Two days ago I choked on a Triscuit. By “choked” I don’t mean I coughed a little and felt a flush of embarrassment. By “choked” I mean, I was deprived of oxygen, struggled to clear my airway, and made horrible, wheezy gasping sounds as I tried in vain to draw a breath. Or perhaps what I really mean to say is, I had a close brush with my own mortality.
Before you ask, I really don’t know how it happened. I was alone in the kitchen, so I wasn’t speaking with anyone. I was doing some light cleaning while munching on my lunch, so perhaps this is a cautionary tale, warning you to do as your mother always said and “sit down while you eat your food.” (Sorry, Mom.)
Oddly, I felt no fear though I recognized fairly quickly that I was in dire straits. Instead, my brain went into overdrive, evaluating the situation. How long could I continue with insufficient oxygen? Where should I go to pass out so I wouldn’t get a concussion? And did I need to call for help? I even (briefly) contemplated the indignity of it all. What a way to go.
I felt deeply concerned about my little guy though, who would be left alone – no doubt, terrified and desperately confused – if and when I passed out. So I dialed 911, knowing full well that I couldn’t speak with them, but hoping they’d somehow know how to track us down.
In the Future…
I fumbled making the emergency call on my iPhone, so it took a few extra moments. In the fumbling, I somehow dislodged the offending cracker from my throat & started coughing hard. Emergency services dispatched an ambulance to our home anyhow to make sure all was well. Cue the embarrassment (and the deep sense of comfort and gratitude).
The EMS crew was awesome (thanks guys!). They showed concern (but not too much) and made my little guy feel comfortable. I assured them that I was fine and that it seemed highly unlikely that I would ever eat another Triscuit. They lightheartedly advised me to chew my crackers in the future, lest I have another face-to-face with Mortality.
And in that moment, those words, “in the future,” wrapped me up in comfort and filled me with possibility as they never have before. The Future. I was okay, and the promise of another day never seemed so wonderful…or unexpected.
So forty-eight hours and fifteen minutes later, is anything different? Yes. While I feel fundamentally the same, my perspective has shifted in a few important ways. Here are some of the changes that I’m most mindful of.
Feel No Fear
I don’t spend a lot of time contemplating my mortality, though there have been times when I have. When I found a lump in my breast (two, actually) I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I was diagnosed with a neurological condition nicknamed “the suicide disease” and had to contemplate the possibility of living the rest of my days in extreme pain I wondered if the finality of death would appeal to me more than the pain of carrying on. And when depression had convinced me that the world would somehow be better off without me, I thought a lot about how, when, and where I might meet my end. It always scared me though.
I didn’t have time to think deeply two days ago, but I was struck – both then and now – by the complete absence of fear. Looking back – and forward – I still feel no fear as I consider what happened…and what inevitably will happen someday. My fear of death seems to have evaporated, and it’s very liberating.
Our bodies are amazing. Seriously.
Most of us don’t often stop to think about how miraculous our heartbeat and breath are. We take for granted the fact that we can walk, talk, check our phones, and successfully navigate from point A to point B all at the same time.
When I was choking, my body was in charge; intellect and spirit were just along for the ride. And somehow I recognized that there was little – aside from remaining calm and calling 911 – that I could do to assist. I understood that my body knew what to do and that I just had to let it. And somehow, it did. This has given me a new level of respect for and appreciation of this body that I get to inhabit during my journey here on Earth. It knows, all on its own, how to do some really amazing things. It’s somehow very humbling.
The Gifts of the Senses
My awareness of my senses seems heightened now, too. I find myself feeling like Peter from the movie, “While You Were Sleeping,” when he finally wakes up. “Everything is better. Everything looks better, feels better. Even this chocolate peanut butter (ice cream) tastes better.”
Our senses are such a gift. My little guy and I visited our friend, Agnes, yesterday afternoon. And in just a few minutes of sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch, I found myself blissfully aware of so much magic:
- The lovely, warmth of the sun that turns to a pinchy burning sensation when you’ve sat just a moment too long.
- The sensation of a soft, cool breeze on the skin accompanied by the sight and sound of rustling leaves.
- Gently rocking back and forth feeling – and hearing – every soft little bump as the chair rolls over the floorboards.
- The buzz and sting of a mosquito, followed by a sharp smack and a relentlessly annoying itch.
- The weight and chill of a tall glass of cold water in my hand, with drops of condensation rolling over and between my fingers. The refreshing and thirst-quenching relief it offers on this warm day.
- The sounds of storytelling (“if you give a mouse a cookie…”), giggles, and shared amusement sweetly drifting through the air, mixed with birdsong and the chatter and hum of noises from neighboring homes.
Mortality seems to have amped up my mindful presence and attunement with my senses in a huge way. I’m savoring every moment of it with a grateful heart.
Open Heart & Ticking Clock
I like to think I have a pretty open heart most of the time. But I sense this brush with Mortality has cracked my heart open just a little bit wider. I feel a peacefulness and a sense of certainty that somehow, everything is going to be okay. Even when I read the bad news of the day, though it still upsets me, I feel this new sense of openness and trust as I process it. My belief that good will prevail seems to be fortified, though I still wish I knew how. And I feel like I’m bursting with love.
My awareness of time seems to also be intensified, and I’m finding myself being more decisive and action-oriented. I’m more highly attuned to my intuition and I’m following its lead more consistently, not allowing myself to get caught up in what-ifs, fears, or any kind of analysis paralysis. It’s strangely liberating and miraculously productive.
Only time will tell if these changes mark a permanent shift in how I live or if they’re a temporary blessing bestowed on me by the Angel of Death himself. Either way, I’m grateful for their presence right now, and for the ways in which they are opening my heart and mind to life and love.
I don’t have a death wish, but I’m grateful for my brief brush with Mortality. Feeling changed for the better, I am ready to soldier forward into the world, ever appealing to our better angels with my message of love, compassion, and healing.
I have a lot of work to do.