Several years ago I was rushing around trying to get somewhere quickly while worrying about what felt like a million things that were competing for attention inside my head. And then suddenly I felt the impact of a collision and the somewhat distinctive scent of burnt powder being released by the air bags in my car as my body was thrown into one of them. Just like that, everything stopped. And hours later, I sat in the passenger seat of a tow truck staring back at the crushed metal of the sports car I had purchased two months prior as my gaze went from the bed of the tow truck to the vehicles on the road below, each filled with people hurrying and scurrying to their destinations. It was as though I had been yanked from my own frenetically chaotic routine and made to sit still while I objectively observed that same mindless mania from a distance.
Earlier this week, I sat in a cardiovascular intensive care unit watching my husband recover from the seven plus hour surgery he had just endured. I felt a strangely similar sense of having been removed from the somewhat banal yet seemingly urgent tasks that tend to occupy my days and directly inserted into something that led me to feel as though time had somehow come to a complete halt. It was as though the volume on all the background noise in my life had been somehow silenced to allow the most integral parts to have their solo. Knowing that he was unconscious, but hoping he could somehow hear my voice or feel my presence, I realized words were completely inadequate to capture how I felt about him at that moment anyway – even if he could hear them.
All the craziness of the previous weeks somehow went away and everything that only one day before seemed so pivotal no longer even shared the same scale. Life’s momentous events have a way of trumping everything else in such a way that we question what it was we were so worked up about before anyway. And in these critical moments it seems the most vital things take on a razor-sharp focus. We remember what is really important. It’s as though we have been granted some kind of highly sophisticated vision that allows us to instantly and almost unconsciously differentiate the significant from the trivial. We feel that which we know in our hearts with such strength and magnitude that it almost bursts right out of us.
As I looked around others in the ICU – patients as well as their family members, I realized that in these places, people are at their rawest and most human. There are no facades, no airs, no agendas. And it isn’t just the gowns that leave people feeling exposed. We are ripped wide open in such a way that we come face to face with our very essence. In these moments, life takes on new meaning. These gut wrenching experiences that cut us to our cores give us the gift of returning us to our cores – so that we can remember how strong we really are, and come back to that which gives us true strength. We awaken to what is most real within us and find the ability to connect to what is most real in others.
I don’t think the only way to experience such a profound wake-up call is through tragedy, illness or trauma. We have the ability – and the choice – every day to pay attention to what we are paying attention to, and determine whether it is really worthy of our time and precious energy. We can open our eyes to the unfolding of each moment and allow the questions that haunt and beckon in the furthest corners of our minds to become magnified in such a way that we cannot help but hear and respond to them.
What gives your life meaning?
What are you really here to do?
And are you doing it?
If not, when will you start?
How about now?
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