As we travel through life, we pick up a lot of junk. Not surprising, I am a bit of a pack rat and will not allow things I collect to be put out for a yard sale without a fight. For me, these are more than just items, they are symbols of my life journey. More than things though, we each meet a whole host of people. Some have been a big influence on our lives while others less so but they all touched our lives and were part of the shaping of who we are and what we believe. Some of them taught us great life truths and yet others got us wondering about life.
Tonight, I find my mind traveling through time and space until I find myself sitting by the bedside of Ms. Legatt. My younger self was a thin insecure teenager who found himself thousands of kilometers away from home in a strange and cold place called Brighton, United Kingdom, so as to have the opportunity to study. Once a week, I took part as a volunteer in a community out reach project. My assignment was to visit shut-ins. These are elderly people who are pretty much bed-ridden or house bound. Food is sent to them by Meals-on-Wheels which are run by other volunteers and they get a visit from the community nurse a few times a week. Very often their only other visitors and social contact was with volunteers like myself.
The truth was that for many of the community volunteers, visiting shut-ins were the least desirable of assignments. There was always the smell of urine or worse. The rooms or apartments were generally unkept and you might be asked to clean mouldy dishes or throw out the rotting garbage. Many felt that the hour spent there was the most boring way to spend 60 minutes.
Not for me. I was able to ignore the lack of hygiene and cleanliness and perhaps I was also alone in a strange land, I was genuinely able to enjoy the fellowship and because of that I was able to learn quite a lot. So I spent many hours visiting and sharing a cup of tea and a cookie with Ms. Legatt at her bedside. Ms. Legatt was pretty much alone in the world. She had no close family. She was diabetic and bedridden with an amputated leg.
However, we made a connection and in her tales and stories, she was a young girl with the world at her feet. She was thrilled to learn that I was Malaysian. It seemed that she spent the best part of her life traveling in the Far East. She was adventurous for her time. She took on a job with the British Foreign Service and left the dreary British shores soon after the end of the Second World War aboard a warship. Her first port of call was in Singapore where she served in the British Administration and took part in the post war rebuilding. I know many British, like Ms. Legatt, were really carrying out their imperial and colonialist duties. Yet, I believe Malaysians inherited a relatively prosperous and peaceful country at independence and in part it was because of the services and sometimes sacrifice of these servants of the setting Empire. So in all sincerity, I wish to say thank you to all of them.
Ms. Legatt spoke of some girlfriends of like mind and spirit. They made Singapore their playground. They partied and attended all the social events. They rubbed shoulders with high society and my eyes opened wide at some of the adventures and hi-jinks that she related that she sweared involved the crown prince, heir to the Sultanate of Johor.
It was a colorful and exciting life. Ms. Legatt was one of the flowers that shone brightly at the twilight of the Empire in one of the most exotic parts of the world at that time. Somehow she never married, eventually came back to Britain and grew old alone. Somehow she was forgotten.
I remember Ms. Legatt tonight and wonder about my own life. How would I be remembered? All my memories, the victories I celebrate, my loves, my friends, my struggles, my fights, what would they mean when I am old. Who would remember? Who would care? What would my life really count for? Why am I pondering these things? Well, I am about the age where I am due to have a mid-life crisis and as one of my friends is prone to say, “it’s right on time.”
Seriously, I think it is good to take stock of our lives from time to time to see if the things that occupy us, whether it is our work, careers, hobbies, friends, dreams, problems really remain as important against the test of time. As for me, I think you lived a full life, Ms. Legatt and you contributed to shaping a great country. Many may have forgotten but I remember and I enjoyed tea, cookie and friendship. Good night, Ms. Legatt, wherever you are.