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Be the Hero of Your Story: Make Your Life Count

Seize the Moment

Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.” ~Walter Anderson

Flying. I love flying.

No, I’m not some sick person who likes getting strip-searched by TSA, or waiting several hours to board a flight that should have arrived at my destination already. I hate that part, but I love the part when the plane takes off, and I especially love the part right before the plane touches down.

Maybe its because I’ve inhaled so much recirculated air or maybe its because I’m jet lagged and in some overly tired, trance-like state, but I love the initial descent.

During the initial descent, the destination becomes clear when you look outside the window. Oh, I love the window seat. Every time without fail, I gaze outside and look at the lights of the houses and buildings as the plane flies by.

Every time a very similar thought comes to my mind: inside each house there is a person or a family, people experiencing highs and lows, people laughing and crying, people living and people dying.

For some reason this obvious thought is comforting to me. Maybe it’s because it’s proof that although we are all infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, we are all sharing in a collective human experience.

I think there is meaning in life, which made this plane ride ultimately more difficult than any other, because I was returning home to bury my 27-year-old brother.

A day after the burial, my father and I met up with some of his close friends to collect my brother’s personal belongings and view the site “where it happened.”

I remember that day so clearly. It was bright and warm for the chilled wintertime in northern California. It wasn’t the type of day you’d expect for death; it was as if the weather didn’t care.

People asked me why it was so important that I know how it happened. 

I tried to explain that I just wanted some answers, but a common response was that “knowing” wouldn’t bring him back. Obvious, true, and painful, but I’ve always had a need to know, and I was determined to try and make sense of it and uncover what had happened.

At the site, I went over all of the possibilities in my head as if I were the investigator. Maybe he’d tried to answer his cell phone? Maybe he’d fallen asleep? Maybe the truck had malfunctioned? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?

I needed to know what had caused the one-ton truck to blow over a power pole and crash forty feet across a water-filled ditch into a dirt embankment, causing the truck to fold like an accordion.

Maybe I needed to know because I have an image in my head of my brother lying helpless in the mangled cabin of that truck, waiting, hoping for someone to come out there and help him.

According to the traffic and police reports, it was almost two hours until someone arrived on scene because he was commuting in the country. In fact, if he hadn’t hit a power pole, and someone hadn’t been unable to watch their midnight TV programming, it may have even been longer till someone got out to the site.

The police report said that my brother was pronounced dead at the time of arrival, but still, my thoughts turn to those unaccounted-for two hours.

Fate. Is there a single force that determines our lives? Maybe there is a higher power that has a plan for all of us? Maybe we have the ability to determine our own destiny? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?

I don’t find comfort in answers that rely upon faith. I come from the school of doubt. I am not out to discredit anyone’s religion or philosophies on life; on the contrary, I think all can be good if they help each person live a meaningful and responsible life, but there are simply more questions than answers, and I don’t want to base my life on theory.

I am not a pessimistic person—you can ask anyone who knows me—but I instantly discredit everything, even my own ideas. It seems there is some sort of circular logic paradox, where for every idea, there is another idea that counters it. Life is one big paradox.

“Life sucks, and then you….”

I’m sorry for the cliché, but this is important. We’ve all heard this phrase before, and we know how it ends: “…and then you die.”

But if you are reading this, you are not dead yet. And if you have felt the way I’ve felt, life does suck.

No sense trying to sugar coat it: sometimes, it just plain sucks. I’m here to tell you that that’s okay. In fact, it’s good that life sometimes sucks—and you’re not dead yet.

I recall the last time I saw my brother alive. Fortunately, I made the decision to take additional time off of work for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas, and got a few additional days with him.

On my Thanksgiving trip back home, we did a lot of our regular activities: we BSed about good times in the past, drank and sang karaoke at our favorite Irish Pub, singing till our throats got sore and then singing some more, and we spent time with our family and friends.

However, this trip home, and this time spent with my brother, was different from any other time.

My brother spent most of his adult life with a large chip on his shoulder. I suppose a lot of people have such chips weighing them down because “life sucks.” This was his attitude.

Not all the time, of course. He had some great times, some amazing moments; I know this because we had them together. But the chip was always there, sometimes just below the surface.

On this last trip home, something was different. We still went out drinking at karaoke, but this time he put me in the cab. This time he picked up the bill. This time his chip had some real passion behind it.

He told me definite plans he had for the future. He had started to seriously date. He had even picked a vocation that he was happy about; he was going to be an electrician, saying to me, “I like working with my hands.”

Make no mistakes about it: my brother had started taking responsibility for his life.

“Life sucks, and then you die” is an incomplete sentence. It’s the wrong side of the paradox to take because meaning in life comes from what we each do. Life just is, and we are all unique artists with the ability to create our own masterpiece. If positive and negative are two sides of a coin, we don’t have to flip it and leave it to chance.

I have often asked myself, if I died right now, how would I feel about my life? The retrospective questions seem to supply the fullest answers.

Maybe you have done this before, or maybe this is the first time you have dared to ask such a question. Everyone’s answer may be different, and the way they feel about it may be different.

Regardless, it can be empowering. Life is all we know for certain we have. Say what you will about religious belief and potential other plains of existence. The now is here; living it fully is about believing and having faith in ourselves.

What I saw in my brother that day, for the first time, was a slight shift in attitude that had moved him into action. He’d started to be the hero of his own life story.

Tragic as the brevity of his life is, the real tragedy would have been never making the change. My brother Justin is my inspiration, a source of newfound strength, and a reminder that it is never too late to start a new journey.

During the initial descent, the destination becomes clear when you look out the window. Flying overhead I see the shimmering lights of human experience and I have perspective; when I land, it is up to me to decide what to do.

Photo here

Avatar of Ehren Prudhel

About Ehren Prudhel

Ehren Prudhel is a writer and avid traveler. He recently created the eCourse Recreate Your Life Story: Change the Script and Be the Hero with Tiny Buddha Founder Lori Deschene.

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  • deeps

    Sorry about your loss. Your brother would be awfully proud of the way you have coped with his death and are inspiring so many people. Thank you!

  • Tim

    Ehren ,
    I enjoyed reading your post. I don’t think that people talk about issues like this enough. Christians talk about God, and some of the people who use this website (it’s a good, helpful website) talk about the Universe all the time, but I like how you just seemed to accept life as it is, for all its unknowns. Patricia Churchland is a scientist/philosopher who is trying to get the world to accept that there is nothing more to us than our own brains. All we have is our physical bodies and minds. Consciousness, the self, comes from the mind, and that’s it, she says. It’s hard to cope with death and injustice in the world with this mindset. A family member dies, or we see death and suffering in Syria, or we read about the Holocaust in WWII Europe. It can make life seem so unjust. There are so many dualities. Life can be pointless when we face it head on, but so precious at the same time. As soon as I accept that this is life, and this is all there is, then something magical and unexplainable seems to happen that can only be explained by accepting that there is more to life than this. I really don’t have any answers, but I was happy to see that someone else has been thinking these things too. Take care.

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Hi Ehren,

    Sorry about your loss, but do I think this is quite a tribute to your brother.

    “… it is never too late to start a new journey.”
    Indeed!

    I think many of us are always ready for someone or something to come along and royally mess things up. I also feel like many are in a self-imposed prison and go through life with this unease. Waiting for something really bad to happen.

    You’re message here is a great one, because you’ve had to deal with something so terrible, but I’m sure anyone reading this will take a lot away from it … heck, maybe they’ll do one small thing today to change their life for the better.

  • http://www.GinaMizzoni.com/ Gina Mizzoni

    Beautiful words and analogy for such a complicated and deep human experience. Having just lost my father, unexpectedly, a few months ago, I could totally relate to many of the things you described – investigating, the why’s, feeling the last time spent with the person was somehow different than any other time before. I loved what you said about the thought that goes through your head when flying above a city – people experiencing different highs and lows. I’ve never thought about that before, and it’s such an amazing perspective. I will definitely keep that in mind the next time I fly. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope you find the strength and healing you need during this difficult time. Thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us, especially those of us who are dealing with similar situations. It helps!

  • http://www.vishnusvirtues.com/ Vishnu

    Hi Ehren, I feel the pain of your loss and can see through your words the experiences your brother brought into your life and the life-long impression he’s made on you. Like others have said, you’re using such a difficult story to inspire so many of us.

    Your brother’s life is a reminder that we can start taking responsibility for our life at any moment, the coin can always flip to the other side and life can be glorious in an instance, and that a slight shift in attitude and perspective can change one’s life.

    Your brother is not only a newfound strength for you but for all of us facing difficult times. I want to start asking the question you raised about how I’d feel about my life if I died right now. And more importantly, how to take my life’s biggest challenges and become the hero of it. One change in perspective will not only change the course of my life but as your brother’s life has shown, can be a light for so many other people.

    Thank you for sharing your story and being a lamp of your brother’s light.

  • Simon

    I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I am glad that you had the chance to spend time with your brother shortly before his death. Reading your post I was touched and immediately reminded of once of my favourite books that I think you may appreciate – ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. It’s a true story of flying, connection to the world and following your purpose. It also speaks to me about keeping going no matter how tough things get. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on such a difficult time of your life and connecting with someone in one of those houses with a light at the window.

  • lv2terp

    This was such a captivating post, I really enjoy your writing style! Thank you for sharing your experience, perspective, and beautiful message!!!! :)

  • http://www.pinchmeliving.com/ Bernadette @ PinchMeLiving.com

    Ehran, I’m sorry for your loss, it’s courageous to share so openly about it. Reading your post stirred things within me. I lost a sibling and the message you’ve shared here about ‘be the hero of your own story’ and it’s never too late to start your own inspired journey really resonates. The roughest times in my life have sparked the most courage in me to live fearlessly. Thanks again for writing this. The message really triggered reflections for me.
    Bernadette :)
    PS. I smiled reading about the descending plane, and seeing all the houses below, knowing they are filled with people all going about the highs and lows of their lives, all of us so tiny in this massive existence of life… I often have that feeling when I look out a plane window on descent, and I’ll always remember this blog when I do!

  • RandyH

    Beautiful article, Ehren… peace to you and your family.

  • Mahesh

    Thanks Ehren for sharing this article and your personal experience so beautifully. May god bless with peace your ex. brother

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog Halina Goldstein

    Ehren,

    I lost my brother too, suddenly, of anaphylactic shock (an extreme allergic reaction). In reading your story I went silent inside, in a good way, just listening.

    My brother lived in Israel, and I had not seen him the last 3 years of his life. This was before Skype and he wasn’t the writing kind either, so we had hardly any contact at all. The first time I visited him in Israel was for his burial. I remember that flight too.

    But here’s a strange thing. I don’t remember anymore if the card arrived a few days prior or after his death. But it arrived. My brother wrote: “I know that I never get to write to you but I want you to know that I think about you”. In his language that meant: “I love you”. In my world it meant that even if he couldn’t possibly know that his life was coming to an end (at 39), he knew. He was saying goodbye.

    I don’t believe in spiritual theories, not even the most beautiful ones. I believe in life. And life is endless. It is greater than any religion can ever express it. And it is greater than death too.

    Thank you Ehren!

  • Ehren

    Thanks deeps for taking the time to read my post and for your kind words!

  • Ehren

    Hi Halina,

    I am sorry to learn of your brothers passing. Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my post. And thank you for sharing your incredible story. How meaningful it must have been to receive the card.

    Thank you!

  • Ehren

    Thanks Mahesh for taking the time to read and respond to my post!

  • Ehren

    Thank you so much Randy!

  • Ehren

    Hi Bernadette,

    It makes me very happy to hear that you have channeled the grief that you felt through the loss of your sibling to live life fearlessly. My greatest hope for this post is that it inspires others to do just that. Thank you!

  • Ehren

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post, and for your kind words!

  • Ehren

    Thank you Simon for taking the time to read and respond to my post. I will definitely read the book ‘Wind, Sand and Stars’. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • denise krochta

    Ehren,
    I am sorry about your brother. I lost my sister when she was 8 years old, and my brother when he was 39 years old. I, too, came to the conclusion you have. I do live by the concept of your Anderson quote. After these deaths there was more tragedy and drama in my life, but it helped me to remember how lucky I was to be able to experience these and whatever life brings. Life is good. Life is great, no matter what!

  • Ehren

    Hi Vishnu,

    Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my post, and for sharing so honestly about yourself. Life offers no shortage of obstacles and I know that responsibility and attitude are some of the key ingredients to living a fuller life. It is inspiring to me that you are going to be a light for people as well! Thanks!

  • Ehren

    Hi Gina,

    Thank you for sharing your personal story with me. I’m so sorry for the recent loss of your father. There is such a range of emotions and personal feelings that arise from a loved one’s death. Since we all share unique experiences with those people, we all grieve in different ways. For me, I still feel at times that it’s surreal. I left my brother after Thanksgiving to fly back to LA and I said to him, “I’ll see you in a few weeks for Christmas.” He said, “See you then.” Then we hugged and I left. Little did I know it would be my first Christmas without him. It will always be hard when thinking of moments like that. It is so easy to think of what is lost and how my life will be different, and not what I wanted it to be. However, I also remember the good times, the times that make me celebrate what I did get versus what I no longer will get. Also, it is amazing to see how many people are bravely facing such similar life transitions. We are definitely not alone with our grief! Flying is always a gentle reminder to me that we all struggle the lows, and even better, the highs of life.

  • Geetika

    This is by far the most motivating article I have read on Tiny Buddha. Thank you Ehren. Thank you so much.

  • Amanda

    This was beautiful to read. Thank you :)

  • Amanda

    So true!!! My beliefs exactly!

  • http://www.onestoppersonaldevelopment.com/ Chim Aaron

    I’m truly sorry about your loss. Thanks for sharing your story, I know it must have been very difficult. I think you have paid a great tribute to your brother. It’s not where we’ve been but where we’re going that counts. It’s clear that your brother had begun to make a change, and although his life was cut short, his story teaches us to make the most of the life we’ve been blessed with. I’m sure that he was in a much happier place than he had ever been. Thanks again.

  • Ehren

    Hi Craig,

    Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my post. If my post inspires anyone to take one small step to change their life for the better it truly would be an amazing tribute to my brother. I know he would like that. Thanks!

  • Ehren

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for your very thoughtful and insightful comments! It goes without saying that there are far more questions in life than there are answers. Even more befuddling is how often answers lead to even more questions. I believe Hemingway wrote, “I know now that there is no one thing that is true–it is all true.” I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have some very good questions that work for me. Maybe the best we can do is find the right questions for each of us, to find our own answers, and create meaning in our own lives.

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog Halina Goldstein

    Ehren, this is wonderful:

    “I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but I have some very good questions that work for me.”

    In my humble opinion, this could serve like an inspiring quote in its own right!

  • Ehren

    Thank you for taking the time to read it!

  • Ehren

    Thank you Geetika for your kind words and for taking the time to read my post!

  • Ehren

    Hi Denise,

    Thanks for taking the time to share some of your story. Life is what we make of it, and it certainly sounds more appealing to me to enjoy it the best we can versus the alternative. “Life is good.” I love it!

  • Ehren

    Hi Chim,

    Thanks for reading my post and for taking the time to comment. I have a picture of my brother that was taken during the last few days that we spent together. He has this peaceful smile on his face, something I hadn’t seen in a lot of pictures he’d taken in the past. Although that could have been for any number of reasons, its certainly nice to think that his life was trending in that direction. Thanks!

  • epepota

    WOW. This is such an inspiring story. I woul dlike to thank you for sharing something that is so personal but that can definitely change the direction of life for readers like me.

  • Ehren

    Thank you for taking the time to read it!

  • ambika

    Deeply touched with your post, Ehren. Your brother is in peace now and I hope you are your family too are in peace…

  • Nate

    You know its funny. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to kill myself for the last 2 1/2 years but for some reason a month ago I just decided, well since I never got the opportunity, maybe I can pull some sort of meaning from that. Undoubtedly there will be LOTS of pain in my future due to injuries I’ve sustained, and my dreams I had since I was a kid will never be realized, but even if I can scratch a mundane existence out of this universe, I guess its something. One thing for sure is your success or failures, while ultimately irrelevant, still gives you purpose and while it may only affect you or your family that is ok.

    Life is like a bullet, fate is the gun that delivers it.

    Before we even realize it life has hit us full force and then it is over…