There was a time

There was a time.

There was a time when people said Singapore won’t make it. But we did.

There was a time when troubles seemed too much for us to take. But we did.

As the nation celebrates her Jubilee birthday, there seems to be an atmosphere of jubilance. So much so, that it is a little choking, a little forced, and a little overwhelming. It is as if, as Singaporeans, we have to soak into this atmosphere, that if we don’t, we aren’t Singaporeans.

There was a time, when I looked forward to National Day Parades. There was a time, I would stand up at attention to sing the National Anthem. There was such a time.

Make no mistake. I am not unpatriotic. I have taken part in National Day Parades before as part of a marching contingent years ago.

But somehow, the NDPs mirror our nation’s progress. Every general who is in charge of the NDP will move on to greater heights. There is a fixed formula about the NDP just so much like the ten-year-series for “O” and “A” levels. If you practise enough, do the same things, you can’t go too wrong. It is the safe route. Emotions will be roused. And when the fireworks come, everyone will leave feeling satisfied. When the party is over, we look forward to the next year’s celebration. Somehow, along the line, we can become complacent. The same expectations. The same fighting over about the fairness of allocation of NDP tickets. The same touting of NDP tickets for sale online.

Along the way, what have we changed? Where is our soul?

As the nation celebrates, there is this nagging lump inside the throat. What happens to all the complaints? Why do the National Parks start charging car parking, just so to keep a small bunch of people from abusing the car parks? What about all those rallying war-cries against the ruling party?

I stopped following the NDP on television years ago. It is predictable. I pity those generals who have to out-perform and out-think the previous years’ parade, yet cannot sway much from the fixed format.

But I know, come Aug 9 2015, it will be different.

As I soak into the celebratory atmosphere, I have to first deal with that nagging lump. No, the Jubilee celebration is not about the ruling party. No, the birthday party is not a way to mask away the difficulties we face in our daily lives. No, the whole long weekend is not, as many cynics would say, a way to buy our votes.

Yes, there are hiccups along our nation building. But who has not made any mistakes?   We can have different views, but bear in mind, this celebration is about our identity, and our thanksgiving.

Our identity, for this is our homeland, it’s here where we belong. I was born here, I grew up here, and my family and ties are here. I have been through National Service, and if my country is at stake, I know I will pick up the rifle when duty calls.

Our thanksgiving, for it is here that I am allowed to practise my Catholic faith freely, and proclaim it freely. Thanksgiving for staying in a relatively safe, clean and corrupt-free country. Thanksgiving, for this is where I know it’s home.

So on this day, as we are bombarded with images of SG50 and patriotic songs, it is okay to feel tears swell up in the eyes. It is okay to feel emotional and proud. It is okay, to say “I am Singaporean, and I am proud of it”.

For this celebration is regardless of race, religion or politics. It is about our common destiny, our dreams and our goals. It is not mass hysteria or mass hypnotism. Just like the spontaneity displayed in March this year, it is about the same human values we all treasure as fellow Singaporeans – a deep respect for integrity, passion and self-sacrifice. A display of solidarity and unity. A compassionate and selfless heart that goes: we are here together, it is okay for as long as we can, and we will look out for each other.

As the nation celebrates, we remember that you and I, the little ones, make up a nation. So this celebration is not a pompous display of our achievements, but a humbling reminder that we have made it this far, together. No matter what our race, language or religion, we have come together to build our dreams. This is where I won’t be alone, for this is where I know it’s home.

There was a time when I would ignore most parts of  the NDP. But I won’t miss it tonight. For we will stand together and hear the lion roar. We are a nation strong and free forevermore. We are, Singapore.

Happy birthday, Singapore!