We are each presented with an opportunity within a brief moment in time to leave a mark within and beyond the environment we have been placed into. Some pass on leaving the seeds of transformation in the hearts and minds of people or in their physical environment, values and accomplishments that transcends their mortality; some others leave with barely a notable trace. Then there is the bunch whose legacy would be better off erased.
In Memory of Mr Lee Kuan Yew
A fortnight ago, the young nation of Singapore lost its founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew – a man internationally acclaimed as one of the greatest statesman in present times. Following his passing, a week of national mourning was declared. The nation witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of grief and solidarity, with hundreds and thousands of citizens queuing for up till 11 hours in the sweltering heat to pay their last respects. On the final day, minutes before the state funeral began, the heavens open and released a torrential downpour, soaking the unwavering thousands flanked along the 15km route that was to be his last journey through the city state he envisioned, fought for and built.
As I watched television coverage of the unfolding event, there came a moment where I was capsulated into a detached frame, seeing the crowd as a mass of specks of lives congregating to bid farewell to yet another speck of what was life. How different was this man from any of the other specks? In just less than a century, a miniscule portion of time when considered within the greater existence of time, every one of those specks will meet the same eventuality – crudely, each speck will end up in his/her own coffin, the same as the one passing through the crowds. No two ways about that; as long as there is life, the probability of death is 100%. Yet that man lying in that coffin elicited never before seen reactions from a population that has generally been perceived as a stoic one. What was it about this man?
Surely, he was recognised for his high intellect and for being a well-esteemed visionary. That could not be enough to evoke such an outpour. Such men of calibre have departed without much ado. Yes, under his leadership, a prosperous city state was built against all odds, a gigantic feat not to be understated. Yet this could be easily left in the cold by the majority of those in the crowds who were born into peace and prosperity. He had his fair (or unfair, depending on which camp you are from) share of critics and dissidents. Yet in poignant tributes shared, tears were shed amongst these people. They too sacrificed hours to bid a last farewell.
For all the varying degrees of discontentment leveled towards this man, there was, dare I say, an unanimous recognition, that this man gave wholeheartedly and immeasurably to his people. He gave with passion and diligence, persistence and strength. He gave with a heart of humility, a heart that truly cared for the nation and his people. He stood by his convictions and principles in the face of dire circumstances. His commitment to his work allowed only death to sentence his retirement. His legacy pierced through tangible accomplishments into the hearts of the people, uniting the nation in his death as he did in life. Collectively, such is the legacy he left; his character being the very essence of it.
Our character forms the foundation of our legacy and our values shape the path it takes. The nature of the legacy that we strive for will be aligned with our beliefs. How much we are prepared to sacrifice and give of ourselves hinges on our selflessness and convictions. How much can we achieve? How far can we go? These will be calibrated by our attitude and the strength of our character.
To a certain extent, we are all the same – mere mortals. Reality stipulates that we are not all born into the same measure of talents and opportunities. Nonetheless, we are each, in our own unique way, imbued with the potential to make a positive difference that moulds our legacy. The success of this legacy, is not so much defined by its quantifiable reach through humanity – though integral – rather the depth and substance of it that determines the power it has to generate and sustain a ripple (or tidal) effect. The question lies, how much of this God-given potential have we discovered, nurtured and applied?
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Someone once said, the richest place on earth is the grave. For in it, lies unlocked potentials, unfulfilled dreams and untapped talents. We have one chance, this life, to harness all that we have to make a positive difference.
In the words of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith”. This class of legacy holds keys to release potentials and to spread the wings of talents. Seek such a legacy. One that is not etched on tombstones but one that is captured in the hearts and minds of people, so that beyond death, you would have given life.
What will your legacy be?