Closing The Files In Life

by Patrick Liew on November 26, 2012

If you are a librarian and you are passionate about reading, the sweetest words from your students are probably, “Teacher, can I have the key to the library?

“We are having a lesson break and we like to spend our time in it?”

In 1972, as a student of Anderson Secondary School, I frequently asked Mrs Lim, our school librarian those questions. I could still visualise her response, including the big smile on her face as she handed the key over to me.

It was a special request because we could have used the free periods to do whatever we wanted but we chose to be close to hundreds and hundreds of books. There were hardly any students who were more enthusiastic about going to the library than us.

Why were we so passionate about going to the library?

After more than 40 years, I have finally decided to reveal the secret to you. A secret that my fellow classmates and I had to almost swear we would take it to our graves.

Let me share this story from almost the beginning.

I was appointed as a class librarian from the first week till my very last day in school. What I thought was a simple assignment at that point turned out to be a divine appointment.

Being a librarian helped to deepen my love for books. Reading became a lifelong friend and a vital and integral part of my life.

What oxygen was to my life, words of wisdom were to my soul. They were like stars that navigated my life.

They were basic building blocks to achieving success and living a meaningful life.

Back in 1972, there was more to a library – at least to me – than just about reading books.

The truth that I am about to share with you may shake you up or shock you. Whatever the case may be, I will come clean with you so that it will set me totally free.

When my friends and I went to the library, all of us would look sober and move quietly as we should in a library.

We would make sure the doors were securely locked. The windows – tightly shut.

Nobody could take even a slightest peep into the sacred space of the library.

We could not afford to have a single hunch from anybody that ‘dark forces’ lurked behind the hallowed walls.

Once we were ready, we would take action.

We would take turns to hop on to the one and only trolley in the library.

The race would begin.

We would push each other around the library, swerving between and around bookshelves.

As we sped along the ‘race track’, we had to avoid hitting any bookshelf and prevent books from tumbling down. Obviously, this was not always possible.

We would time ourselves to determine the best racers. A record of the top winners was studiously kept for every race and their timings were registered with great discipline.

Hence, I could always tell my parents with a straight face that I have been studious in school. I have been disciplined in completing many assignments.

I believe the standing record is still held by SK, my good buddy and an honoured member of my YAFI (pronounced as Ya-Fai) gang in school.

In case you need to know, YAFI stands for You Ask For It. You wouldn’t want to mess around with my gang. Lol!

(SK – you know who you are – we need to race one more time. I have been licking my wounds over the loss for more than four decades now).

One not-so-fateful day, we were as usual conducting our ‘Library F1 Race.’

The worst possible thing happened.

One of the trolley wheels came off.

We tried to fix it – but it was impossible.

We could still push it around. However, it would wobble on an uneven keel – never ever going straight after the fatal accident.

Till  my last day as a student, it was unfortunate that the school had to continue to use the same trolley. We were too poor to pay somebody to repair the trolley or to replace it.

We could not race again. We had to use the library for its rightful purpose – reading good books.

Every now and then, Mrs. Lim, the school librarian would ask me, “What happened to the trolley?”

Whenever we met in the first year after my graduation, she would still ask me, “Do you know what happened to the trolley?”

I always felt she had a twinkle in her eyes when she asked the question – but I could never ascertain the truth behind the smile.

At one point in my life, I decided to close outstanding files in my life. I wanted to clear my obligations and debts, and to pay restitutions for the wrongdoings in my life.

Closing the files became one of the best things to do in my life. This blogpost is about one of such experiences.

As you read to the end, you will be amazed at the fairy tale ending. You will be inspired to close the files in your life and take it to a higher level.

Think about it.

One great way to be at peace with the past is to capitalize on it for the best future.

One great way to remove past guilt is to put right the wrongs that have been done.

 One great way to remove the resentment against your offenders is to continue to forgive them.

Pray for them, wish them well and if need be, do the right things to them and you will soon remove the poison of un-forgiveness.

One great way to clear negative emotions is to learn how to cope with them and remove them with positive emotions.

One great way to remove hatred is to replace them with love, compassion and kindness.

One great way to start life anew is to clear your debts and obligations.

One great way to transform your life is to remove the blockages that are holding you back.

One great way to be connected to the people that are important in your life is to be humble, build bridges, and learn to bond with them.

One great way to stop carrying unfinished business is to complete it and leverage on it for more achievements.

One great way to clear your past is to contribute positively to others and the environment.

As I continue to close the files in my life, I have to admit that it did not get any easier. Oftentimes, I have to do it with a lot of reluctance and difficulties.

Over time, I have learned to develop a more resilient spirit and to become more persistent in resolving issues in my life.

After closing each file, I found that I can better focus on fulfilling my calling. I can have more fun and laugh more heartily.

I can harness more energy to achieve better results and have a higher quality of life.

The case of the broken trolley was one of the experiences that taught me the virtues of closing the files in my life.

In 2011, I made a decision to do what I should have done a long time ago – to put the case to rest, at least in my mind.

I contacted the Principal of Anderson Secondary School and offered to do something for the library.

I did not go into great details about the reason for my gift as I felt it served no interest to him. Interestingly, what I thought was my purpose turned out to be a far higher calling from our Creator.

The Principal and I discussed about it for a period of time. Finally, it was decided that I should sponsor the upgrading of the teaching and learning facility in the library.

According to the Principal, “It would go a long way in making the room more conducive for collaborative work and learning amongst our students.” It would benefit both teachers and students.

I made the donation as a way of paying restitution for the damage that I have caused to the library. I did not expect anything in return – but it did not turn out to be that way.

The file was still not ready to be closed. There was another outstanding issue.

I wanted to contact Mrs Lim who must be quite elderly by then. I needed to apologise to her and asked for her forgiveness.

The challenge was how to contact someone who has never been closed to you. A person I felt absolutely embarrassed to meet and whom I have been out of contact with for more than four decades.

You could imagine the detective work I had to put in to find Mrs Lim. After checking through the Net, going through many records, and making umpteenth enquiries, I finally managed to track her down.

On September 20, 2011, I called Mrs Lim to thank her for appointing me as a librarian and helping me to cultivate a lifelong love for reading.

After breaking the ice and becoming more relax, I muster the courage to confess the key reason behind my call. With a sense of remorse, I asked her, “Will you forgive me?”

Immediately after that, there was a pregnant silence.

The parties on both ends of the phone were mentally crafting words that were meant for the period of silence. Little did we know our messages were very different from one another.

Subsequently, I discovered she could not remember the incident and it was not even a major problem to her.

She forgave me in any case and when we cut off the line, we were both in high spirit.

The file was closed. My heart was at peace.

There was nothing I could ever do to fully repay the school for all the wrongs that I did and all the good it had done in my life.

Through serving in the library and discovering the joy of reading, my  life had been immeasurably changed for the better.

I would always have a library of books around me, and the school library would always be in my heart.

This story about closing the files in my life has not ended. It has another beautiful experience which will continue throughout my life.

On April 13, 2012, I took a trip down memory lane, a nostalgic trip to my beloved alma mater.

 I was invited as the Guest Of Honor for the school’s 42nd Speech Day and Prize Giving Ceremony and it felt so good to be back again.

While driving to the school, I had goosebumps all over my body. I felt like a little boy going to school for the first time in his life.

Shortly before reaching the school, I saw an accident. As it was still early, I stopped to try and offer my assistance.

I was surprised to discover that the owner of one of the vehicles was Mrs Khosa. She taught me English when I was in school.

She was all smiles when she saw me and she quickly assured me, “The representative of my insurance company has arrived and everything is in order.

“I know you are the VIP today. Please hurry along.”

I thought to myself. Our teachers had done so much for us, much of which have influenced and shaped us throughout our lifetime.

It was sad that after graduation, we moved on in our lives. Many of us did not quite find ways to show our ongoing appreciation to them, let alone try to repay our debts of gratitude.

When I reached the school gate, I was elated to see a banner hanging outside the school with my name on it. I was more surprised to see that the Principal and a welcoming party were standing at the porch waiting for me.

I wanted to drive to a carpark lot but I was ushered to park – guess where? -right at the front of the porch. This kampung boy would never in his wildest imagination thought he would be accorded such a fine reception.

There were more surprises to come.

Two members of the school’s National Cadet Corp marched in tandem and stopped right at the side of my car. Wearing well-ironed uniforms and with polished medals on them, they stood ramrod straight for awhile.

Then, they gave me a ceremonial salute.

Later in the evening, I recounted the story to my daughter and told her that I was stunned for a moment. I did not know how I should respond – whether I should return the salute or shake their hands.

Those of you who have seen my playful side would probably expect me to hug them suddenly or pinch their cheeks and say something like, “Oh! You look so cuteeeee!”

No, I did not do it.

The Principal walked me to the registration table and asked me to write a few words on the Guests Book. I wrote, ‘Eternally grateful to my alma mater’.

I wished I could pen more words to describe how thankful I was to the school. I dared not even imagined what my life would have become if it was not for the school’s character development programmes and the values they had inculcated in me.

I was given a package of souvenirs, which included a Thank You card. It was a handmade art piece and was crafted specially for me.

One of the teachers offered to carry the package for me, an offer which I found hard to accept even though I eventually let her do it.

In my heart, I knew I was just a kampung boy. You could take a boy like me out of a kampung but you could never take the kampung out of him.

I have been given many privileges and opportunities by our Creator. Only by His grace, I was able to do well and do good in life.

At the Reception Table, I was given a short but exciting welcoming performance by a group of student-percussionists. They played on plastic pails and other simple things that could be found around the house and it was an impressive and engaging show.

Who says arts and cultural performances could not be done with common materials that we oftentimes took for granted. Truly, beauty and wonder were all around us.

By the end of the performance, I was feeling uncomfortable that the Principal was still standing besides me. I was mindful that he must be very busy and have many important responsibilities.

He insisted on giving me a personally-guided tour of the school. And since I still have a somewhat ‘regimented’ fear for principals and teachers, I accepted the kind offer even though I felt like a burden to him.

The Principal was very passionate about showing me the achievements of the school. I was not at all surprised as I could tell while walking around the school that he and his team had taken great effort to build a centre of educational excellence.

I could tell from observing small little details that they have created a stimulating learning environment. They have not only tried to deliver the lessons in accordance with academic curriculum, they have also done different things to help students think out of the box so as to achieve a higher level of growth.

For example, there was a room where they hung a bicycle upside down. The idea was to get the students to see life differently.

When they travel on the journey of life, they have to be open to change their mindset in order to overcome unique challenges and develop better solutions.

My visit to the school’s Heritage Centre made me very proud that the school had grown by leaps and bounds. I felt confident that we would produce a much better generation to help lead society to the next stage of progress and development.

One of the highlights of the tour was a visit to the library. Another great surprise was waiting for me.

At the side of the library, the school had erected a plague. I could not believe the name that was crafted on it – my name.

My company’s name was also on it. It was an unsolicited gesture and I would always be deeply grateful and thankful for it.

At the library, I was enthusiastically welcomed by a group of librarians. As a former librarian, I tried to tell them how privileged it was to serve in that position and how much they could benefit from the library- as long as they didn’t use it as a racing circuit.

No, I didn’t tell them about the’Library F1 Race.’

When I went back home in the evening, I was scrolling through the few photos that I took during the tour. There was one photo that stood out from the rest.

It was of a drawing on a white board in a classroom. The drawing was well designed but what really touched me was -  my name was prominently written on the centre of it.

I would never know who crafted the design and wrote my name on it. I wished I could thank them personally because it brought tears to my eyes and brought happiness to an old alumnus.

Undoubtedly, the drawing would eventually be erased. I would be forgotten. Life would move on.

What would never be forgotten was that I would always be grateful and indebted to the government, principals, teachers, staff, and countless other people who taught me how to read. They also made it possible for me to receive a good education.

I am mindful that I carry a virtual baton with me, a baton of responsibility and obligation to help groom the next generation.

To fulfil my calling, I need to learn how to close the files in my life. I need to do it so that I can stretch my potential and optimise my contributions.

When my time is up, I will pass the baton and inspire others to do the same.

Throughout the ebb and flow of life, if all of us respond to this calling, there will be hope and achievements for a better life and a brighter future.

Any files to close?

I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Inspiration blog at

For my opinions on current affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at

Please visit my website,

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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