It is customary around this time to make New Year resolutions, so that we can break them at leisure in the next 12 months. The more popular ones include, not in any order, read up the weekly magazines, clear the desk before going to bed, reply to all e-mails within one working day, do not go to bed with the person with whom you had an argument during the day, take daily exercises such as walking 8,000 paces a day, eat and drink less and do not indulge in activities that would please your mental or corporeal faculties (extremely insane, irrational and difficult), be nice to people, make more friends, do not miss the deadline of the bulletin editor, and so on.
When I retired last April, I remember telling Rosita that I could from then on choose to ignore whomever I wanted to and more importantly choose not to do anything unless I chose to. Great words, I thought, and very much pleasing to my own ears. Several months down the road now, I pause to reflect how much I have advanced in this direction. Not a lot, appears to be the answer.
I recall a discussion I had with a wise man – by definition a person wiser than I, which could be you – on retirement generally and priorities during retirement in particular. In response to my over-riding objective of seeking to enjoy every minute of my retirement and hence my life, he said that anyone who said that he was enjoying every minute of his life could be telling a fib and that he had yet to find anyone who was truly in such a state. He went on to share with me that the quantum of enjoyment varies with one’s health, tiredness or freshness, activity, mood, feel good factor, but most importantly and one that people seldom talk about, the presence or absence of a broader and deeper feeling of peace and fulfillment regardless of the variations in daily enjoyment.
My sagacious friend went on with his exposition, stressing that what he shared with me was not wisdom and concluded with a quote from one of his wiser friends some years back, “One has to accept that in life there will be periods of boredom.” Wisdom or not, I think it is for each person to choose his own poison and to learn to live with life in general and with oneself in particular. In My Fair Lady, Professor Higgins was a self-sufficient gentleman who was very pleased with his own life and with himself until he met Lisa, but he chose her because he had grown accustomed to her face. Was he happy? Who knows?
I used to think that when one is busy, one tends to be less unhappy until one cannot cope with the matters that make one busy. I see plenty of people behaving just like that. These people have their daily routines worked out by somebody else and they see themselves as actors, playing out the roles they are designated. Very probably, these people have chosen this way of life because they do not really want to take responsibility for their own lives, which could be hard work and involve difficult decisions. I suppose these people would dread retirement more than others, for then there would be no one to turn to for decisions. Does that sound familiar?
Back to the list of New Year resolutions, I would be content if I can make more friends, beginning with myself. Making friends appears to be a theme with which our Governor-elect is rather concerned. In the December Issue of Governor’s Monthly Letter, DGE Alexander Mak shared with us what he had learned from RI Director John Thorne at the Rotary Institute held in Singapore in November. “Real friendship” came up more than a couple of times in the article and was described as the single most important agenda for every Club Service Committee. Alexander also discussed the role of past presidents as if they were a different category of membership – all rather interesting thoughts.
Take “real friendship” first, my teachers in Wah Yan would point out that the adjective could be redundant and many friends would agree that friendship cannot be qualified as such: friendship between two persons either exists or it does not, anything in between could be suspect. I have discussed friends and friendship in my letters before and have shared with you my young friend Harry’s definition of friends involving a bleeding corpse. I would therefore not go into this again here, except to say that friendship is a gift, somewhat like Faith which is a gift from God. Friendship is priceless and unconditional. It is probably the second best thing anyone can have, after love. Indeed, one wonders whether friendship should more appropriately be looked upon as a subset of love.
It is true of course that a club in which the members enjoy each other and the friendship between them would be in a better position to take on projects and hence to lend a hand to those who need their service. However, Rotary’s Ideal of Service goes beyond that and Rotarians have long adopted “Service Above Self” as their motto.
Turning to the role of past presidents, or for that matter, past governors, I have said before and I still hold the view that every Rotarian is as important as any other. A Rotarian holding institutional offices in the club, in the district or in RI therefore does not have more authority, but rather more responsibility: the responsibility to assist and nurture young members, the responsibility to promote best practice in club and district administration, the responsibility to speak up when the leadership is about to make or has made decisions that could lead to irreparable and unacceptable damage to Rotary or to our service ideals, and the responsibility to stand for what is right and repel what is wrong, even in the wake of heavy opposition. The role of past presidents is therefore not an easy one, and is definitely not one that would take the power away from the leadership. Let us pause for a moment and think about this more carefully: how can anyone take power from the leaders in a Rotary set up in the first place when by definition they do not have authority and hence the power over other members.
Let me hasten to add, at the risk of being branded a sycophant, that I love Alexander as a brother and I would not hesitate to lend him my support whenever and wherever he needs it, particularly if he asks for it in the name of Rotary. On the eve of his departure for the International Assembly, I wish him well and I look forward to his return from Anaheim, totally fresh, full of ideas and galvanized for more action and perhaps reforms.
Before I go, I would like to update you on Rosita’s treatment regimes. Rosita has been troubled by the continuing growth of the tumours in the liver. She can feel them by tactile inspection. After weeks of tossing around whether to take further chemotherapy drugs, she finally decided yesterday to follow a regime involving daily oral intake of two long standing drugs in low dosages. The regime was discussed in a medical journal published in 2002 following research spearheaded by a Milan based oncologist. At the same time, she would continue seeing the qigong master and take the traditional Chinese medicine he prescribes. We believe that the combination could do no harm, and we would have her conditions closely monitored. I would keep you posted.
For now, I wish you and your family a happy and prosperous 2004 and may you enjoy making New Year resolutions year after year.