“If your forever was ending tomorrow, would this be how you'd want to have spent it? Listen, the truth is, nothing is guaranteed. You know that more than anybody. So don’t be afraid. Be alive.” ~Sarah Dessen
It was beginning to get dark. Lightning streaked across the cloudy sky above the ocean. The full force of the wind took the breath out of me as my eyes squinted from the heavy rainfall.
Waves rolled in to crash down in front of me, as if the ocean was screaming at me.
“Turn around, human. Go home!”
“Maybe I should,” I thought. “What am I doing out here in this extreme winter weather?”
But my intention returned. The news I had received that day continued to stir at the back of my mind. And so, I moved forward.
The water was ice cold as the waves smashed against my legs. I moved forward.
Just as I thought I could bear no more, I submerged myself underwater. The sounds and sensations shifted as I merged with the ocean for a brief moment. And then I resurfaced to brave the magnificent storm.
In this moment, I felt so alive!
I had awoken to the reality of life—that there is only one thing that holds us to this world. A heartbeat.
Earlier that day I had received news that my friend, Nick, had tragically and unexpectedly passed away. His heartbeat no longer held him to this world.
How fragile we truly are. Yet living this truth is where we truly fail.
My ocean swim in extreme winter weather was a way to remember that I had a heartbeat; that I was alive. It was a reminder that all those I know and care about are mortal, fragile, and finite.
Why had I ignored this truth? Why had I lived my life to this point in safe denial?
Reflecting back on this experience, I have come to realize that when we lose someone, it temporarily shifts our internal compass of reality.
It points us home, toward what some people call our “higher self,” “inner wisdom,” or put simply, our raw humanity.
These lessons we learn from loss are valuable reminders for our own personal growth. They serve as road signs that lead the way back to our own humanity, which we so easily lose touch with in today’s society.
In finding my own way back to humanity on that stormy night at the beach, my first road sign pointed toward letting go of judgments.
Too often we form negative judgments about people based on their mistakes and choices we don't agree with, and in doing so can’t see the best in them. What a selfish person! What a rude person! How could he do that!
We create generalizations that cut us off from the people around us. We zoom in on these judgmental labels and before we know it, it’s too late to appreciate the people in our lives.
I knew my friend who passed as a casual acquaintance for six years. Sometimes I thought he partied too hard. There were times where he even got into trouble with the law.
Yet, there were so many things I could have appreciated more by simply looking beyond my judgments.
He was friendly and known by so many. He had a great sense of humor and was extremely fun to be around.
His energy and zest for life were contagious. Although he had never been employed, I really admired his courage to live a satisfying life in his own way without worrying what others thought. But I never told him while he was alive because I was too busy judging his choices. And now I'll never have the chance.
Which judgments are getting in the way of connecting with people in your life? What would you appreciate about them if you knew your time with them was limited?
My second road sign back to humanity pointed toward appreciating the present moment. Too often we sleepwalk through life, lost in our own minds with endless thinking. Many times we’re not even present in what we’re doing.
If you’ve ever taken a shower and realized that you can’t remember whether you have already washed your hair, you will know what I am talking about.
Perhaps you’ve taken a walk on the beach on a sunny afternoon, but spent the whole time gazing at the ground lost in thoughts about the day.
The present moment? Before you know it, it’s gone.
Appreciating the present moment is as simple as noticing the sensations and experiences around you.
My spontaneous ocean swim allowed me to feel the heavy rainfall on my skin, the sheer force of the wind and waves against my body, and the exhilaration of submerging myself into the ice-cold water.
What are the things that make you feel alive? What prevents you from fully enjoying those things, and what can you do to start experiencing them more mindfully?
Oscar Wilde, a nineteenth century Irish writer, remarked that “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
I encourage you to go beyond simply existing. Appreciate the present moment and completely savor the experience. Because that’s what we are all here for, right?
In sharing my lessons from loss, I hoped that you too will remember that there is only one thing that holds us to this world: a heartbeat.
Let this truth guide you in your actions every day, and be mindful of life lessons that serve as reminders.
The moments we have are small grains of sand in an infinitely trickling universe; take time each day to enjoy the present moment before it trickles away.
The people in our lives are drops in an endless ocean that forever ebbs and flows; take time each day to appreciate them before the waves carry them away.
Friends making heart symbol image via Shutterstock