By Dr. Laurel Schwartz
We all deny the reality of our own death. It is the only way we can function day-to-day. Sometimes, however, a traumatic event occurs that punctures that denial, and is, in fact, life changing. For Ric Elias, that event was being a passenger on Flight 1549 which crash-landed in the Hudson River. For TED, in 2011, he spoke about what he learned from his near death experience. There were three points he made.
Take action now because there may not be a tomorrow. While most of us give lip service to this idea, few of us really live our lives this way. We often say its money that stops us from living our dreams or obligations, lack of time. The days, weeks and years slip away. While some of these reasons may be true, hidden fears and anxieties also stop us. Indeed there is no reason to wait to take action to live a more immediate and satisfying life. For example, when the dying voice their regrets they often wish they had lived their lives with little concern for what other people thought and had been authentic – living life as who they really were. One can begin that process right now.
Another way to live now rather than later is to learn to enjoy the moment. Some people pursue religious experiences to elevate themselves from the preoccupations of every day and get a greater perspective. Yoga, meditation and “mindfulness” are some other techniques that are used for this purpose. William Maxwell in his essay "Nearing Ninety" captured this idea, in addition to the sweetness of life, when he wrote about his old age: “Every now and then in my waking moments, and especially when I am in the country, I stand and look hard at everything.”
Improve your relationships with others. Ric spoke about setting aside ego. He no longer chose to be “right” but “happy” in his relationships with others. Relationships provide us with affection, closeness, and intimacy. These relationships are part of what make us human. My 103-year aunt was in the hospital recovering from a fall. She is also legally blind. More than food or medication, she wanted to feel the telephone in her hand. It was a direct conduit to her relationship with family and friends. It was her lifeline.
Ric’s last realization was to strive to be the best parent you can be. When contemplating one’s mortality most people want to feel that they have had some impact on the world. Our children are our legacy and hopefully, carry the best parts of ourselves forward. Furthermore, to know and nurture our children is a fleeting opportunity. Once that opportunity is lost, it can never be recaptured. As John Lennon sings in "Beautiful Boy," “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.”
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