Mandai was packed. I stood outside and waited for the service to end before finally having space to go in and pay my last respects. I was moving slowly down the steps, packed between other members of the public, and as I got closer and closer to the coffin, I started to tear up. Then I looked at JBJ's eldest son and saw his red and puffy eyes and I had to fight really hard not to start crying.
I took a sneaking glance at JBJ's body and saw only the mouth - purplish, dry, lifeless.
It was surreal. I couldn't look, just couldn't, and so I quickly scuttled away.
This was probably the third funeral I've ever attended in my entire life. The first was my maternal grandfather's, when I was 8; the second was my maternal granduncle's, when I was...I don't even remember, maybe 12? Both were Chinese/Taoist funerals. Prior to today, I'd never been to a Christian or non-Taoist funeral.
I must admit I tuned out the prayer/worship bits. I felt sufficiently awkward during the hymns (though I did recognise a few thanks to my SNGS days, and I still remember the Lord's Prayer verbatim), almost deceitful, and I most certainly didn't really know what to do with myself. So I just stood there and sat when everyone else sat. I haven't been a part of a religious ceremony - be a mass or prayer session or whatever - since secondary school. It was a very, very weird, displacing sort of feeling.
JBJ was a devout Christian. There was a Muslim woman wearing her headdress whom I saw when the SAC service ended and the first four rows got to circle around the coffin to pay their respects. JBJ was a devout Christian, Sri Lankan, and there I was, devout Chinese atheist.
Some things transcend religion and race, ethnicity. So much has been said already about him that I feel as though all the words have been used up, and whatever else I say is only going to sound hackneyed, trivial. But what really struck me about today was that it was quite literally the first time in a very long while that I was amongst so many ordinary Singaporeans. When I say 'ordinary', I mean the rest of the country who hasn't gone through the elite school route. Many were old folks, many of those old folks were old Chinese men, but there were also families (this family of three sat next to me at SAC and the little girl kept asking where the "uncle" was and the mom had to tell her that the "uncle" was in the coffin. It was weird) and students like me and professionals/lawyers and foreigners and men with Bluetooth headsets attached to their earlobe. If Singapore were to be represented in one space, the SAC congregation would probably be it.
That was the impact JBJ made. That is the sort of thing that the PAP probably can't do. Sure they can get Singaporeans to vote for them at the elections either directly (at the ballot box) or indirectly (walkovers, sometimes by changing electoral boundaries), but they won't win the average Singaporean's empathy. The kind of ministers who can say that a "few cents" bus fare increment isn't a lot of money are precisely the sort that never take buses. JBJ was a man of the masses who walked amongst the masses; the PAP rules by elitism.
JBJ will be sorely and dearly missed, but the impact he made means that he had not lived and fought in vain.