Watching LKY grow old

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By Augustine Low

At 90, Lee Kuan Yew’s public appearances are understandably rare. It has become a question of will he, or won’t he attend a key event. Earlier this month, he skipped the Tanjong Pagar constituency Chinese New Year dinner but five days later, he attended the CNY party at the Istana.

The big question is whether he will attend the National Day parade in August. As Singapore’s founding father, he always receives a rousing welcome at every parade. And he has attended every single one since 1966.

Next year will be even more momentous. LKY’s presence will be the icing on the cake for Singapore’s 50th birthday celebration, and for him personally, it must mean absolutely everything.

Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a tribute speech to LKY last September that “his every waking moment is devoted to Singapore”. I believe there are few who doubt the truth of this assertion.

LKY is still a topic of discussion among friends and family, and the usual refrain is that “he has done his part for Singapore.” To see him age before our very eyes is therefore a little painful, because we see the slow but sure decline of a man who has devoted his life to Singapore. The contrast is especially stark because ever so often, we see television footage of him in his younger days – with a timbre and resonance in his voice, with clenched fist, and with an unmistakable aura of authority.

To see him age is also a blessing. He has remained relatively healthy till the age of 90 (he turns 91 on Sept 16), so he has been given the gift of old age. And that is a gift that cannot be taken for granted.

There are those who fear old age, and those who embrace it.

In the past year, one of the most beautiful lines I read was from Caroline Heilbrun, who wrote in a memoir on growing old: “Since we do not wish to die, surely we must have wished to grow old.”

Those words ring truer each time I read them.

Old age is a curse because we decline physically and mentally. But it is a blessing in more ways than we can count.