My Life and Death

You are young, my son, and, as the years go by, time will change and even reverse many of your present opinions. Refrain, therefore, awhile from setting yourself up as a judge of the highest matters.

~ Plato (427 BC—347 BC) Dialogues, Theatetus

Spending a week in a hospital bed, while being dreaded by most, can give many of us time to pause and reflect on what we have for which we can be thankful. For myself, I am thankful for everything. I feel as though I have risen from the dead and have been given a chance to walk this earth again. I do not wish to make the same mistakes I did before the incident that lead me to a near-death experience and back again. I thank God that I have children, a wonderful family, and still have my life.

Some poor souls have criticized me for not wanting to seek revenge on those who attacked me. Some even claimed that my pacifist attitude is the kind of attitude that has contributed to the decline of the United States. I feel a lamentable pity for them all: Those who attacked me, and those who are so green that they cannot see that I have nothing to be angry about, or why I wouldn’t want to seek revenge.

To those poor, foolish youth who attacked me, in a way, I feel truly sorry for them and their plight. I do know that what goes around comes around; and that they are setting themselves, or their loved ones, up for much pain and suffering. They haven’t a bright future.

To those who have written to criticize me, I am dismayed that you would want to judge me before you have walked in my shoes. As far as I’m concerned, I have done so many stupid things in my life that I should have died years ago. Now, I thank God for every day that I wake up. I am impressed by the beauty of flowers. My life today is nothing short of a miracle and a gift. I believe that people who receive gifts should stop to smell the roses.

Let me ask you a question: If you fell from a helicopter and thought you were going to die, yet you miraculously survived with merely a few fractured fingers and a broken nose, wouldn’t you be ecstatic? Wouldn’t you feel so thrilled to be alive and think that your survival was just another miraculous chapter in a book that, hopefully, would be a long one that would end with you being a fat, laughing, jolly, wise old man who one day dies quietly in his sleep at a ripe old age with his children and his wife by his side?

Wouldn’t that be wonderful? What more could anyone possibly want?

Thinking about it deeply, isn’t this helicopter story a parable for life? Is there any one of us who can actually be absolutely sure that they will be alive at this time tomorrow?

There is an old Zen story that comes to mind. I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but it goes something like this:

A young boy was walking in the jungle. Suddenly he came upon a ferocious tiger. The hungry tiger began chasing the boy towards a precipice. When the boy ran to the cliff, he saw that his only way of escape was to climb down the treacherous side of the mountain by using a tree root as a rope. When the boy got half way down the mountain he looked down and, to his horror and astonishment, there was another hungry tiger looking up towards him, licking its chops, ready to eat him when he came down. The boy then found a strawberry growing from the side of the mountain and ate it. It was the most delicious, sweet tasting strawberry he had ever eaten.

And that’s the end of the story. Do you get the moral? Isn’t this jungle story just like the helicopter story and a parable on life? The first step to making this a better world is to be thankful for what you have and to show that to the world from inside your own heart starting right now.

I met have met many good, wise, old people in these last few weeks. I hope I’ll be able to share with you their stories and, through those, that you’ll be able to gain even a small piece of happiness.

I know I have.