It's easy to tell stories about near-death experiences. Maybe we were almost in a car wreck, maybe there was terrible turbulence. Maybe a pretzel went down the wrong pipe or we had some really sketchy Mexican food. Or maybe things got really serious and a heart attack landed us in the emergency room, cancer nearly did us in, or a stranger who knew CPR saved our life.
Certainly, these experiences (especially the graver ones) aren't to be overlooked, brushed aside or even taken lightly. Those of us who have gone through one of these came out on the other side somehow changed. The sky seemed bluer, juice tasted sweeter, or time with loved ones meant a lot more.
And so, the near-death experience is prized above nearly other in our life as it teaches us that which we should have learned at some other point. As much as we never hope to have one, a near-death experience puts into perspective that which should have been properly aligned all along. Like a strict schoolmaster or a guilt-giving grandmother, the near-death experience is supposed to instruct us as to what is truly important in life.
A recent email from a very good friend said:
I could go on like this for a while, but I'm just afraid of what it could do to me if I let it. I can be a cold bastard, Sam. I want to be more human. And humanistic. I just want to live, bro, and be real.
I just want to live, bro.
How many of us have ever had a near-life experience? How many of us have had a time where we got a glimpse not of what things might look like if we weren't here, but if we were more here? How many of us have been allowed a wake up call to what it means to truly live?
Maybe it was the taste of momentary success. Maybe it was that moment when our greatest passions were matched up with the world's deepest needs. Maybe it was when we realized we truly could find meaningful work. Maybe it was a crisp February day when the sky was blue and the breeze hit us in a way that made us shiver from head to toe, but simultaneously made us realize we were truly alive – perhaps more in that moment of chills than ever before.
When we do that thing that provides a near-life experience, we are also never the same. When we get a glimpse into that which truly makes us happy and when we understand that which gives us meaning, we want to live more than ever before.
When we get a glimpse of our dream, we want to chase it down more than ever before.
I don't have any answers for my friend on how he can truly live. There is no 5-step process or simple 12-part checklist. If he wants to truly live, he needs to do the arduous task of exactly that. He needs to find that moment that allows him to see what truly living is like and seek to recreate that moment every day when he wakes up. He needs to seek the moments, memories and meaningfulness that makes him feel alive, fully human, fully engaged in community and relation to others.
Because when we truly live, we find the stuff that life is made of, the stuff that makes life the beautiful and bountiful gift that it is. And then we can never be the same.