This was a post that took a long time to even get started. When I first read the news on Watsapp and then on Facebook, I was numb. I have always expected this day to come ever since Mrs Lee passed on, but at the back of my mind, this day would always come tomorrow instead of today. As I read the news over and over again, reading all the commentaries and reports that followed, I realised I was not ready to let this man go.
I always felt that no matter what happened, how the opposition or the PAP messed up, Ah Gong (as we affectionately referred to him privately) would come and make things right again. To me, he was always this larger than life safety net who said what he meant, meant what he said, and most importantly, did what he said. As long as he was around, things would be alright.
Of course I know that he is not perfect, having read enough negative reports and commentaries about his methods and all. That said, he will forever by my hero, the man who made a difference in my life through his policies. I thank him and his team for his belief in the importance of education, meritocracy and affordable public housing for all. Maybe some day I will share about my life then and now, to illustrate how these policies have changed the course of my life. But not today. Today, I want to take some time to honour the man who gave his life to Singapore.
What made me determined to write this post, when I could hardly find words to express my grief at the passing of such a great man were two words “authoritarian legacy.” An international report – I forgot which one – summed up Mr Lee’s contributions with these two words, which made me very upset. I do not deny there was something authoritarian in how he might have worked, but that certainly wasn’t his legacy to Singapore! At least not the way I see it.
To me, Mr Lee left behind a legacy of love: love for his country, love for his wife and love for his family. As Minister Heng Swee Keat shared on Facebook, Mr Lee was “always country, country, country. And country.” I do not think we would ever find anyone who would come close to loving Singapore as much as he did. Till he breathed his last, he remained in public service, always putting his country before his family and before himself. He was not perfect, and definitely no saint, but never can you say this man did not love.
His love for his wife, as shared in snippets by their only daughter Ms Lee Wei Ling through her Straits Times column, were touching. if anything, it demonstrated what devotion to one’s spouse looked like, what “till death do us part” truly mean. And this encounter shared anonymously online once again showed us the man’s tender side, determined to do his best by his wife, just as he did his best for Singapore.
His love for his family was least visible to the public, till after his death, where eulogies and interviews revealed how this patriarch did not forget his siblings and his children even when he was busy building the nation. He might not have always been there, but he was always there when it mattered.
During this period of mourning, I have not quite figured out how I would like to remember this man and how to share his legacy with future generations who would only consider him history or legend rather than a person. As someone who guards my work-life balance, his dedication to building Singapore puts me to shame. His frugality for a man who had so much also made me think reflect how I have been living my life and managing my resources.
It is hard for me to put down coherently in a post how I feel about the man, the commentaries I have been reading and the rude remarks that are making their tour round the Internet. For now, I just want to continue living up to his vision of a united Singapore, a country who stands its own ground and who would not be pushed around. That when it is my turn to go, I can say in good conscience that I have not let Ah Gong down.
To Mr Lee: Thank you for giving your life to Singapore so that we can live ours as we do today. Thank you for your foresight and for having the guts to do the impossible, so that today our tiny nation-state stands as a miracle. Thank you for showing us what nationalism mean and what it means to love one’s country. Thank you for the many miles you have gone before you slept. Thank you, and sleep well.
Note: Photo taken from Mothership