Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lessons in life : Paul

The gentleman who holds steadfast to his father’s advice


I had the privilege of meeting an elderly gentleman named Paul, on a number of occasions recently. Uncle Paul, as we call him, has been journeying through life for the past 86 years and will be turning 87 come next March. His vast experiences in his life add further to the many lessons I have learnt in my own. I always believe that every human is a marvelous creation of God, who is a chest of knowledge and experience waiting to be tapped. Uncle Paul is undeniably such a marvelous creation of His.

In a world that is so materialistic, competitive, so advanced in technology that life has become more robotic and devoid of empathy, when we are so busy toiling to make ends meet we have very little time for old people like Paul who we consider have nothing valuable to contribute to our advancements. We fail to realise that every human who has walked upon this earth, regardless of race and religion, young or old, rich or poor is a chest of treasure and knowledge for us in life to be utilised for our own benefit and the benefit of those around us.

In fact many of us today do not have the time even for our own aged parents, who have made us what we are now. We find so many excuses to send them away somewhere hoping they would be happier there. We pass the responsibility to others hoping that they can provide better care and comfort than us in our own homes. One such place is the old folk’s homes that are mushrooming all over the country due to the tremendous increase in demand. We may have no choice but these oldies will never opt for such a place if only they had a choice to be taken care in their own homes.

Uncle Paul stays in one such home and he appears to be happy to be with the company of fellow inmates. His basic needs are taken care of reasonably well and he is regularly visited by his children, relatives and friends. Like all parents, he does not blame his children for sending him there, but we know that he misses their continuous company. He misses his home, not just the building but the company of his loved ones.

He lost his wife 20 years ago after a short illness and till today he missed her so dearly. At the twilight of life, his physical and mental faculties are beginning to fail him one by one; he has no permanent companion to cling on for support and reassurance. This is the time he wished so badly that his wife was around to share the pains of old age. His eyes swell with tears each time we talk about the darling in his life. He says “if only my wife was around, I will not be here.”

I learnt a lot about the past from my meetings with him, about life at the time of the British and the Japanese occupation, his family and all his experiences, good and bad, over the past 86 years. As I myself grow older, and my children leaving home one by one, I seem to appreciate his experiences much more as they are becoming increasingly more relevant in my own life. I look around and see that many more are leading such solitude lives without a shoulder to lean on for solace. Am I heading for such a lonely life in the years to come? It is frightening to think I may be so.


Among some of the things that struck me first on meeting Uncle Paul was his neatly groomed appearance and his punctuality. Every time I make an appointment to meet him he is ready waiting for me, neatly dressed in slacks, long sleeved shirt and polished shoes. According to his caretaker he gets ready hours before and sits in the porch eagerly waiting for my arrival. He never forgets to greet me as soon as he sees me. There is so much warmth in his voice and the grip of his handshake.Depite his failing memory he remembers the details of my children and never fails to enquire about them each time we meet.

His punctuality puts many of us to shame who have very little regards for time and people. Punctuality is an indication of our eagerness to meet someone and it reflects the place we accord him in our hearts. I understand if we value somebody’s company then we would never be late to meet him as our minds will always be preoccupied with thoughts of that person. These days very few people value the true company of others and that may be the reasons why we are always late for appointments. We tend to value a person by his material possession not by the contents of his heart.

Living steadfast to his father’s advice

Another interesting thing I learnt from Uncle Paul is his attitude towards his late parents that was reflected in his advice to the youngsters of today. He still remembers and cherishes what his father had advised him when he was working in the government service as a young man.

According to him his father had advised him against taking bribes for whatever reason. He recalls what his late father had told him, “If you need money badly, you may borrow or even beg for it but never accept bribes however desperate you are”.

He adhered to his father’s advised so strictly that he could not afford to own his own house and lived in government quarters all his life. Now all alone at the age of 86, although physically fit, he does not have a place to call home and has to settle for an old folk’s home as his abode. It was the price he had to pay for being steadfast in submitting to his father’s stand against corruption.

It is inspiring to realise that at the age of 86, like a little boy, he still holds steadfastly to the advice of his late father whom he described as a strict and disciplined man.

How often do we listen and submit to the demands of our own parents? When we are older and attained much success wealth and fame, do we still have the humility to listen and respect the wishes of our parents, who may be old and senile? Sometimes we know what they are saying may be not appropriate but do we still listen to them with respect or just brush them aside as irrelevant? These are some of the questions that we should pose to ourselves. As what we do to them today may be repeated by our own children tomorrow.

Honour your father and mother

When asked for his advice to the youngsters of today, who have little respect for the elderly, he says, “They should Honour their father and mother and everything else will be fine”. Reflecting on what he said and recalling my own experiences with many, I realised how right he was. He may be old and senile but he pushed forward a point precisely about a very important issue in our life, which I agree determines whether we attain the happiness we all strive for. If we miss this important lesson then all our efforts to seek that happiness will all be in vain.

To honour our parents is to show great respect for them especially for their pride and honesty. Do the actions in our own lives reflect this honour that is due to them? We must always do things that uphold their pride and honour; otherwise we would be failing them. We make many major decisions in our lives, like choosing our life partners; change of career, travelling all over the world, caring for our children, major illnesses and so on. Do we consult them, at least as a mark of respect, regarding these major changes in our lives? They may not be a position to give us the physical or monetary help but I am sure they can give us something that all the money in the world cannot buy - advice based on love and personal experience. Unfortunately these invaluable commodities are the least we value these days.

Happiness in our lives

Throughout the ages man had strived for happiness in mind and body and till today the foremost target in our lives is this happiness. This is what we work, slog and strive in life. Despite all the successes we achieve very few can be said to be really happy. According to Uncle Paul there is no way we can achieve happiness if we do not make our parents happy. This I have realised is very true. I whatever we do if we consider the feelings of our parents so as not to hurt them; happiness will automatically come to us. Happiness is within our reach, it is we who are not able to reach it by our own selfishness.

Giving what they like, not what we think they like

Often we give our elderly parents what we think they like, not realising that they may not prefer what we give them. As children we believe that we are giving them the best by sending them to the old folk’s home where they have the company and are well catered for their needs. It is pertinent to ask ourselves whether they are really happy to be there. Do they need the company of others who are strangers and physically infirm? Is this what they need most at that advanced age?

They may say that they are happy there because they do not want to burden us further which is the typical sense of magnanimity of all elderly parents towards their children; however negligent or even cruel the children may be to them the parents will always have a soft spot for them in their hearts. They gave us whatever we needed without asking, why should we not at least grant them what they ask?

Loneliness, the greatest fear

His greatest fear, like all elderly people, is loneliness. This was particularly profound after the demise of his wife 20 years ago. He has the feeling that he is all alone in this cruel world. It is pathetic to realise that at the age of 86, staying in a home for the aged and surrounded by unfamiliar faces, Uncle Paul has very little to hope for except waiting to be united with his wife by the Lord.

Uncle Paul and many others like him have given us the opportunity to provide them some hope and cheer in their lives especially this approaching season of Christmas. It is not money, gifts or food that they need most. All they asks for is the love of fellow humans like you and I, in particular their children and grandchildren to share a little bit of our time to be with them during some of the special days in their lives.

Dr.Chris Anthony
November 21, 2008

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Politics and religion

Worship or service

Of late I have been following closely the debate over politics and religion among the readers of Herald in its letters column. There was widespread criticism of the writer who expressed that the Church should restrict itself to purely worship and not get involved in politics. The vast majority of the readers rightly were of the view that politics and religion go hand in hand and cannot be divorced from our lives as Christians.

Politics is defined as “the activities of the government, members of law-making organizations or people who try to influence the way a country is governed” and religion is “the belief in and worship of God or any such system of belief and worship”.

As Christians we believe that Jesus is the son of God and whatever he taught was the absolute truth. As he was God himself there were no flaws whatsoever in his teachings which remains relevant throughout the ages. As man he led an exemplary life for all of us to see, indicating what we should and should not do during our life on earth.

Jesus taught us many things through his preaching, parables and most importantly by his examples. His teachings were very simple to be comprehended by all but we had made them so complex to become beyond the comprehension of many even highly educated people. Today we have to spend many precious years to try to understand what Jesus really taught us.

All his teachings can be simplified into his 2 great commandments: Firstly, love God with all your heart and mind and secondly, love your neighbor as yourself.

There is an emerging trend today, among followers of all faiths including Christians, to indulge themselves in prayer, fasting, pilgrimages and all forms of rituals to please God but failing to recognize the plight of those around us. They seem to be just interested in worship but not service. It is people like these who would say that the Church must be exclusively involved in worship not service.

As the followers of Christ we should not only love God but love our neighbor as well. Jesus had made it absolutely clear that we cannot love God if we do not love our fellow men. How can we say we love our neighbor when we do nothing when they are persecuted and ignore their cries for help? Wouldn’t we want others to sympathesize and come to our aid when we are in such a situation?

If we truly love fellow men then it is equally important to ensure that our system of governance is also tailored to impart that love to the people. It is our duty as lovers of God to ensure that the government we help to form exhibit that love for fellow men, by catering for their basic needs, alleviating their impoverished states and granting them justice and freedom.

Discrimination in the any form, racial, religious, social or political is unjust, so is denial of basic human rights and freedom, and these must be resisted peacefully at all costs. The abuse of the Internal Security Act (ISA) is just one of those injustices in our country. If we really love God then we are duty-bound to defend not just ours but the rights of our fellow men as well. But as Christians this resistance and protest must be absolutely peaceful and with the expression of love, not hatred, for the “enemy” that perpetrates the injustice.

Politics and religion are inter-twined and cannot be divorced from each other. If we do so we would be separating worship from service that is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. The good moral values propagated by religion should be used as the basis for good governance that includes accountability, morality, compassion and love in serving the people.

Dr.Chris Anthony