If you’ve done a search for the “worst year ever”, you might’ve read about year 536.
I quote: “It started when a mysterious fog swept over the continent (of Europe), veiling the sun in a blue haze and casting Europe, the Middle East and parts of Asia into darkness 24 hours a day, for 18 months. Falling temperatures ushered in the coldest decade of the past 2,000 years, crops failed from Ireland to China, and famine ran rampant.”
This isn’t about trying to figure out the “scale of worst-ness” – it’s about not ending up trivialising someone’s pain.
So what happened this year? Mass shootings in America; earthquakes in Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, and a quake-tsunami in Indonesia; the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and the economic crisis in Venezuela has persisted.
Objectively, 2018 probably had nothing on A.D. 536 – perhaps. But I think it’s also fair to say that when some lament: “2018 was the worst year ever”, I think what they’re really asking for is empathy, not competition.
This isn’t about trying to figure out the “scale of worst-ness” – who had it worst. It’s about not ending up trivialising someone’s pain – either yours or mine, or someone who lived through the year 536.
For thousands of people, 2018 truly might have been the worst year ever. And as Singaporeans, I understand that our country struggles a little differently from the rest of the world. The needs in our country are admittedly different. We haven’t suffered the devastating effects of earthquakes and typhoons, but there are needs all the same.
If we haven’t seen the needs, then maybe it takes a different way of seeing.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” (Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood)
When we look for the helpers, like Mrs. Rogers suggested, we might also begin to see the needs of others. Helpers see the people in need of help, and they are also people who don’t take another person’s struggles for granted.
One of the three social workers who received the Promising Social Worker Award last month was Mr. Benjamin Yeo from Fei Yue Community Services who was recognised for “his zeal in reaching out to youths at risk”.
It was reported that Benjamin and his colleagues “would befriend young people hanging out on the streets and work with them to resolve their problems, such as delinquency, family woes and truancy”.
Helpers see the people in need of help, and they don’t take another person’s struggles for granted.
One teen, with Benjamin’s help, left the gang that he was involved with and overcame his suicidal thoughts.
“The fact that the teen knew that someone cared for him helped him change for the better.” (Benjamin Yeo)
You might have seen this story, too. Kevin Chiam is an industrial designer who developed “Folks”, a series of kitchen tools for the blind, for his final-year university project.
“While volunteering at the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH), Mr Kevin Chiam was puzzled by the numerous scars on the hands and arms of one of its members, Ms Rosie Wong.
“When he saw that this was not uncommon among his other visually impaired friends, he decided to ask her why. Her answer started him on a journey that could yet make quite an impact on the blind community.”
Ms Rosie Wong was reported saying, “Kevin was the only one who really took the trouble … to observe how I did things.”
“I hope that I can give that little confidence and the morale booster they need, not just in that aspect but also the rest of their lives.” (Kevin Chiam)
Struggle met with help. In these stories, we see people struggling with some form of need, and a person who saw them and did what they could.
Likewise, we have our private struggles that don’t appear on headlines and maybe not even on our Instagram Stories. And we all get by with a little help sometimes.
There’s always grace to be found. If we’ve been brought to our knees, hid in a bathroom cubicle at school, or cried in between meetings – there’s grace there too.
A song, a prayer, a desperate cry for help: Have you used any of these lifelines in 2018? We’re not on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”; we don’t only get to use each lifeline once. How about giving God a call?
If we’ve been brought to our knees, hid in a bathroom cubicle at school, or cried in between meetings – there’s grace there too.
The turn of a year is near and it seems arbitrary – our lives continue – since nothing really changes just because it’s a new year on the Gregorian calendar.
But we can think of it as a moment in time when we all take a collective breath together … *Breathe in*
We’ve made it this far. We’re alive.
So take a moment to pause, reflect, and collect the lessons. Lay down the regrets, the mistakes and carry on from here.
Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. It may be a better year or still your worst year ever but we’ll be okay. We’ll look for the good, look for the helpers, find grace day by day.
And maybe find the chance to be a helper too. 👍🏼
Even in our worst year, every new day is a still a fresh page for us to write something good.
“To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” (Fred Rogers)