The Time I Thought I Was Going To Die
– by Chris Cade
“There was a time when we were not: this gives us no concern – why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be?</strong” – William Hazlitt
A couple of years ago, I was flying home late one night after spending all week in California for a business trip. I would fly for these trips to either California or Tokyo about once every 1-2 months so they were very familiar and routine for me. Pretty much nothing interesting ever happened, which in my opinion is a great thing when it comes to traveling. 🙂
On the flight that one fateful night, I had just finished reading Steve Pavlina’s Personal Development for Smart People, and as I was writing my review of it, I notice that the airplane started going downwards very fast… faster than I’ve ever experienced before. My ears almost never pop when I fly, but that night my ears were popping every minute for several minutes in a row.
I looked around, and nobody else seemed to be concerned. (At least nobody outwardly showed concern) But there was this question in my mind, and a feeling in my gut… “Are we going to be okay?” Right after that thought crossed my mind, the airplane started experiencing major turbulence. Enough that even though I don’t get airsick, my stomach was starting to feel very uneasy.
Between the rapid drop and the turbulence, I was having trouble writing my review, and I wasn’t feeling particularly safe in that moment. I thought to myself…
“I wonder if I’m going to die?”
In that instant, I realized that if in fact I was going to die, my preference was not to be typing something on the computer that wouldn’t even reach the people it was written for (i.e. you). So I paused for a moment, looked out the window and saw the beautiful moon and just focused my attention on being calm and present.
It was a delightful feeling, and I felt strangely at peace despite the unusual circumstances of my flight. Well, until…
Another massive turbulent streak brought me back to my mind… “Am I going to die?” I tried to tune into my intuition, but I wasn’t able to hear it. That’s both good and bad because although I wish I were able to hear my intuition all the time – and in this case so I could have an answer to my perilous question – in my experience my intuition usually only tells me when there’s something REALLY big to be concerned about.
And since it wasn’t shouting at me, “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” I concluded that we all would probably be alright. I turned my attention to the moon again, enjoyed the calm serenity, and within a few moments the pilot announced we would be landing shortly.
I’d like to say I felt relieved, but I didn’t. For me, landing was just another part of this experience called “life,” whether that experience lasts longer, or had ended last night. Either way, I realized I was grateful simply to be alive and experiencing this wondrous mystery.
I’m not entirely sure why I shared all that with you. Perhaps there’s a question in my mind that asks, “How can I connect with others more deeply? How can I inspire, encourage, enlighten, and ultimately empower others?”
And perhaps this blog post was one way in which I can answer those two questions. My very real airplane story isn’t really about me, although I was the main character. I sense it’s really about all of us and how we choose to respond to adversity, challenge, and those things which threaten our ideas about life and the way we live.
Although you may view this post in the perspective of somberness, as the topic of death often does, we still have a choice how we receive these messages about death.
I am reminded of a quote from a very enjoyable movie called “The Last of His Tribe” that is based on a true story. The following words were spoken by Ishi, a Native American who helped bring wisdom to the west:
“If you do not sing for your dead, how will they be able to find the trail to their ancestors?”
That’s a very good question, regardless of whether we believe in an afterlife. That question gets to the heart of the matter in a very direct way – When given the choice between sorrow and joy, what would we rather choose?
When my brother Michael died of cancer in 2001, I spoke at his eulogy. I spoke of how wrong it was for such a young man in his early 30’s, in great health, and with two very young children, to be taken at such a young age. I also spoke about the joy he brought to all of our lives, and how those joyful memories can bring smiles to our faces during that time of painful emotional upheaval.
And when I finished my eulogy, I looked out among the sea of more than 100 people who cared about Michael deeply, and what I saw touched me deeply. With tears in their eyes, people were smiling.
In the likeness of Ishi, those in attendance rose beyond their sorrow and found a way to sing… to help Michael find the trail to his ancestors.