By Edna Lim (22S03F)
All quotes in this article are kept anonymous to protect the identity of our interviewees.
At some point of time in our lives, we’ve all had the experience of wanting to express certain things but not being able to say them: because we lack the courage, because we’re trying to protect someone we love (ourselves included), because of the fear of it being awkward, or because it’s just too late to do so.
The implications of withholding our thoughts might not seem significant at present — not saying anything hardly seems to affect us or the relationship. But when we no longer have the chance to say these things, the lack of closure can lead to a buildup of regret and grievance when we remember the time we had taken for granted. That is why we should say the things we want to say, before our chances start to turn away.
Of course, facing conundrums such as these are valid and only human. There is a desire innate in us to be known, and communicating the things that weigh on our heart serves as an impetus to strengthen connections. But even for the most genuine of desires, it is often a struggle to articulate these things to the other party because we are afraid of being vulnerable.
“I recently got Covid-19, and I wish I’d apologised to my parents about it. I know Covid-19’s everywhere, but because my parents are immunocompromised, it could be a matter of life and death. Yet I chose to prioritise my enjoyment over their wellbeing. I felt like in my selfishness I failed to reciprocate the care and selflessness they show me.
But that’s what a teenager does, right?”
This fear of vulnerability could be partly attributed to the sort of society that we’ve grown up in. Statistically speaking, it is 42.69% more likely that you’ve received a plate of fruits after an unreasonable fight with your parents than heard the phrase “I’m sorry” or “I love you” (don’t quote me on this). That doesn’t discredit the sincerity of such actions – but it does provide a glimpse into how unnatural it can feel to vocalise our affections at times.
“Dear Dad, I realised that you gave me the best part of the duck when I was having Covid-19 – and on multiple other occasions as well. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it really touched me. Though our relationship isn’t the closest or the most intimate, and we don’t talk that much, I guess actions like this speak depths about your love and I appreciate you for that.”
When we still have the chance, there is hardly any urgency that compels us to express our sentiments because it feels like we still have an indefinite amount of time to say these unsaid things. Our hesitations take the helm and we become paralysed. It’s only when these chances are lost forever do we realise that some things can only be bought with time, time which we can never get back.
“I wished I had expressed my genuine gratitude to my grandaunt. Simple words like ‘I really appreciate you’ and ‘I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for me & the great times I’ve had with you’, while perhaps cliché in the sense that almost everyone would say it to someone who has left their lives, I feel that they still hold immense power in letting the other person know that they’ve really touched the lives of others.
I couldn’t be there for her physically during her final days due to Covid-19, but I do wish I would have said it over a phone call.”Anonymous, whose grandaunt lives in a separate country
Perhaps, for that potential moment of connection – a brief spark, between two humans simply appreciating each other – the risk is worth taking.
“I wish I had truly expressed my gratitude and appreciation for my upper secondary history teacher… I wish I had told her how grateful I am to have had her as my history teacher because she made my love for history really grow. I wish I had expressed how lucky our class of 7 was to have her because she made the small group feel very tight-knit and homey.”
From a family member to a friend, or even a teacher, these mere words could mean so much to them, much more than we might expect.
For me, I never expected my grandmother to go so soon. But there are a few things that I remember of her: she went to the market every morning to get groceries for that night’s dinner, following the same path each day. On the way back every time she’d stop by the bakery to get us, her grandchildren, the bread we had mentioned liking just once. She often bought TOTO and made us choose using pieces of angbao paper with numbers written on the back. She gave us most of the money she had won, but I got annoyed because she insisted on making us spend it.
The older I grew, the more our values started to diverge and we too grew apart. She called multiple times a day to ask if I had eaten but I hardly picked up because I didn’t want her to nag. After that, her health started weakening and she couldn’t go outside. Thinking back, I started to realise how lonely and painful it must have been for her, all of which she silently endured. I wish I told her all the things I never had the courage to say. If I could go back in time, I would call her just to say “good morning”, “have you eaten?”, and the simple words of “I love you”.