Thank You

Stories, they bring us together, they stitch wounds close. Stories, they catch us unaware, at the twilight just after waking, the forgotten pauses between mouthfuls of rice, gooey with an unknown sauce. Stories, they leave us alone. 

Today, I was reminded of how my batch of army comrades helped to direct the social media outreach of National Day some years ago. We looked at fireworks and sighed over the fiery bursts of taxpayers' money, of our parents' money, our money. 

We scurried around like little mice, digging for stories to post on blogs - are blogs even a thing now? - on twitter, facebook, flickr. We argued like little people who had not been exposed to life, its tender infancy, its gradual decline, its sudden bursts. 

Last Thursday, Mrs Ho, an ex-colleague, boarded a cab home in the evening. It was the day before a public holiday. The cab tried to beat the red light. A heavy vehicle smashed into the passenger side. Mrs Ho passed away.

Like many who have been touched by her generosity, kindness and patience, I spent the weekend, caught in grief's waves, barely buoyant in its ebbs and flows. I sat on the stairs, picking apart weeds struggling to survive. I was distracted and messy and missed my family of ex-colleagues. Grief was alienating.

It was not the first time someone I knew passed away. I should know better, I really should, but grief, it is an alien. It is strange and unknowable and pierces the bubble of comfortable doldrums. 

An ex-colleague has this story of Mrs Ho moving the entire assembly to the afternoon slot so that him, a fledgling teacher, could attend the session.

Another shared the story of how Mrs Ho gave her a box of macaroons after her somewhat unusual attempt of being a little miss sunshine. 

A student mentioned how she was the only one teacher who constantly reached out to him and reminded him that growth was within reach. 

She was my mentor, back when I was new and tender, bruised by screaming kids who flipped tables, tore notes, cheated during tests, fought in the air-conditioned music room over a fan and in the garden over a girl. 

She gave thank-you notes and bought little thoughtful gifts to inspire and encourage everyone around her. 

She was the well-loved mother of the staff room, the beloved granny to her students, a kind soul who deserved to enjoy retirement after years of being the first few to reach the office and the last few to leave it. 

So many people spent that long weekend, battered, broken, wrecked, tearing, sobbing. 

This week, I drifted. Marked test scripts and mumbled. Cooked and mumbled. Walked and mumbled. There was grief, of course, and shame. The ignominy of impatience, of raising my voice at my classes. In what world would she shout at her students? 

She wouldn't and I shouldn't.

An ex-colleague said that Mrs Ho wouldn't want us to be self-reproachful. She would say something warm and remind us to be loving. She would say that there is a long journey to being a good teacher, to be kind to oneself, to try and last in the service.

The enormity of this all, the injustice, the ugliness, the sheer unfairness.    

I want to write about parade colours, the flags in the orderly march-past, the bright metallic bursts across the city skyline. To recollect the countless KFC meals given to servicemen during rehearsals. The sparrow-like squabbles about the social media efforts. 

When I was a kid and loved reading superhero stories, I would imagine myself having powers like super-strength or psychic blasts or pyrokinesis, all destructive forces with a sudden wave of hand. I never thought about having powers like time travel, I mean, how lame can that be.

Now, I imagine the power to reverse time, for the opportunity not to ever board a cab. 

I imagine her family, the magnitude of their grief, and the gentleness that would eventually come after the wounds have scabbed over and the scabs have fallen off.

Thank you, Mrs Ho, for your mentorship, your kindness, your inspiring example. 


Just reading this brings you a few seconds closer to retirement.

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