46 is just a number. Dismiss-able. Forgettable. But it is also the measure of one’s age, that is, my age thus far.
Yesterday, I crossed that line – supposedly one year older or younger depending on how I see or feel about it. 46 is also a reminder of how far I have come in my life. 46 years and counting. The years just adds up whether I like it or not.
And here’s the tally. With a marriage of 16 years and 3 kids in tow, I can’t say that I have nothing to show. I have been moderately active. It took me 46 years to come this far – whether for good or bad (hopefully all good that is).
In these 46 years, I have picked up many road kills along the way. Most of my pickings were of the mistakes that I have made thus far. Mistakes in words, deeds and thoughts. Mistakes I should or ought to have known better. Mistakes of the most unnecessary kind. Mistakes I cringed every time I think about them.
Not 46 mistakes mind you, but 46 x 46 maybe, or more. But each mistake polishes me just that tad bit. It sets me straight, forms me right and molds me whole. Each of them comes with a sharp pinch at the side to remind me about just how much more I have to go. And trust me, it is a lifelong road ahead.
The journey of life is made up of one learning experience after another. They come in the most unexpected intervals and they give you no forewarning. They don’t RSVP you. There is no sign or hint to discern from.
They come when you’d have thought that there is nothing more to learn. Oh how wrong I was.
And the learning doesn’t stop. It doesn’t go on my clock. And if I don’t learn from them, I would have to suffer for it until I learn. Life – like a terrorist negotiator – is a tough teacher and its terms are non-negotiable – “learn, or be burnt until you learn”.
And this is where the love of one couple comes in for me. At 46, with 16 years of marital brownie-points under my belt, no birthday for me would be complete without learning a lesson or two from a love that endures and thrives for 73 amazing years.
This love is the timeless devotion of one Madam Urmila Nandey (“Umi”) for her man, SR Nathan.
Many things can be said about our former President. In his eulogy, PM Lee recounted four to mark his life. First, he was a man who lived fully, seizing all that life had to offer. Second, he never gave up. Third, he always did his best for Singapore. And fourth, he had great personal integrity and commitment.
But one thing that I paid particular attention to (and was deeply inspired by) is his love for his first, last and most enduring love.
For me, the highlight of PM Lee’s eulogy was this:-
“Quite apart from Mr Nathan’s remarkable career, the central and brightest thread in his life was his love for Umi. He first set eyes on her in 1942, when she was 13 and he 18. After a courtship of 16 years, braving parental objections and a two-year separation while Umi studied in UK, they married in 1958. Their relationship spanned an astonishing 73 years, an inspiration to us all. SR loved and honored Umi all the days of his life. And she in turn was his anchor throughout his career, including the 12 years that he was president, when she supported him with grace, charm and warmth. Mrs Nathan, thank you.”
Personally, I find it easy to keep up with the relationship of thousands, even millions. You could be a superstar on the world’s stage with millions of adoring fans. You could be put on a pedestal with every word and deed of yours emulated to the minutiae. But to remain faithful to one for a lifetime, and to be receiving her undying affection in return, is the crowning glory of a man’s life and this presidential couple undeniably led the way here.
Nothing defines a man’s life more than his first marital oath to his love before a crowd of public witnesses, and then living by that solemn promise through all of life’s trials and temptations, and finally coming out of it shinning even brighter, stronger and longer. That’s the priceless love between Umi and Nathan.
SR Nathan’s niece once told reporters this: “When he walked into a crowd, the first thing he did was to look for her.” And “when Mr Nathan went out for functions without her, he would pack and bring home food for her if it was something she liked.”
All these decades, Umi stuck by her man and Nathan kept his vows to her in a way that makes their relationship truly a garden City on a Bukit Timah hill – so to speak. It is therefore no secret that Umi was the woman who made Nathan’s “imagination went wild” and right up to his death, he only had eyes for her. They were practically inseparable – two devoted peas (or loving dhal) in a marital pod.
In this heartfelt tribute, his friend of four decades, Mr Gopinath Pillai, said: “My wife and I travelled often with Mr Nathan and his family. On those trips, we saw a side of Mr Nathan that few outside his family saw. He was above all a family man. The childhood love between Mr and Mrs Nathan seem to have only grown with the passage of time. Their marriage is an extraordinary tale of devotion that inspires us all. The family he created…is a closely-knit one. Mr Nathan lives on in them as he does in our hearts.”
So, I am back to that number, that double digit, 46. I am older, hopefully wiser. The years will definitely change things. The one I marry will grow old with me, our children will leave the nest eventually and start their own family with children of their own, and the only thing that keeps us together is love. Not so much romantic or erotic love, or some love chemistry or potion number 9, but an almost divine alchemy of intimacy and bonding that is forged by the years of being together, strengthened by our mutual trust and devotion, and deepened by sacrifices, understanding and hope. As a couple, we are still learning, discovering, roughing it out, filling the gap, and sometimes groping.
However, it is the love that Umi and Nathan so magically shared that has taught me to pursue it, and to pursue with unfailing passion (despite all my flaws). The reward of such love is the reward of a lifetime because it lasts a lifetime.
And here, as I end, I recall a scripture in 1 John 4 that mentioned something about God is love, and goes on to say that “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” That’s how compelling this love is. It is a love that is made complete in us. A love that embodies divinity. And a love that is empowered by omnipotence. Cheerz.