We’ve been crying. I have. Every day since I learnt of the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in fact – which is odd, since I have never met the man, nor encountered him in person. Still, I cannot help but shed tears, like many others have.
It wasn’t as if we didn’t anticipate it. Mr Lee’s health was fading over the recent years. But perhaps some part of us wished he would be with us for a while longer. We wanted very much to see him at this year’s National Day as we celebrate Singapore’s 50 years of independence. Or perhaps some of us wished this leader, who has been the guardian of this little red dot, would never leave.
But people do. That is life.
We cry because of a sense of regret, for not showing our appreciation sooner to the man for his vision and gumption; for initiating a holistic approach towards building a nation from swamp to city, a city that is grounded on meritocracy; for being tough and putting his life on the line; for having that “iron” in him, on which we have built our future.
We cry because we feel a sense of loss; much like how we feel when we lose someone who has touched our lives. Despite not knowing the man, many of us have seen him on television, heard his speeches, and have been beneficiaries of his work. Our lives have been touched somehow – whether it be a chance to be educated, an opportunity to gain employment, a home to live in, transportation to bring us from place to place, safety in our neighbourhoods, or recognition in the global arena – he has touched us in one way or another.
We cry because we learnt what a simple life he led at home despite his stature. In some way, we cry because we may have misunderstood the man and his intentions. We assumed too much and understood too little. We failed to listen and see the fruits of his labour. We enjoyed these fruits, and forgot about the source of where it all started. Until.
We cry because despite his hard persona, here was a man who cared and loved deeply. He cared for the everyday man; he cared for the people of Singapore. He cried 50 years ago because his vision of a better Singapore was ruined when the merger failed. Many would have given up. But he fought on, never giving up on his vision, perhaps sacrificing more than he should. We cry because it was never about him, but about the people around him.
We cry because we heard the many stories from everyday people who had encountered this giant that showed what kind of man he was, a side of him we seldom see, a side of him we never knew. A man full of kindness, generosity, and genuine care. A man that was humble and true to his word. A man that was never too proud to say he did something wrong, and was ready to right the wrong.
We cry because he loved his wife so much. There is much we can learn about his commitment and love for her. Here was a man who never hid how much he loved his wife. He listened to her, consulted her and treated her like a partner who was his equal. He made time for her and cared for her until her dying day. We cry because we are touched by his devotedness and steadfastness. And we cry in happiness, knowing that he is now reunited with her.
We cry because we are moved by the kindness in the hearts of strangers. Often labeled as a materialistic society that only cared for ourselves, we saw how this man’s death brought out the best in us. From free food, to free drinks, to giving way to others or volunteering precious time, we gave freely – perhaps because we have received.
We cry because we saw unity in spirit. Perhaps none of us ever thought hundreds and thousands of others would feel the same way as we did. We waited patiently, we united ourselves for a common purpose, and we shared in the wait, even if it meant it was for hours. We cry because we saw a side of Singapore that we never knew existed – a country that was determined, patient, resourceful, creative, adaptable, caring, giving, respectful and grateful. While we struggled before to define what it meant to be a Singaporean, we suddenly realized what it meant to be one.
We cry because we saw a side of Singapore that came forth beautifully even as a life faded away. Like a child who has finally grown, we realized we too have grown as a nation. But now, we have to stand on our own.
We cry because we never knew the depths of friendships he forged with the many nations around the world, until we saw how many came specially to say their last goodbyes. He must have touched their lives in some way too. We were just too busy to know.
We cry because we don’t know if his son, the Prime Minister is taking it OK. We have been crying because we lost our founding father. We wonder how much worse it must be for him, to lose a father who has been a great influence, and a major part of his life. We wonder how he can put up that strong front, even if perhaps, some part of him could be breaking down within. We feel for him. And we know what he’s feeling isn’t easy.
We cry because our lives could all have been different. We wonder what we did right to have us be blessed with a man of such foresight lead our land in the yesteryears so that we can enjoy what we can today.
We cry when we ask ourselves, what have we done compared to this man, and find we pale in comparison.
We cry because we will miss this man. He wasn’t perfect. No one is. But for what he did, he did for the greater good. For what he had, he used it for the better of a community he chose to own, to ensure that they be led to a better life. And for that, we cannot fault him.
It has been a week of crying, a week of reflections. It has been a tough week for us Singaporeans, but an enlightening one as the tears give clarity to our sight, for what we have taken for granted, for what we have failed to see.
Tomorrow, we will wave our last goodbyes to Mr Lee. Tomorrow, we will give our last cry as it dawns on us that the future is left for us to shape and mould.
Tomorrow, we may forget this week. But may we never forget the many lessons we can learn from this man, how he has inspired us, and what we can do to continue his legacy.
Thank you, Mr Lee. You have moved us much, even in death. You have made us more than proud to be Singaporeans. May you rest in everlasting peace knowing that your people love you, and that we will strive to make Singapore a better place, like you did 50 years ago.