He had wrinkles at the corners of his eyes from smiling too much. “I should use more moisturiser,” he once said, grinning, as though sincerely apologising for the natural ravages of time. He sang along heartily to ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ at his first Double Take gig, hitting the high notes with his tenor while I self-consciously paused to check my pitch. His encouragement to me, a stranger, before and after I nervously performed a self-penned song at my sister’s wedding was unexpected strength to a wavering heart. I appreciated the wisdom, maturity and sensitivity he brought with him; byproducts of what I imagined were hard lessons from a previous life.
We shared a few brief moments together; several occasions of acquaintance: a casual dinner, a guitar lesson, a jazz gig, a visit to a warehouse sale, a coffee. Nothing really extraordinary or consequential considering our many years of existence. We talked about life, our interests, our dreams. I asked about his family. He asked about mine.
As a photographer, he once told me how he strived to capture ‘the moment’ when a person is at their most beautiful. The moment when they are unaware that they are most exposed. I observed that his easy smiles and encouraging words helped in taking pictures, drawing out the best things in the person opposite the lens.
He showed me his portfolio of work. There was commissioned work—weddings, portraits—and then there were pictures from mission trips in sun-bathed, disease-laden lands. The latter was simply amazing. The colours were rich and vivid; the stories in each were real. He paused at one: of an Indian girl holding a bottle. His missions team had been de-licing the hair of the villagers, he said. Right after he snapped the shot, the girl in the picture passed him the bottle, then fainted from the fumes.
He encouraged me to go on a missions trip. I did, and taking pictures of the Orang Asli there was one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.
Through God’s grace, our paths met. In a few small ways, my life was changed. Yet until heaven beckons me, he will never know.
*Laurence Thong departed earth and arrived in heaven on 12 February 2006. This was posted in an earlier blog.