB flat since birth, life during the obsolete Kampong and dirty sewage waters days could only remain as stories fondly told by previous generations. I was born into a modernized Singapore, a Singapore where LKY’s vision was slowly unfolding. I am part of what people would call, generation Y – A generation freed from bearing the hardships which our previous generations had to endure – war, post-war, survivorship, filth, riots, etc. In my deepest and fondest memories, the only shabby place I could ever think of is my old primary school building. And I can’t personally label it as “shabby” due to its relatively decent conditions (in those days), and the fact that I had only spent the first 4 years of my primary school life in there, before we got upgraded to a whole new twenty-first century building.
So it struck me. How is it possible that this man whom I’ve only seen and heard but have never met face to face evoke such sadness and distress in me? I was bewildered. I don’t remember shedding a single tear for my grandfather when I was 10. But here I am, crying for a man whom I’ve never met and known personally. To be honest, news of his dismiss tore my heart. I was actually heartbroken and thoroughly afflicted – as if someone close to me, a relative, had passed away. I remember carrying a heavy heart with me wherever I went that day. I took a visit to the Istana to pen a message, but words failed me. I was overcome with sorrow and the only words I could write were, Thank you. It was a kind of woe and gratitude that no word in the dictionary could represent. I guess when you really need to express an overwhelming sense of emotion but no word comes fitting nor worthy enough, you boil down to simple phrases of expressions that you’ve acquired when your parents and teachers were teaching you this thing called, manners. Then I realized, I cried not because crying is contagious (as what people say), but because I genuinely felt the loss – a loss felt by our 5 million population nation. The loss of a great leader, a man with great vision and foresight, a man who had spent his entire life worrying for a nation, a man whose spirit and achievements are reflected in the people and buildings you see, a man who brought Singapore from our previous third class to our current world class, a man with unfailing and undying love for our country, a man with courage and boldness and the qualities of a lion, a politician whose capabilities deem irreplaceable, and a founding father who, with a heart full of regret, said yes to separating Singapore from Malaysia 50 years ago. #ThankyouLKY
Throughout the entire week, his vision of a muti-ractial multi-religious nation unfolded – A uniform unity. Singaporeans braving the heat and rain queuing up for hours (really, what is queuing up 8 hours right now) just to pay their last respects, people from all walks of life making friends and sheltering one another (literally) with umbrellas, compassionate Singaporeans sponsoring food and drinks, companies paying tribute to our late founding father, people sending messages of condolences to PM Lee and his family, Singaporeans recognizing and showing appreciation for the service Mr Lee had rendered to our nation. It was a sight to behold. A Singapore he had always wanted; one which he had always tried to built – A country living in harmony. I don’t exactly know why it’s part of human nature to only know what we have until it’s gone. Our people looking out for one another. An outpouring of gratitude. The readiness and efficiency of our SAF (Kudos to all who have partake in this historical moment whether is it controlling the crowd, pitching the tents or being part of the marching contingent, It is indubitably an honour to have ensured an extraordinary send-off to the one who had made all this possible)
It was through this incident that I too, had my eyes opened to the magnitude (literally) of my parents’ love and thanksgiving for this man. You need to thank him (LKY) for what you have today, my parents would always constantly remind us. The way my parents queued up again, in the scorching sun, on Saturday morning, after missing their chance to pay their last respects on Friday night after a wait of more than 6 hours spoke more than words could ever express. I knew then, that this man, must have held a special space in their hearts.
You must make sure you pay your last respect to Lee Kuan Yew. The exact words my dad said to me with so much conviction I have never felt before. Throughout my entire life, pa had his fair share of reminders to me. These only came after he had decided that some sense had to be knocked into me. They were rare and took on a matter-of-fact I-need-to-wake-you-up-before-you-fall-into-a-cycle-of-misfortune kind of connotation. But this time, he personally came into my room to deliver this message. Not from his head, but from his heart. I felt lucky. I am lucky. Saddened as I was, I couldn’t compare myself to the state of distraught my parents were in. They have been through modernization, they have experienced living in poorly sanitized environment, and issues like worrying over their next meal haunted them. Education was a privilege, and life was hard. Life was truly hard. It had been this way till one man came and changed their fortunes with his vision and mindset. I am lucky, so very lucky, I was pardoned from that sort of suffering. Aceing my exams was probably the hardest thing I had to strive and endure thus far. At large, the appreciation and gratitude my parents have for LKY is eternal.
Throughout the week, Singapore witnessed the gloomiest of days it has ever seen. And today, it was the darkest moment for Singapore since independence. We lost a great leader, the light which has guided us all these years has been extinguished (-PM Lee Hsien Loong). But just as how there’s a light at every tunnel, the light shining within us just got brighter and brighter. And this is the legacy Mr Lee has left behind. As Jamie Ee simply puts, Mr Lee’s final gift: One united people.
Today, I realized how fortunate and how happy and proud I am to be a Singaporean. That defining moment when we said the pledge and sang our National Anthem for the last time before the late Mr Lee, I have never felt so honourable before. The reason why we mourn his lost is because we have seen how Singapore has evidently advanced over the years through his hands, yet he had to leave before he could fully enjoying the fruits of his labour.
And on a more personal level, I grasp that as big as a world leader he had been, LKY was also a man, a normal family man: A father, a husband, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle. Just like how any other man would be. His love and dedication for Singapore had put him and out little red dot on the map, but his love for his wife (just as any other man) bore him a family to love. A love story so admirable it has gone viral over the last few days. His love story and the care he has (because I know this care is everlasting) for his family displayed his softer side – a side which reminds me that when it comes to something so special like family, everyone has a side which no other outsiders would see.
As we close this chapter, we embrace our future with hope and with the fundamentals our forefathers have gifted to us. We also celebrate the success and legacy he has left behind for us to build on. But the saddest part of this all is, MM Lee had to witness the love, support and immense gratitude of his people through his lifeless body, from his coffin – how heart-wrenching it is. For this, I hope his soul managed to catch sight of Singapore the entire week. He would have been very happy. #RIPLKY, it’s your time to rest after a lifetime of undying labour. Though we’ve lost a dignified leader, we’ve won a united Singapore. Thank you.