Much has been said in the wake of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing.
One of the more cynical responses from those of my demographic seems to be: “Why should I cry? He wasn’t my Ah Gong.”
This got to me because it got me thinking about my own Ah Gong. I never cried for him either, because he passed on before I was born. All I have are the stories my mother told me: he was a tailor who owned his own business, he smoked heavily and had a gambling habit. I know also that my mother loved him very much.
Although I never knew my Ah Gong, I wouldn’t be here today without him. Besides that literal fact, though, I also see where his life has had an impact on mine. When my mother was young, she made shorts for her siblings out of scrap material left after her father cut out his customer’s trousers. Years later, she made my pajamas from soft woven cotton, and taught me to use a sewing machine. Now I sew clothes and accessories for my own daughter.
Every year, we honour my Ah Gong by cleaning up his niche at Mount Vernon Columbarium. It’s not the most convenient location and the mosquitoes are pretty fierce, but it’s a family tradition that I try to keep up with.
Honouring someone’s life and memory doesn’t have to mean mindlessly glorifying him/her, or ignoring the areas where he or she fell short. It’s more complex that that. The same person would have been different things to different people, and it doesn’t make sense to take the measure of a man’s life by either his best or worst decisions.
At church last Sunday, we prayed to be saved from the forgetfulness that results in ingratitude. This is the lesson I hope to keep with me from these recent events.