On quiet afternoons like this, I close my eyes and remember the time when I nearly died on a Saturday afternoon in April of 2011 with a broken spinal bone – lonely, hypothermic, and covered in cold, wet sand.
As I lay contemplating life and death, thought and emotions – family, friends, fear, love, regrets – emerged to the rhythm of waves crashing nearby to interrupt and distract the intense and cold pain of the unwholesome body.
It was, besides my grave condition, a beautiful moment in an afternoon cove soothing to the soul. The sky was as blue as the sky can ever be. The setting sun threatening to light the Pacific Ocean on fire. Occasional clouds floated by, witnessing what could possibly be the last chapter in a brief chance at life and wondering whether it really was the end.
Each visit to that moment, a powerful calm realization – namely, peace – arises from a deeper place within. The uncertainty of moments to come evolves to a profound acceptance of my mortal condition. And now, free from the constant self-judgment and confusion of the fleeting everyday thoughts, I am finally alive.
At times, I imagine an alternate but then-plausible sequence of events in which my internal organs bleed, my heart stops beating, my mind fades to the darkness of life, and my body ultimately expiring to the temperature of the sand on which I lay.
I wonder what happens that lasts beyond the final moment, but that experience, if such thing exists, is not privileged to the breathing who have yet to pay the debt to life. It’s the alchemist’s forbidden transformation – a glimpse of the afterlife.
As if dying in a dream, the film stops there, and my senses come back to the present moment, which is warm, forgiving, and without pain. A deep breath brings a grateful smile to my lips, and I open my eyes to the same glow of that afternoon sun.
I realize, again and again, each waking moment is a gift from Life. I was truly fortunate to be given the second chance that many do not receive – the trial by cold fire.
I still get upset about the small things and surrender to the feeble mind, which then dictates the course of my days. And this is why I like quiet, warm afternoons like as it is here today. To bring me back to that time and place when I was unquestionably, absolutely alive. To remember the Ultimatum and to live each moment without regrets.
On a beautiful afternoon in Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, MI 9.15.2011