This I Believe

Paul - Orinda, California
Entered on September 23, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: carpe diem
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This I believe: most of us aren’t paying enough attention, every day, to the miracle of our continuing lives.

If you come within minutes or inches of death, and you know it, and it doesn’t change you, there’s something wrong with you. Which is a little bit amazing, if you think about it, since we are all, from the moment of our birth, dying. Constant awareness of the fact, of course, would paralyze most of us, so we live our lives without thinking too much about it. When your mortality (or that of a close loved one) is rubbed in your face, it makes you step back, think and take stock. Sometimes that means you change your behavior, or your outlook, or your personality. The changes aren’t always visible. But if they’re not there, you’re not paying attention.

I passed out while driving down the freeway at 55 miles per hour. My car left the road and was totalled. I survived without a scratch.

Most of the time, I wasn’t paying attention to life. Last week was my 56th birthday, which means I have experienced roughly 20,000 days. You can leave out the first three thousand or so–what do you know before you’re 10? But since then, how many of those mornings have I appreciated? I mean really, consciously appreciated?

If I am lucky and typical, I’ve got another 7,000 or so days ahead of me (14,000 if I’m extremely lucky), but no matter how you cut it, my future is behind me. I intend to appreciate the heck out of each and every one of those days, because whether they are “good” or “bad” is simply a mental construct. The fact of life, the hope of the future, means that whether I am deliriously happy or miserably sad, I am alive, and that is fact one.

We all know people have a limited ability to keep an idea in mind, to maintain a state of awareness about a single subject. In short, things wear off. I hope my gratitude won’t wear off, that I won’t go back to taking life for granted, but I know the odds are stacked against that, and that chances are I will go back to being the way I was before, drifting through life and not grabbing it with both hands. Only time will tell. If I lapse into mindless acceptance of the greatest miracle in all of creation–waking up alive every morning–I’ll only have myself, and a hundred thousand years of evolution–to blame.