How do you sum up a life? Well with a poem of course and Ong Tiong Yeow ("Ong") did it admirably. He penned it for his dad who died at 82 who was cremated yesterday.
It was a poem from the heart - raw, moving and honest. Ong took 4 hours to write it because he already had poetry in his veins. Ong said that "in his youth, he was rebellious and did poorly in school. But he was a prolific poet then and wrote more than 500 poems, though none was published."
His story caught my attention because it is a life that I can learn from. In a nutshell, this was how it went - and I am summing a life up in 4 brief paragraphs.
Senior Ong was born in 1935. He was born into poverty, fatherless from young. But he worked his way up from a slum along Kallang River and built a tyre business empire called Stamford Tyres. He became prosperous. But prosperity became complicated when he evicted all his three children out of his bungalow.
Ong's older brother was thrown out of the house for converting to Christianity and later married a Eurasian family. He left for Australia. His younger brother was gay, left for America after his father disowned him and stayed with his lover. For the poet son, he too was kicked out "when he fought with his father about the treatment of his mother." He dubbed himself the "samseng" son. Ong said "the poem is also a tribute to my mum. My father bullied her, scolded her, kept mistresses - but she tahan (Malay for endure) until the end."
When his dad "got lonely", he asked Ong to come back home a few years after he was kicked out. Ong recalled "returning laden with artwork from the beauty pageant franchising company he had set up, determined to show his father how successful he had been."
Ong said that "my father looked at me and said, "I don't care about all this, I missed you." After that, Ong never left his dad and stayed with him for 25 years. Both Ong and his mother took care of him through seven years of dementia.
Lesson? One, and I am going to make a really trite statement - we all need to be constantly reminded of it anyway. Here goes:-
"The pursuit of happiness will never make you happy. Get over it, please. Most times, it is the pursuit that leaves us high and dry, empty - and not the happiness we are pursuing. The end always gets lost in the means. It becomes a destination-less pursuit - a bottomless pit of endless desires. Our happiness is thus held hostage by the pursuit, and no sooner than we thought we had enough, it's never enough. One craving will inevitably replace another. It becomes an obsession, an insatiable appetite. Our personality soon merges with what defines us. And what defines us is that darned pursuit."
Don't get me wrong. Go ahead and chase your goals. Live it up. Enjoy your life. God knows it ends just as soon as it starts. But if Ong's father's life of 82 years has taught me anything - that is, being estranged from the people who love you to your end in life, sickness and death, and yet you often treat them as a means to your endless pursuit - his life has shown me that it is not the pursuit of happiness that brings happiness. It is the treasuring of happiness that brings happiness.
You treasure happiness by building and enjoying the relationships with your loved ones. You don't treat them as a means to your end. You don't take them for granted. You treasure them as an end in themselves. Happiness is not the destination, its the journey - stupid. This is another trite statement, but we never fail to forget it in our blind pursuit.
From the get-go, our government urges us to go for the 5Cs. But all we ever needed to be happy is just one "C" and that is community, the simple joy of charity, that is, the enduring love of family.
Let me end with the Ong family. The "samseng poet" said that "my father died before he had the chance to ask my brothers to forgive him...We have only one chance in life to be a husband and a father. We learn what we can from our parents, but we only have one chance to get it right ourselves."
Let’s hope we don't squander this chance by spending our whole life finding happiness when it has never been lost in the first place. Cheerz.