At the risk of sounding condescending, I’m not sure to what degree anyone can live every day as if it’s their last unless they have actually faced death firsthand. Maybe a person can. Maybe some people aren't as block-headed and impenetrable as me.
But having survived two near-death experiences and a robbery at gunpoint that included the firing of an empty gun into my head, I truly believe that I come as close as possible to living every day as if it’s my last. Literally not a single hour goes by that I do not think about my mortality and strategize ways of extending my life while making as much of an impact on the world as possible during my short time here.
One of the people who I work with as a life coach knows a near-death survivor, and he once told me that I have a great deal in common with this person. “You both talk and act so much alike,” he said. “You both live the same way. You’re always on.” He went on to say that he wished that he could have a little bit of whatever we have.
This made a great deal of sense to me.
I know that many people would like to live their lives as if today will be their last, and I know that some even try to do so. And to a degree, I believe that many people accomplish this goal.
But unless you have actually experienced the prospect of death firsthand, I wonder if you can ever truly understand what someone like me feels on a constant, ongoing, unrelenting basis.
This weekend the StoryCorp podcast featured Grant Coursey, a boy who faced death while battling cancer, and the way he spoke about his near-death experience rang so true to me.
“Life is so good. If you’ve been close to death, you understand life more. If this had never happened to me, I wouldn’t understand how much life means.”
Even though he is only eight years old, he gets it.
I would never wish armed robberies, near-fatal car accidents or anaphylactic shock on anyone (and some of the after-effects of these experiences are admittedly less than pleasant). I’m not even sure if I would wish the extreme and omnipresent awareness of one’s own mortality on someone.
Thinking about your own death hundreds of times a day can be taxing.
But I do wish that I could convey the understanding that my experiences have provided me to the people I love most. I like to think that most of them are wise enough to understand already. Perhaps to think otherwise is shortsighted and condescending.
Then again, I just don’t believe that anyone can possess that degree of understanding without life teaching you the lesson firsthand.
I suspect that Grant Coursey would agree.