General

Write me a letter

Let me begin with a hearty and sincere greeting to all my friends in many circles both in Hong Kong and overseas, including some readers of my letters whom I might not know personally. I wish all of you out there and your families and loved ones a happy and joyous holiday season ahead. I hope you have had a good year in 2012 and I hope 2013 will bring you new hopes, vistas, experiences and pleasant surprises that would further enrich your life, make some of the past dreams come true, and fill your hearts with joy and love that you have never known. Above all, may God grant you health and strength to carry out what you would need to carry out in 2013 and beyond, with satisfaction to yourself and advantage to the community and all those who are near and dear to you!

I am getting many seasonal greetings through emails and I’d bet you too. Typically, someone in a group, say, from the university days would send a global message to everyone on the list wishing them good health and so on. Inevitably, the message triggers off replies from recipients who would press “reply all” to thank the first sender and to add on to what the second or third recipient had said, all in good faith and meaning well. As a result, the inboxes of all the classmates would be flooded with replies and replies to replies. Now, that is what would happen if you belong to one such group. Imagine what would happen to your inbox if you belong to 12 or more.

Well, I understand that this is the normal mode of communication between friends and acquaintances these days. The corollary to this could be, if people start accepting a little bad manners or even rudeness as normal, over time, it would be normal and even OK to be rude to one another.

I hasten to say that I have no quick or satisfactory solution to this developing or probably developed phenomena; I am simply making a point, one that could have been felt by some a decade ago, but one that most people appear not too much bothered about or have accepted. I bring this up at this year ender, with a hope that it might generate or rekindle interest to come up with solutions, an obvious one of which is to start writing letters, or literally putting pen on paper.

Let me quickly asked you a few questions. How many letters and Christmas cards have you received so far this year? How may have you sent out last year or in the last five years? Are you tired of the boxed or canned greetings sent to you from friends or redirected to your inbox? Would you like to receive signed letters, notes or cards from friends? I have a few die hard friends who still send me letters and cards year after years even after they have found out that I am rather bad at replying: I often did not manage to reply; and sometimes I took a rather long time; last year, for example, it took me 10 months, but I did. So here is a New Year resolution: to reply to signed letters and cards as soon as possible.

Talking of letters, I have written so far 16 letters in 2012, not including this one, but including four on our trip to Canada and on how I cope with the snow in Whistler, five on my experience on The Way or El Camino and four on my recent sojourn in Queen Mary Hospital. In addition, I wrote a letter on HKU’s Centenary Gala Dinner, another one on the trip to Myanmar and then yet another one relating to packing and repacking my personal effects. A few letters ended rather abruptly or with a suggestion that I would expand on the theme or themes, which I never did, which reinforces my suspicion that I am not a very organized person when it comes to dealing with my personal agenda. Nevertheless, the 16 letters, over half of which having been inspired while I was on the road, pretty much summarized what happened to Su and me in 2012.

In the last week, I did some hospital visits with some charity groups as part of an annual programme to distribute toys in the children wards. We have been doing this every year and apparently the teddy bears have been rather popular with the children, for the hospitals had asked us for more. A few thoughts came to mind.

First, we could be disrupting the normal work of the staff. I quickly dismissed the thought as spurious, for they should be quite used to such visits. Secondly, I was affected and felt somewhat uneasy when some of our team members said to the children joyously as we left, “See you next year.” “Next year,” I thought to myself. Are we expecting that they would be there next year this time? Well, some of them indeed could be, for their special conditions need institutional care. But then, shouldn’t we be visiting these poor children more often? Would once a year be sufficient to ease our conscience?

Then and lastly, I met the wife of a very good friend with whom I had lunch only the day before. I almost could not recognize her on first sight because she was wearing eye glasses which she normally does not. She was holding her child who was about 10 or 11 years old and who appeared to have chronic respiratory problems as well as problems caused by defects in the central nervous system. We had some small talks. I was impressed how well composed and relaxed she was holding her child and looking into his eyes. It was the classic example of “metta”. Now, metta is a Pali word meaning loving-kindness, benevolence, amity and so on. It is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as opposed to mere friendliness which could be based on self-interest. “Just as a mother gives her own life to protect her child, so metta only gives and never wants anything in return.”

I shared with Su my experience when I got home. She too was touched; for we had been with the couple on many occasions before, mainly social, and we had never heard them mentioning or complaining about having to take care of a child with such chronic problems. Here is a living example of a couple who have been carrying their crosses happily, willingly and with faith. What right have we to complain about difficulties and discomfort caused by sickness or other afflictions? Our esteem for the couple had increased tremendously.

It would be nice if everyone can learn to complain less and be more forgiving and thanksgiving. I am sure we all have sufficient reasons to be thanksgiving for, not only in this Christmas season, but all the time. On this note, I wish that we can all learn to complain less and be more thanksgiving. I believe this spirit and attitude of thanksgiving can spread like wild fire if more people accept and adopt such practices; and let this begin with Rotarians and you.

Meanwhile, perhaps you can consider writing me a letter before I write my next one.

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