CNY morning started well. It started with this news: “This is Mr Tan Whee Boon’s first Chinese New Year without his hands and feet.” The celebration here is not about the tragedy but the indefatigable human spirit.
If you recall, last July, “Mr Tan had a bout of vomiting and diarrhea after eating a raw fish dish”. He was tested for severe pneumonia complicated by sepsis. To save his life, he was “given a drug to direct blood flow to his vital organs…But his hands and feet then turned gangrenous and had to be amputated.”
The 51-year-old technician and father of two, a son in Sec 3 and a daughter in Sec 4, and married for 16 years was all geared up for CNY in high spirit. When asked, “if his celebrations this year would be any different from before, he joked in Mandarin: “I saved money this year since I don’t have to buy new shoes and socks!” Mr Tan then said, “There’s no difference from previous years. But now I go to church.”
Lesson? Yes. Just one. It is about happiness and a pond. Here goes. My search for happiness led me to a pond by the wayside. Something prompted me to look into its waters and I saw the bustling of activities.
I saw three small fishes racing against each other. They were competing, swimming in one direction and then swimming back as if to start the race all over again. The race went on and on. The fishes never seemed to be tired. They were too preoccupied to think of anything else. That I guess is the happiness of the pursuit.
Then, I saw a gated community of koi. They were swimming carefreely, luxuriating close to the surface of the water. They were neither competing nor pursuing each other. They stood apart and were flaunting their red-glowing exterior. And the more they were admired, the more they flaunted themselves. They were playing to the crowd. They were living a pageantry existence. I guess that is the happiness of glamor and fame.
At this time, I turn my attention to a school of fishes. They traveled in a crowd, quite aimlessly. They didn't appear to know where they were going. They were swimming helter skelter. None of them broke away from the crowd. They have found security and meaning in numbers. That was their identity. However, they changed direction quite randomly. One time they were swimming upstream and at another time, they were going down south. There was no discernible pattern or definite goal in their activities. That I guess is the happiness of the following.
I observed the pursuers, the flaunters and the followers until sunset. And when the sun sets, the waters grew darker and darker until I could see it no more. The pond now became a black shimmer to me. I saw nothing except for the reflection of the dancing moon.
So I asked the moon's reflection what is happiness to him? I know it was not the smartest thing to do and the silent treatment I received was befitting of my foolishness. Then, it dawn on me when I read Mr Tan’s amazing human spirit this morning when it reports about how they as a family overcame: “The couple have been positive throughout their ordeal, always smiling in photos. Madam Choong said yesterday, “You can cry but after that, you still have to get on with life. This is something that we have to get through anyway, might as well do it with a smile.”
Taking Madam Choong’s lead (and Mr Tan’s amazing spirit), I thought to myself: Maybe happiness is far remove from the activities in the pond. It is not so much about pursuing, accumulating, flaunting, or following. It is more than that, much more. It is something that is beyond us, external to us. It is finding meaning that is outside of our immediate sphere of activities or feelings.
Like the pond that captured the moon in her waters, and the moon reflecting the light from the sun, happiness is about taking in the light of a timeless source, allowing it to change us, and then reflecting it out in our words and deeds. For one day, everything will turn dark and disappear like the pond when night falls. And the only thing that remains after that is the sun that shines so faithfully – day in and day out.
So if we hitch our happiness to the activities in the pond, they will all fade away in due course. But if we tie it to the meaning that comes from beyond the pond, our happiness is unshakeable, enduring and even transforming.
Let me end with what is truly worth celebrating this CNY. It is reported that “Mr Tan’s story generated vast public support and donations last year. It has inspired him to want to help others like him.” He said, “I didn’t expect so many people to help. It was very encouraging. I want to go into social work and help other amputees.”
I guess a truly rich life is one that no money, fame and power in this world can ever buy. It is one that is blessed by the unfailing love of family, empowered by hope and charity, and most of all, enriched by a resilience that is able to smile at the storm. Cheerz.