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St Forum
Nov 13, 2011

Preserve site for the sake of the living


Bukit Brown Cemetery is a unique resource for the psychological health and well-being of our country ('Bukit Brown: Room for some flexibility'; last Sunday).

When we travel to countries such as Italy or China, the old cities and landscapes impress us with feelings of antiquity and age.

I have just returned from a visit to Italy, and when I caught up on the discussions on Bukit Brown, I realised that it may be the only place in Singapore which provides such a sense of the past.
Surrounded by the old tombs of previous generations, we feel a sense of connection to those who went before, who were born, lived and died, just as we will too.

We are conscious of ourselves as part of the great stream of human history.

Our daily materialistic concerns seem less important. We feel a kind of consolation in the face of our mortality. This consolation effect is stronger at Bukit Brown than at any columbarium or new cemetery.
We feel the depth of time at Bukit Brown. It reminds us that we are just one point on the graph of time. It lifts us up to see a wider perspective, which could make our thinking less insular and arrogant.

This gut-level effect will not be achieved by any virtual or photographic replication of the tombs.
The hill of Bukit Brown, untouched by bulldozers, preserves the harmony of ancient land forms, bringing us a sense of serenity.

The huge mossy trees surround us with the power and enduring strength of nature, integrated with the silent handiwork of our ancestors. This deep harmony is not to be found in the manicured landscapes of modern parks.
Poets and philosophers have found serenity and wisdom in graveyards.

Thomas Gray's Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard comes to mind, reminding us that 'the paths of glory lead but to the grave' - a humbling note to save us from presumptuousness and vainglory.

In such places, 'far from the madding crowd', we can hear what Wordsworth calls 'the still, sad music of humanity'.

I do not know about Chinese poets and philosophers. Perhaps other readers can share on this.

We must preserve Bukit Brown for the sake of the living, not the dead.

The cemetery is a national treasure, and future generations would condemn us if we destroy it.

Stella Kon (Ms)

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