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IT'S the stuff of movies. That amid raining rocks, the protagonist leads children to safety, returns to help others, and dies in the line of duty. Except this was no movie. This happened on June 5 when a 5.9-magnitude earthquake jolted Mount Kinabalu, and the hero was a personal friend.
Terrence Sebastian Loo, or Trr (pronounced t-r-r) to his friends, was the teacher who, in the words of a parent, "did help a bunch" and then "went up again" to save more students, 12-year-olds from Tanjong Katong Primary School who were on a school trip to the mountain and had looked up to him as Mr Loo.
"When we heard that he had died trying to protect his students, we were not surprised. It was just the kind of person he was," says Gloria Lee, a best friend of Trr, both of whom I knew from the National University of Singapore's Sheares Hall.
Trr and I were in a committee that organised the 2008/2009 inter-hall games. My vividest, and proudest memory of him was when he - then new to the hall - enthusiastically volunteered to lug two massive basketball backboards into position for a game. It's a small reminder of him, but proof that the littlest things matter, and that while people forget what you said or did, they don't forget how you made them feel.
To everyone who knew him, Trr was the supportive, loving, non-judgmental and playful friend; the life of the party who had no trouble making people laugh; the avid gamer and soccer player who loved bringing different groups of people together. Teaching was never really part of Trr's plan; he had graduated with a degree in real estate. But once he started teaching, he really loved the kids and they loved him right back, says Ms Lee. "He was a natural, he could click with them. He loved being the teacher-in-charge of soccer."
Life could never quite keep up with Trr, Ms Lee adds, as there was always something to look forward to with him around. "He loved going on adventures. You only had to suggest something and he would say 'let's go'. That spontaneity is so precious and missing in so many of us once we grow older and take on more responsibilities, but Trr always had that."
Trr would have turned 30 next year: old (perhaps to most people under 30) but young; he was on "the cusp of his life", a phrase his family used in a letter thanking all who have supported them during their time of grieving.
Thus, if to honour Trr's short but purposeful life, and those of the schoolchildren and teacher who Minister Heng Swee Keat described as brave, rugged, tenacious and selfless, and who had died while wanting to bring out their personal bests, how better than by making the most of ours?
Think about it. We spend our lives hankering after another age, career, place or set of circumstances. All through life, we're being prepped to grow up: schooling is meant to lead to a good job and raise a family - only for our kids to go through the same cycle. Only in rare instances when we are totally present and thankful, or when everything comes together neatly, do we acknowledge that now is the best time of our lives. What if, at every stage, we are completely present? And at every age, we embrace the promises of youth: energy, strength, spontaneity, vitality and bravery? Whether we are told at age 14, 28, 48 or 60 - the best time is now, if we'd let ourselves believe it.
So live in the moment, for the past is history and the future is -- as we know now -- not all that it's promised. Take time to enjoy the small things in life. Be open to adventures and new ideas. Go outdoors, appreciate that you're part of a much bigger world and find yourself growing physically, intellectually and socially. Start up, if you have an idea that can make the world a better place. Solve a problem, put your experience and wisdom to good use. Be young, be bold and be spontaneous. Because if not now, then when?