The Night I Almost Died…

by Patrick Liew on November 10, 2019

The Night I Almost Died…

“One cold and dark stormy night” – these are words that my English teacher Mrs Khosa once told me not to use to start a story.

But my story did began on one cold and dark stormy night.

It should not be a night to be remembered but neither was it a night that could be easily forgotten.

It was a night when one precious life was almost lost.

Imagine with me a young man clinging on to a slippery rope.

He knew he was somewhere in the middle of a river even though he could not see the things around him.

It was pitch darkness and the undercurrent was very strong.

He knew if he let go of the ropes, he might be swept to a watery grave.

Another problem was that he could not scream for help.

It was against the rule and what he stood for as a human.

That young man lived to tell the story.

In fact, after living for 40 years, he was literally dying to tell the story.

That young man was me.

At that point, I was undergoing training to be commissioned as an officer in the Singapore Armed Forces. It was part of my National Service journey.

Together with other officer cadets in the Alpha company of the 8th SMC 1978/79, we were involved in an amphibious exercise.

We had to learn how to operate in water as well as on land to defend our country.

That night, the heavens was almost pouring everything it had to lend additional weight to the training.

The storm and rain were playing their parts to shape us to become leaders.

We were already completely soaked and shivering in the rain when the trainers ordered us to go into the water.

We were like being frozen to become Singapore’s version of the Terracotta Warriors.

The instruction was to hold on to a rope and pull ourselves across the river in total darkness.

During that seemingly endless pull, I was sure some of us became deeply religious.

The only other way to survive besides pulling for our life was to pray the most ardent prayer you could imagine.

We pleaded to the Higher Being to help us get to the other side of the river bank – alive and well.

Midway in the struggling journey, I felt my life jacket being punctured by some unknown object. Air was escaping from the jacket.

I had to kick much harder to keep my head above the murky water.

It did not take long before I found myself gasping for air.

As I became weaker and weaker, I could feel strength of the current growing stronger with every slowing kick.

It was like a thousand hands were dragging me out to the watery grave.

I could not scream for help because it did not bode well for an officer-to-be to surrender to “just water” as my trainers would tell us.

That would also have exposed my men to our “enemies” and even though it was only a peace-time exercise, we were pushing ourselves full out as if we were at war.

Soon, my mind almost went blank.

It was either frozen, or deliberately being shut down to block out the fear that was terrorizing my being.

However, survival instincts kept pushing me through the darkness and towards safety of the shores.

At some point, it was like another Force had responded to my prayer and had taken over to pull me on and on to safety.

When my feet finally touched the mushy soils on the opposite side of the river bank, my heart cheered and celebrated for the new lease of life.

I have never felt joy like I did on that grateful evening.

That incident lived on in my memory.

I have reflected about it and will continue to do so till the end of my life.

The reality is that no matter what background one comes from, every human will come face to face with death.

It can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time.

Many people do not want to think or talk about death. Some believe it will bring about a bad omen.

I humbly beg to differ.

I believe if I don’t understand death, I will not understand life.

I must be willing to face death and what happens thereafter to be able to live a better life.

It is strange but truth that we cannot fully appreciate life if we do not realise that death may just be around the corner.

In the same way, if we don’t think we will lose, we will never want to change.

If we don’t think we will die, we will never transform ourselves to live a better life.

If we want to live, we need to die to ourselves so that we can live for a mission that is much bigger than ourselves.

However, it is unfortunate that in the process of making a living, we may not remember to live life.

There is a greater fear for death than for not serving a worthwhile cause and living a full life.

A life without dreams is mere existence. Not having something to look forward to is worst than death.

We live only when we have a sense of purpose and destiny.

Knowing that there is a deeper meaning in life makes us feel alive.

It lends significance to our being and helps us live with passion and fulfillment.

Life and death should be seen from the perspective of eternity.

Living for what truly matters begins right now.Go4It!

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

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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