Do you believe our lives hang on a promise? Even for those who don’t believe in promises. When we go back in time, there would be a point when we believe we would wake up the next day and life would go on. That we would grow up, that we would experience life, that there was a name for each feeling we feel and we would feel every feeling, including those unnamed. The thing is, we need to believe, in order to function. I recently met someone who told me, “Before I met my life partner, I knew I would. When I met him, I felt I knew him. He was like a promise in life.” Some of us believe in promises until we don’t. Until we are let down, disappointed, hurt. And we feel this way because we believe in promises in the first place. Otherwise we would be indifferent.
Today is my birthday. As I grow older, there is the inevitable accumulation of loss. Of time, health, friends, loved ones. Yet in some ways, things get easier. The insecurities that stabbed at me through the years have lost their edge. Not because of sudden wisdom. Just the gradual process of believing. The belief that some promises do hold true. This year, the pandemic has stirred both a sense of crisis and an urge to reinvent. A friend who worked abroad, on finishing his fourteen days quarantine on his return, felt a little “strange to return to a different Singapore.” I told him, being in Singapore through these unusual months, Singapore is different, and Singapore is the same.
Hindsight is 20/20. With the GE2020 results, it is easy for anyone to say how and what the PAP has done wrong. There are countless opinion pieces and commentaries. I have not read many, but the ones that I did read, the ones that touched and moved me, are excellent, making good sense, honest, written by people who sincerely care for Singapore. And if I may add, by people who care for the PAP and wish for a fresh lease of political life in Singapore, an improved governance led by the PAP. Making this less-than-stellar win by the PAP a most meaningful one.
A friend asked me yesterday, “Do you still believe in the PAP?” I was surprised, taken aback by such a question. I shouldn’t be, given that even our PM had acknowledged ‘the share of popular vote was not as high as he would have liked’, and with such headlines: ’Singapore’s Lee Retains Power But Party Has Weakest Showing Ever’ by Bloomberg, ’Singapore Ruling Party Wins Easily But Its Vote Falls Sharply’ by The Economist, and ’Singapore Ruling Party, Stung By Poll Setback, Faces Succession Question’ by Reuters.
A good movie has a defining moment that will stay with you, sometimes for a long time. The GE2020 campaigning started on a high note with a televised English Language debate. Vivan Balakrishnan showed his mettle as a debater and politician who thinks on his feet. Then a young man, who went toe to toe with the Foreign Minister, stole the show. Jamus Lim immediately became the star performer, garnering a following not unlike the young Nicole Seah in 2011. Was this the moment? Jamus’ sheer eloquence however belied a need for grandstanding that took away the essence of what he was saying, and somehow underscored his lack of actual ground experience. Just when the hustings appeared to be running their course, the defining moment happened. It was when Raeesah Khan was attacked. Pritam Singh had faced up to WP’s no-show in the first televised Chinese Language debate, but how he showed up at the press conference with Raeesah not only contrasted favourably to the unceremonious disappearance of Ivan Lim, he fielded questions directly, taking a stand that was reassuringly and disarmingly gracious and honest. We all know a good political candidate when we see one. Pritam is good and then some. I had thought he looked distractingly concerned most times. Yet with time, this look grew on me. During the campaigning, I saw an earnest look of humility, a steady look under pressure, and a look that restored my faith in the opposition.
An American friend was sharing a recent experience, something we will be experiencing soon. Getting out of lockdown. Try not to read or watch too much news, he advised. “It’s tough. We don’t need to be reminded repeatedly how bad the situation can be. If we look out for the bad, we can, especially now, easily find the worse. And the worse can quickly cross over to the darker than dark side.” But to look at the bright side, to stay positive in the face of a pandemic and financial meltdown can also appear misplaced, and it certainly can be the hardest thing to do. Unless, or until there is some form of an epiphany.
A Covid-19 patient who had yet to recover, was asked why she was joyous, almost happy. Her response was intoxicating. “With over 300 million people in America, I have to be among the one over million infected. In the past, I would be devastated by such misfortune, such bad luck. Life is short. I want to focus on my over 90 percent chance of recovery. The important thing is I am alive. I feel my best days are still yet to come. I believe this to be so…”
From a safe distance at a neighbourhood food court, I was queuing behind a lady with a heritage-looking tingkat, when she turned around. Looking at her eyes, I surmised she was smiling widely beneath her mask, and nodded in polite response.
She hesitated, moved to face me directly and said, “I recognise you. How are you?”
“I am ok,” I replied.
“You are wondering if you know me,” she laughed a little. “I come from a time when we greet one another. Same kampong or not, we are all friends.”
She is a handsome looking woman with a sturdy voice. Her English is Cantonese accented, clearly enunciated.
What she commented next was engaging. “The world has stopped. Slowed down. For me to catch up.”
“Maybe to catch up with you,” I ventured.
From her eyes, I saw her masked smile again.
“We will be ok. This is new to me. I have never experienced something like this in my life. My generation, the government call pioneer generation, most things were new in our time. We just face it.” There was an energy in what she said and how she said it.
With porridge in her tingkat, she walked away with a slight lift in her steps. For some people like her, there is a build-in positivity that comes from living life.
Her ‘Just Face It’ is perhaps the genesis of Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.