I believe in living life living life one day at a time. Life is fragile and nothing is guaranteed. There are no guarantees for tomorrow. Life should be taken one day at a time. I believe in accepting the highs and not dwelling on the lows, experiencing the peaks and having the insight to dig one’s self out of the depths. I believe in living every moment to its fullest; not just the mind-blowing, breath taking, captivating moments of life, but experiencing the pleasure in the nuances of everyday life. Despite the popular belief among many, life doesn’t last forever and this is a lesson I will not readily forget.
It was exactly one year ago, December 2, 2007, a day that will forever be etched into my memory. It was an abysmally frigid morning, the kind of day that made me want to rip the cord off my alarm clock, snuggle a little deeper under my flannel sheets and return to my pleasant dream with no intention of ever returning to consciousness. Reluctantly though, I crawled out of bed and begrudgingly greeted morning with an unpleasant smile as she seemed to chuckle at my discontent. Despite the propensity of my attitude to be recalcitrant towards those early Sunday morning church services, I hopped in my Jeep, cranked up the heat and headed to pick up my friend Chris for the 10 a.m. service.
Church that morning was normal, nothing special or particularly out of the ordinary until about halfway through the service when I kept receiving numerous calls from a few of my closest friends. At first I shrugged them off with the intention or returning their calls when the service let out. Then it came, the single vibration that indicated a text message rather than another pestering phone call. I slid the phone partially out of the pocket of my khaki pants so as not to disturb or distract anyone around me, and there it was, the ominous, gut-wrenching message you never want to get about one of your best friends. It read, “Chad got in a really bad wreck. Come to the ER at UK hospital immediately.”
I did not know what to say or what to think. A flood of questions flowed through my mind. My thoughts were like a dilapidated wooden raft about to reach the edge of Niagara Falls, expecting the imminent drop ahead but at the same time not knowing what to expect and certainly not wanting to know. My mind was a maze of unanswered questions that desperately needed answering.
We left church immediately. It would be an understatement to say that the drive to the hospital was miserable; I broke more traffic laws than I can count on one hand. I whipped my car into the closest parking lot next to the hospital that I could find and double-parked behind a broken down Suzuki in the back of a cheap, seemingly unoccupied Thai restaurant. We jetted out of the car and began a mad dash with reckless abandon, dodging cars and angry horns, towards the DO NOT ENTER sign that hung above the hinged double doors at the entrance to the Emergency Room.
We sat down in the waiting room next to a few of our best friends that were already there. Not one of us knew what to say and the eerie silence was only broken by the tears of Chad’s girlfriend Kendall. Literally, not a single minute had passed before a doctor in a lab coat came out carrying a clipboard and bearing a grim countenance. He did not have to say it. His face said it all and I already knew the words that were about to come out of his mouth. He explained that we could say our goodbyes, but warned that wreck had left Chad physically battered.
I was in complete shock and as I tried to stand up my knees began to feel weak and buckled. I regained my footing, and the doctor led us down the corridor and pointed to Chad’s room. My throat dried up and my stomach sank to the floor at the sight of his mangled body. I began to feel nauseas, dizzy and weak. My eyes began to well up with tears as I desperately choked for words that I could not seem to find. The sight of one of my best friends stretched out on a hospital bed, covered in blood that had only sloppily been cleaned up was beyond horrific. There were still tubes in his throat and his face was mangled to the point where it was hardly recognizable. The only distinguishable vestige of my friend was the torn and bloodied clothes next to him and the hemp necklace that never left his neck.
I had seen things like this on TV and in the movies, but never in person. My mouth dried up, my stomach sank, and my hands got clammy. I could not accept this situation as a fact of reality. Maybe it had been our talk the night before about our hopes, dreams, ambitions and what we wanted to do with our lives, or maybe it the fact that a healthy, seventeen year old athlete could be taken in the prime of his life–but either way amidst the confusion and angst, the only thought that registered in my mind was that this could not be real, it just did not seem possible.
This was the day that I realized the fragility of life and the necessity of enjoying and experiencing every moment to it’s fullest. If anyone deserved to experience the longevity of life and all its fruitfulness, it was Chad. I have yet to meet anyone in my life with such vivacity and such a dynamic personality that was sure to light up any room that he entered. He had such a love for life. In all the time that I knew him, I never once saw him angry or upset. Chad was the kind of person who had an uncanny ability to take everything in stride, the good along with the bad. So from that day forward, I vowed, out of respect for Chad and the life he lived, I vowed to do my best to live my life like he did. No longer would I take the small things in life for granted, much less the big, which I had so shamefully become accustomed to doing. I decided from that point forward I would strive to make my life different.
Death does not solely belong to the old. I do not make this point to sound morbid or morose for that is neither my intention nor my tone, but I say this only to reiterate my point–that the transience of life should never be taken lightly. I believe in living life; experiencing the pleasure of each day and knowing that every night when I lie my head down on my pillow that tomorrow is and will be a gift.
In death, there is certainly a place for mourning and there is no doubt that I dealt with this after Chad’s passing. There was a point though, when I realized that it was no longer necessary to dwell on his death, but to respect his life by doing my best to pick up where he left off. Mahatma Ghandi, an Indian philosopher, insightfully said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” The lessons that I learned throughout this difficult experience were twofold. First, in life, Chad taught me to learn and in death he taught me to live. Second, nothing in life is given and nothing is guaranteed. It is only with this difficult realization that one is truly free to live; to live free and unhindered by the fears of tomorrow.