Life is Refillable

Last Tuesday, we lost a dear member of the University community.

The tragic loss of a young life kept me awake deep into the night, and I re-read a poem by Henry Scott Holland (1847 – 1918), Canon of Christ Church, Oxford:

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Emotions welled up as I was reminded of my departed beloved parents, bringing up the very poignant father-son scene in the last paragraphs of the essay, ‘The View of My Father’s Back’ (背影), by the renowned writer Zhu Ziqing (朱自清), which I read while in secondary school. It is impossible to fully comprehend the grief of another person’s bereavement. The grieving process is a complex set of emotions, denial, suppression, guilt, anger, and sometimes reproach and helplessness. To reconcile life and death and to reach eventual resolution is never easy.

Soon after the incident, I discussed with my colleagues what best we could do for the bereaved and what more we should do for our students. The University set up some time ago a Task Force on Student Mental Wellness and Support Services to review and enhance its counselling and mental health support capability. A series of improvements have since been implemented to address suggestions from various stakeholders of the University. Students’ personal development is influenced by multiple factors, especially in a society as complex and fast-changing as ours. The University shall remain vigilant in its efforts to review and improve student support services. My preliminary action plan will aim to enhance the problem-solving skills of our students and to instill positive mindset both within and beyond the classroom, so that even in the face of heavy academic and extracurricular obligations, they will continue to think calmly, evaluate issues through different perspectives, and seek solutions patiently, and not fall prey to despair.

I once came across a simple but thought-provoking poster in a bookshop:

We all understand the ‘half-empty’ or ‘half-full’ interpretation of reality. But why should we limit ourselves to only one or two interpretations? We can fill the cup to the brim, or simply decant the water for a refill! When we get bogged down by circumstances, it is time to free ourselves from them and take back control of our life.

As members of this University, we should help, care for, and listen to one another like family. If we can do so, I am positive that no difficulty will be too hard to overcome.