How a near-death experience in my teens keeps me going on dark days

When I was 17 years old, I prepared for my A Levels in a two-year course in what is called a ‘junior college’ in my country. I sang in the school chorus and attended weekly afternoon sessions in one the Lecture Theaters (LT)

The theater was designed in the ‘paper fan’ shape typical of educational institutions of the late 80s and 90s. Rows of chairs with foldable flaps were attached to sloped tiers that faced a large whiteboard.

The choral instructor split us into four parts – soprano, alto, baritone and bass – which each took a section of the seats in the theater. I sang alto, and sat somewhere in between.

We were practicing for a youth festival, I believe, and then we took our usual break. We got up from our sections and walked around, drinking water, and stretching.

Courtesy Sophia Tan

I vaguely remember chatting with a couple of friends at the front of the theater, near the whiteboard – when a boy standing at the far left with a few sopranos started beckoning to me to go over.

I didn’t react at once. ‘Why is Peter asking for me?’ I wondered. Peter was in a different class and we rarely spoke. He kept beckoning to my attention with one hand. He seemed to be mouthing, Come, Come!

As I was making my way to him, something smashed into the ground behind me. I spun around and saw that the plastic covering for one of the LT lights had smashed and broken onto the floor – at the exact spot where I had been standing earlier.

Everyone was stunned. The sound of the breaking seemed to suggest that the light covering was quite thick. It was approximately one meter long and had been placed in the false roof.

Old photo with classmates choir practice
Courtesy Sophia Tan

It’s still not clear how it became dislodged. But I realized that if my friend had not moved away, it could have shattered all over my head. The friends I was chatting with were also unharmed.

Why didn’t anyone warn me about the light covering? There were so many students that day. I was informed by one of the girls that the plastic had not fallen out of the false ceiling at once.

Instead, she described the piece as falling gently to the ground like a leaf. I imagined my schoolmates watching that rectangular piece of hard plastic floating down in slow motion – transfixed perhaps – before being snapped out of a stupor when it landed. It only took a few seconds in reality.

Motivational photo from author
Courtesy Sophia Tan

In that jarring dichotomy of a time fracture – when a moment seemed both fast and slow – something unusual had happened. My teenage brain knew that this was a moment where I could have lost everything in very ordinary settings on a very normal school day.

Eventually I also got round to asking Peter why he had tried to wave me over that day, and his reply was simply this: “I don’t know why I called you that day. I can’t remember.”

Although I don’t believe in any religion or subscribe to any particular faith, what happened on that day was most likely nothing less than divine intervention. As a young adult just starting out in life I want to thank my guardian angels, my lucky stars, and the guardian angels that prevented me from suffering any injury.

It would not be the first occasion in which you narrowly avoided death. Now in my mid-twenties, having experienced illness, the death of loved ones, and other major life events, it is important to reflect on the significance of these near-death experiences. People die suddenly and inexplicably, so why have I been somehow ‘kept alive’ by invisible forces beyond my understanding?

Sophia Tan the author smiling
Courtesy Sophia Tan

A few years back, I visited my old junior college once more before it merged with another and then moved out of its compound. It seems like a lifetime ago that I spent the two years there wearing a brown uniform.

At times when I am discouraged by setbacks and disappointments, in a demoralizing landscape of a pandemic, wars and environmental disasters, there are days when I feel like I don’t have the energy to send out another resume, but then I recall the times I could have died, and realize we are all living on borrowed time, that as long as I am breathing – there is still hope.

I tell myself that there must be a reason why I have not died yet – a greater purpose to fulfil, some joy left to share with this world, and then I press on.


About the author

Sophia Tan is a former teacher who loves dogs, cats and hamsters. She dreams of one day publishing a fiction novel. She is a sucker for superhero movies and enjoys nature walks around her native Singapore. She is currently looking for a job that allows her to write more and speak less.

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