LIVE AND LET LIVE
One of the biggest fears that many of us have is the fear of death. Perhaps this is because of the uncertainty that comes with what happens after we die. Maybe its because we are afraid that when we die we will eventually be forgotten. Perhaps this is why people by the millions turn to religion to find some sort of comfort in the stories and promise of eternal salvation after death. One thing is for certain we are all going to die. Many have had near death experiences with miraculous stories of what happened to them when they were on the other side. Whether or not these stories are true or not are irrelevant. They believe them to be true and I’m sure it brings them some comfort.
I have been fortunate enough in my life to escape death’s grasp on me on multiple occasions. Six to be exact and those are just the ones that I’m aware of. A couple of those were as a fireman that might have resulted in death or serious injury. I’ll just call these near misses. Another was a four-wheel accident that I’m not sure why, but I only cracked a rib. I did however have two other incidents where I feel that for reasons other than what I will explain I should be dead. While they are both separate incidents, they both have very similar resolve. One was a river trip down the mighty Colorado and Cataract Canyon: after our boat flipped in the canyon at over 60,000 CFS, I was holding onto our overturned 18’ boat and saw my wife in the distance gasping for air in the rapids. I decided I could save her and let go to reach her. It wasn’t long before I was soon in a huge mess. I couldn’t breath and the rapids never seemed to stop. At one point they did stop and just about the time I was ready to swim again the rapids started back up. I was exhausted and I remember vividly in my mind thinking I’m done and I put my head in the water and quit fighting.
The other experience, that is harder to talk about, was a failed attempted suicide attempt at my lowest point. As a fireman/paramedic for years I had arrived on scene to too many attempted suicides as well as successful ones. I had conjured up in my own mind a plan for what would be a flawless way to go.
While at the time, I never in a million years thought or imagined I might actually act upon these thoughts. The plan consisted of sleeping pills, a bottle of good scotch and carbon monoxide. I would be able to enjoy my favorite cocktails and just fall asleep never to wake up again. Fast forward several years and I was caught up in addiction, knowing I needed to stop and feeling I was helpless and that I couldn’t stop. Loss of a career and the idea that my family had abandoned me became a thought in my mind and an answer that I was done. This wasn’t a cry for help. I wanted to die. So I put my plan in motion and eventually passed out in my garage with engines running with my last conscious thought of this being the end.
What happened next in both circumstances I don’t have an explanation for other than my ideas and beliefs to what transpired. The similarities to me are uncanny and while some would say this was God or some other entity conjured up in the world of religion, I have a different explanation. While in the river with my head in the water I never remember struggling or gasping for air. Instead I had a sense of calmness, peace, and serenity that I had never felt before. Words can’t describe the feeling. While I don’t think that I was near death, it was the thing closest to that. I have zero idea how long I sat with my head in the water for. It could have been seconds or minutes. Everything in that moment seemed perfect and I didn’t want to leave. I was at peace. There was a part of me that decided that it wasn’t my time and that I needed to fight a little more, maybe pure instinct. Both circumstances I was extremely vulnerable and at a point of exhaustion and had given up on living. In my mind I had also decided that I was finished and ready to die. Some other part of me had decided otherwise.
My suicide attempt, while a completely different situation entirely, had the same vulnerability, giving up on living in my mind, and I stopped thinking just long enough to let my higher self in. I woke up in a carbon monoxide filled room. Why and how I woke up is unclear. The identical feeling of serenity, calmness, and peace was present. All of this at the lowest point in my life.
It is my belief that we are a sum of all of our experiences. We are our job, our family, friends, and the things that we acquire over time. While all of these things are great to have and bring us temporary fulfillment, our true nature is hidden and doesn’t often reveal itself. So, by all means get the jacked-up truck, travel to the far corners of the world, buy that nice dress, and experience the wonders that life can bring. We are what we believe we are! Identity is a weird thing. It changes all the time. Right now I am a writer, in about 30 minutes my kids will wake up and I’m going to be a kick ass Dad, then for about 9 hours I’ll buy into the illusion of corporate America and chase the dollar. In a lot of ways identity can define us if we let it, especially when we are blind to it. Our true nature is that of love, gratitude, and compassion and how we connect to those through our life experience. The closest tool I have to be able to reach this point is through meditation (topic for another day). Earl Nightingale once said, “Most people tiptoe through life hoping to make it to death.” Nothing except death is permanent. Life is full of impermanence and one should make every effort to make a life meaningful the best way we can. We can learn to become what our true nature is. While in the meantime taking full advantage of the gifts that life has to offer.