Why I am grateful for 2020?…My New Year Reflections

Dr John Ng 5 min read

“Even in our best shape we are a brittle piece of mortality. Your life is a breath, don’t waste it.” LeCrea

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I went to Changi International Airport on Dec 21 to fetch my daughter, Meizhi, who was returning to Singapore from Shanghai. For over a year, I had not stepped into Changi Airport, which used to handle a whopping 68.3 million passengers in 2019.

I have never felt so eerie.

Air traffic had almost come to a halt, except for that solitary Shanghai flight. Almost all the shops and outlets were closed. The familiar hustle and bustle of the arrival terminals was gone. There were only some welcoming family members and friends, waiting sullenly for their loved ones to appear.

The airport experience hit me so deeply. It left me in such somber mood over this past week that I decided to pen my thoughts.


  1. Life is so brief…Treasure it

“Even in our best shape we are a brittle piece of mortality. Your life is a breath, don’t waste it.” LeCrea

Some of the most influential people who have passed on this year include:

Kobe Brant, 41-year-old American basketball legend and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. Both died in a tragic helicopter crash.

Kenny Rogers, American singer, songwriter, country music passed away peacefully at the age of 81 from natural causes.

Irfan Kahn, aged 53, Indian cinema icon, known for his international roles in hit films such as ‘Slumdog millionaire’ and ‘Life of Pi’ had been battling neuroendocrine tumor i since 2018.

Sean Connery, 90-year-old Scottish-born actor, famed for his role as James Bond, died in his sleep from heart failure due to pneumonia and old age.

Most recently, Diego Maradona, the Argentinian soccer-icon, who celebrated his 60th birthday and then passed away a week later from a fatal heart attack.

Closer to home, my brother-in-law, John Tan passed on in July after a two-year battle with cancer.

His death brought the family and our extended family much closer. Since then, almost every Saturday morning, we have been eating out at different local hawker centers, savoring the importance of relationships. It has become a not-to-be-missed family experience.

I have learned to treasure life in a deeper way.


  1. Life is so unpredictable…Appreciate it

The unpredictability of life jolted me most dramatically when a very close family friend collapsed suddenly from a stroke in October. He was one of the fittest people I know. In fact, he went swimming that very morning. He had been extremely careful with his diet. How could he suffer a brain hemorrhage? Simply unthinkable. Thankfully, he is now on the road to recovery.

Just two weeks ago, my daughter-in-law, Jui had a terrible scare when she discovered a white spot on her cornea. We immediately sent her to the ophthalmologist. True enough, bacteria had attacked her cornea. The white spot was pus.

Had she delayed seeing the doctor, she would have lost her eyesight. That would have been tragic as she works as an animator. She was put on an aggressive treatment of antibiotic eyedrops, at a 30 min-interval over 24-hour period for one week.  Gratefully, she is now fully recovered.

I used to wake up each morning assuming that I should live.

Now I believe that I could have died during the night. I will not take waking up to a new day for granted.


  1. Life is so vulnerable…Embrace it

“Vulnerability is the only authentic state.  Being vulnerable means being open, for wounding, but also for pleasure.  Being open to the wounds of life means also being open to the bounty and beauty.” Stephen Russel

In 2020, one of the toughest experiences has been to provide care for my mother-in-law. Physically, her legs are losing strength. She is wheelchair-bound whenever she is out because it is too painful for her to walk. She has also slowly become incontinent.

To exacerbate the situation, her dementia has also worsened. It saddens me deeply to see her short-term memory fading away. She can neither remember where she went nor what she had for breakfast during our Saturday family outings.

I am grateful to her son and his family as well as my wife, who have become her primary caregivers. It made me realize that we are all so vulnerable in every aspect of our lives: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

At 66 years old, I am becoming more aware of my own physical handicaps. My mental alertness is not what it used to be. My emotional energy even more dissipated. I am increasingly aware that someday, I might be wheelchair-bound as well or suffer from dementia.

I need to embrace my vulnerabilities. I am more conscious that the toughest times in my life can become the defining features of my life. As David Brooks, the New York Times columnist explained, pain can either transform you or get transmitted through you. It all depends on how I learn to fully embrace vulnerabilities in my life.

Aletheia Luna is poignant, “Without allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we can’t experience the joy and rapture of life, we can’t be our authentic selves and we can’t be human, because to be human is to be imperfect.”


  1. Life is so divisive…Guard it

The world is so divided today.

Look at the geo-political US-China impasse, the socio-economic segregations in countries like Hong Kong, the racial riots in the ‘Black Life Matters’ movement.

Sadly, the divided, jaundiced perspectives are reinforced by social media like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. In the documentary, The Social Dilemma, it is reported that fake news spreads 6 times faster on these platforms than truths. We live in  a hyper-individualistic, exclusively self-interested and polarized societies.

Tristan Harris, Co-Founder of Human Technology, opined that digital technology is creating mass chaos, instability, lack of trust, mental illness, greater feelings of loneliness and higher suicide rates. We have created a digital monster!

Truly, where is the love?

Divisiveness in marriage is eating up the fabric of our society.

On a personal level, I had two very dear friends, who have been married for more than twenty-five years and have been fighting to keep their marriage. It has been the most painful period in their lives.

I am reminded that even before I can think of world peace, I have to pursue ‘family peace’.

in his book, The Road to Character, David Brooks discusses candidly the difference between the ‘resume virtues’ versus the ‘eulogy virtues’.

The ‘resume virtues’ focus on the external qualities like skills, achievements, successes, and what you do. The ‘eulogy virtues’ focus on internal character like kindness, humility, faithfulness, and who you are. The former tells us to get rich, become famous and conquer the world. The latter challenges us to be good, serve people and return home to family.

Unfortunately, although we believe that the ‘eulogy virtues’ are more important in life, we spend most of our time cultivating ‘resume virtue’. This is our constant struggle as we live this world.

COVID-19 has reframed my perspectives on life.

Recalling my visit to the Airport, the emptiness of the world-class Changi International Airport is a reflection of ‘resume virtues’ because ultimately, what makes life meaningful, is the reunion of my family and the reconnections of loved ones, the ‘eulogy virtues’.

In 2021, I want to devote more of my time cultivating ‘eulogy virtues’.

Dr John Ng
Chief Passionary Officer,
Meta Consulting

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