Sunday, November 29, 2009

Keep calm and carry on...


... So says the poster that could be seen in almost any home decor magazine in the last while, and which originated from Her Majesty's Government during the World War II as an emergency measure to allay citizens' fears amid the chaos of war. In the end, this quaint precursor to the modern-day military psych-op was never used, perhaps testament to the distinctly British brand of stiff-upper-lip stoicism.

I ordered this along with other artsy posters from the Keep Calm gallery a long while back, before the whole state-of-emergency happened in my own professional life. I never even got a chance to unwrap it though since the poster tube was delivered. During the dark days of the last while however, I finally got off my arse and framed up the picture in the middle of the night. There is irony in how a poster that I originally intended as a kitschy comment on the general paranoia (albeit well-founded) of the times we live in (climate change, peak oil, to name but a couple), actually became a mantra in my head to sustain me in my own personal life over the last while.

But what really helped allay the fear and the pain in me is the unexpected, simple, uncomplicated help from a most unlikely quarter. I feel I cannot write anything here that might reveal the identity of this saviour, but saviour is not in any way hyperbolic to describe the person and what has been done for me. When I thought no one in the department appreciated what I have done over the years for the course and the sacrifices that I have made, when I still had to keep up a brave face through all the office politicking that went on in the last while, lo-and-behold somebody whom I didn't imagine as being at all interested in getting their hands dirty in the whole sordid affair actually came out and simply said, yes, your wish can be granted, and, even more miraculously, yes, I would be here to cover you when needed.

I am totally speechless at the generosity offered me, especially the unfussy, professional manner in which such support was given, as if this was only a small favour when it actually meant such a great big deal to me. To say it felt like the proverbial gift of coal in the dead of winter is no exaggeration. My heart was warmed and lifted after the meeting. Thank you. These two little words don't do any justice at all to what you have done for me at this difficult time.

My supervisor, of course, has been a steady anchor through the stormy seas all this time. I am really grateful for the fact that you have always been there -- for me, with me -- through it all, and you are an absolute inspiration for how I should aspire to support my own students.

When I was feeling at my most helpless in the department, other people also showed their kindness by the simple acts of carrying on normal conversations, of shooting the breeze, of giving me a share of their snack, of simply saying hello -- small, mundane, but oh-so-appreciated gestures that allowed me to carry on. It made me realise the kind of emotional support I too can give others in their times of need through something very simple, and very human.

And then there are my students. Those who dropped in with their thank you card and chocolates, who discussed with me their career plans, whose goals and aspirations and good spirits reminded me of why I am here in the first place.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I could not have carried on without you.

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