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Of shattered dreams and broken shins

by | 21 October 2017, 2:26 PM

I had my life all planned out. I was going return to Singapore, get into Officer Cadet School (OCS) and use that as my foot in the door to a local university.

During high school in Beijing, where I stayed because of my parents’ jobs, I had big dreams to study film in America. But due to a sudden financial situation in my family, my plans were scrapped. The next best choice was a business degree back in the nation I barely knew as home.

Since I’d studied abroad most of my life, I didn’t have any local certifications like the rest of my peers. Part of the reason why I wanted to get into OCS was because I figured the training would hone my leadership skills and put me in good standing to get into business school.

Sounded good, right? But God had a different plan.

ALMOST THERE BUT NOT QUITE

In Basic Military Training (BMT), a few others and I were put in an “enhanced leadership” batch. We were chosen because we were very fit and and had leadership qualities. During a particular field camp, I was appointed as an In-Charge (IC) for one of the days.

I found out later on that the ones who got picked as IC’s were those that the Platoon Sergeants identified as having exceptional leadership quality. Word also went around that if you were chosen, being selected for OCS was pretty much a done deal.

There was no reason for me not to get posted to OCS.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until a bout of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease started spreading in my platoon. I caught it at the worst time possible, resulting in me missing the highly important Situational Test – the last hurdle to pass before OCS.

I thought I had lost my chance and prepared myself for the worst. But the day we got our posting, I read the words, “Your vocation is: Officer Cadet (CBT)” on my letter and everything aligned again. I had somehow gotten a second chance at realising my OCS dreams.

But things took yet another drastic turn. Within a few months of my OCS training, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my legs. It was so bad I could no longer endure it and found my way to the clinic.

The news was devastating. The doctor revealed that both my shins had actually been broken by all the stress they had been put under over the years, due to my sporting activities. I would have to leave OCS.

The feelings that welled up inside me were hard to control. I was disappointed. Shattered. And so, so angry. Why had God given me a second chance at something I didn’t even have a shot at in the first place? 

I was left with nothing! I’d already given up my American aspirations. Now even this one lay in a broken pile along with the rest.

RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

After I dropped out of OCS, I was posted to the headquarters, where it was decided that I was to join the Training Development department. My new job was to take pictures in OCS, which were to be used as documentation for official training purposes. This sounded like a fair consolation.

Photography had always been a passion of mine, but it was only when I started shooting again in camp that I realised this was something I could do for a long time. 

I’d long left my dreams of film for the practicality of business school, but in this unlikely detour I’d found my way back to the art I enjoyed. Even when I’d put my creative passions behind me, God remembered.

I was really starting to enjoy my time in the Army. But after about six months as a photographer, I was suddenly assigned to a different department. It was a secluded corner of the camp where there was no cellular signal. I couldn’t even WhatsApp my previous department mates to complain and there was no one else around other than one unfortunate Sergeant.

The solitary nature of my new posting was starting to get depressing. All I could remember was the mundanity of the work: Putting things into boxes and arranging them neatly in the storeroom. That was all we did for days on end. I felt like I was slowly losing my mind.

Why did my NS journey resemble a never-ending rollercoaster ride? I was tired of getting my hopes up, only to have them all crash down eventually.

This miserable life went on until one day, a colleague from my former department told me to meet him at the canteen as he had something important to tell me. I found out that my previous Captain had offered my current supervisor two men in exchange for my return.

I was so relieved. I went back to the Training Development department and happily served out 7 more months until I completed my NS term.

HE ORDERS OUR STEPS

Thinking back, it was as if I had to see the death of my officer dreams in order for my passion for the arts to be revived. So after I left the Army, I applied to NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media in 2012. It was my one and only application, and I got in.

Having graduated last year, I am now working as a professional filmmaker.

Man. Even if I tried my hardest, I could have never conjured up a journey like this for myself. I set out with all my plans, but God really had something else in store for me.

There were many highs and lows in those two years. Yet in His grace and perfect timing, I was shown how everything works out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

/ timothy@thir.st

Timothy is a filmmaker who sees the world in black and white. He loves drinking tea and taking long walks.

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