The moving finger writes…

… and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

These lines, from Fitzgerald’s translation of the Omar Khayyam,  apparently mean “whatever one does in one’s life is one’s own responsibility and cannot be changed”.

I beg to differ! So much for interpretations given on the Internet.

To me, the poignant lines reinforce the belief about how little we, people, have control over our destiny. And this innate realisation could explain why we need religion, fengshui, superstition, counsellors, life coaches, career coaches, even another human being, to help us live.

I reflected on this because the boss of someone I know died today, after a short and sudden illness. The subordinate is in shock and grief because the deceased was a good and enlightened boss.

This incident makes me remember what my family went thru in the Christmas of 2008 when a young family member, with so much ahead of her, suddenly collapsed on the MRT and after a week in ICU was taken off the respirator, pronounced brain dead. 

Sudden, cruel, inexplicable.

Equally inexplicable, a good friend’s grandson, barely 10, was taken away last year — again just before Christmas. This was the same good friend who prayed intensely for my niece’s recovery!

I understand her shocked incomprehension at the turn of events though I will not dare to claim I share her sorrow, since hers is the special grief of a devoted grandmother.

Going further back, no long after I started working life, I had to deal with the sudden death of a much admired supervisor. He had gone boating one Chinese New Year holiday with the local boss of Plessey (a British company which has vanished into the crevices of time).

And he was found in the sea early in the morning, right next to where the boat was anchored.

I remember going hysterical when a colleague called me with the news. I was equally hysterical at Clifford Pier where his coffin was to be sent off for a sea burial, so much so that staff from my department stopped me from getting on the boat that was going to take him on his last sea journey.

And most clearly I remember saying somewhat irreverently when I was helping his widow to pack his office stuff that he would never need: “Now, we won’t know whether he’ll ever be able to use the chopsticks,” handing her the pair he had bought to practise with, so that he could eat Chinese food effortlessly like the rest of us.

What do these sudden departures tell us? Not all of the young on whom Singapore is expending so much of its resources will be around long enough for a good ROI. Even if death doesn’t do its grim reaping before time, there’ll be other causes of attrition such as emigration and loss of ambition.

That’s why I’ve argued for more resources to be directed at those who have come through safely on the age stakes, because in the long haul game of survival of the fittest, more reliance should be placed on the elders to keep the wheels of the economy running. 

And I don’t mean just subsidising seniors on brushing up on their Mother Tongue.


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