Cheating Death Can Change Your Life

We hear stories all the time about people who have had a close brush with death that radically changed their lives – often for the better. Not everyone finds almost dying transforming, but for many it seems to result in greater respect for balance in life and for living in the now as opposed to living for the future. For some, it lessens the fear of death. For others, it leads to a higher sense of purpose.

While there is a growing body of research on near death experiences (NDEs), there is no way to know how many people have had a close brush with death and survived – having an NDE or not. And they are not the same.

NDE is a term used to describe the collection of personal experiences associated with impending death – including such things as out-of-body experiences and the sensation of being drawn to a bright light. The late actress Elizabeth Taylor is one of about 15 million Americans who claim to have had a NDE, in her case while on the operating table during a surgery.

But there are countless people who have, more simply, almost died.

  • George Washington’s mother hosted a dinner party while pregnant with the future first President of the United States during which a bolt of lightening traveled down the chimney of her home and struck a young girl sitting next to her. The girl was killed instantly. Historians report that she never really got over the incident, and grew increasingly fearful throughout her life.
  • While a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, John F. Kennedy’s PT boat was rammed and cut in half by an Imperial-Class Japanese destroyer in the South Pacific. Kennedy and 10 of the 13 crewmen on board survived the initial impact — although Kennedy is reported to have thought, “This is how it feels to be killed” — but had to swim three miles to the nearest land. Kennedy famously did so while carrying one of the injured crewmen by his jacket, which Kennedy clenched in his teeth.
  • Filmmaker George Lucas was so seriously injured in an automobile accident three days shy of his graduation from high school that he hovered between life and death for three days. Apparently somewhat of a ne’er-do well prior to the crash, Lucas has been quoted, “You can’t have that kind of experience and not feel that there must be a reason why you’re here. I realized I should be spending my time trying to figure out what that reason is and trying to fulfill it.”
    Death playing chess by Albertus Pictor (1440-1...

    Image via Wikipedia

And how about the 155 survivors of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that went down in the Hudson River in 2009? Most of them weren’t famous or people we’d normally even hear about. But one of them, Ric Elias, gave a riveting talk at a recent conference called “3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed.” It’s not that Elias’ remarks are so profound. It’s just how often do we get to hear someone describe what he thought were his last thoughts in the minutes before the plane he was on crashed?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs is someone else who has had a close brush with death – perhaps several. In 2004 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In 2009 he took a six-month medical leave of absence from Apple and it was later learned, had a liver transplant. Now, Jobs is on another medical leave from the company, although no details have been released.

In 2005, between his treatment for pancreatic cancer and his liver transplant, Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford University.  He said many things worth thinking about, but these words stay with me most of all.

“No one wants to die,” said Jobs. “Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent.

“Your time is limited,” Jobs continued, “so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Words to live by, from one person who has cheated death.

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