November rain reflections

ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

November signals the end of the year is nigh and, with it, thoughts about what the year has brought and what can still be changed

The other day, I was listening to the radio when the song, November Rain, started to play.

I have never been a fan of the band, Guns N' Roses, or of the hard-rock music genre, but that morning, I turned up the music and listened to the lyrics.

Underneath the hard trademark screech of lead singer Axl Rose, they were surprisingly tender and heartfelt.

"And when your fears subside and the shadows still remain, I know that you can love me when there's no one else to blame."

The song brought back memories of 1991, the year it was released. But as the deejay also noted, the year is almost over and it is already November.

Rose wrote the song in the early 1980s. In the American state of Indiana, as with many parts of the Western world, November marks the coming of winter, bringing a cold hard rain.

In the song, November is also a sort of milepost in a relationship which two people have been struggling with for some time now.

In Singapore, of course, November is like any other month. So, we mark the passing of time in other ways and hope that each November brings a new maturity and wisdom in dealing with the challenges that life brings us.

When I was a student growing up in the 1980s, November was a strange month of transitions and shifts.

The start of the month was marked by the delicious feeling of going to school, but not doing very much there.

After all, the first week of November is the last week of the school year before the gloriously long year-end holidays kick in.

I am not a parent, so I'm not sure what happens in Singapore schools now. But back then, we just hung out in class talking and playing card games as the bell that signalled the change in periods rang hollow and impotent all day.

In some years, we would get our report cards. I remember the pounding of my heart when the form teacher distributed them, wondering where I would be ranked in class. How silly and trivial those concerns seem now.

The rest of the month would see my sister and me at home, inventing ways to keep ourselves occupied. Sometimes, my grandmother would take us to my cousin's house a few blocks away and we would spend the day playing mahjong (without money) or kicking a football in an open space on the floor where they lived, with two corridors as goal posts.

What I didn't know then that every day is what you make of it. And I have found that this is especially important to remember in Singapore, where a person's self-worth is so often defined by the roles people play at work or at home and the fixed routines that result. Take that away for any reason, such as retirement or divorce, and some never quite recover.

Later on, when I went to Britain to study as an undergraduate, November took on a different flavour. The school year typically started in October, which was full of discoveries - a new room to live in for the year, new lecturers and tutors, and new subjects to wrap my mind around.

October would fly by in an instant, but not November.

November was the month when the days would start to become colder and darker. The sun would start to set earlier and, eventually, it would be dark before 5pm, leaving a trail of long depressing nights spent thousands of miles away from home.

Looking back, especially to that first year I spent away from home, November was the month that helped build whatever resilience or toughness I have in me.

Even today, when I'm bogged down by issues at work or at home, I think back to the dark nights I spent alone - first time overseas - in a tiny room on a little street called Merton Lane. There was no Internet then and home was a very expensive telephone call away that I dared not make.

After I graduated and started work in Singapore, November took on the significance that many of us know today.

It is not quite December, when we are typically on holiday and more free to reflect on what the year has brought us.

Rather, November brings a sense that while the end of the year is nigh, there is still time to make changes. We feel we can still rescue the year and steer it to a happy and fulfilling close.

For most of us, this means tying up loose ends that we have perhaps ignored or set aside during the year.

Parents tell me it is often a frantic time juggling work and family.

On the one hand, there is a last burst of activity seeing through projects at the office. On the other, the often-underrated task of planning for extended family time with kids who are out of school has just begun.

But quite aside from the significance brought on by the different calendar cycles we go through at various stages of our lives, November - just like any other month - can be special for very personal reasons for different people.

It can be the month they was born, the month they got married or the month someone very dear to them died.

For me, November took on a special significance last year, when I met someone I truly felt I want to spend the rest of my life with.

It was nothing more than a hunch at first, but over the course of the last 12 months, that hunch has become a conviction, now stronger than ever.

But it has not been easy for two people to fall in love so late in life. We are fixed in our ways and thinking and, amid everyday disagreements, insecurity causes us to sometimes misread the depth of our feelings for each other.

Yet, it is still November. The year has not quite ended and Rose's epic love song has a last message for anyone feeling the strain.

"Never mind the darkness, we still can find a way.

"Cause nothin' lasts forever, even cold November rain."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 11, 2018, with the headline 'November rain reflections'. Print Edition | Subscribe