One Year From the Day I Almost Died: What You Can Learn from My Experience
March 20, 2012, one year ago today, my life changed forever. I fell ten feet in a rock-climbing accident when the rope from which I was hanging broke off the rock face. Ten feet was enough to fracture my spine, one of my ribs, and sprain my ankle. Whether it sounds like it or not, I was incredibly fortunate that day. If I fell two feet to the right, I would have fallen over a 30 foot cliff into a rocky ocean front. Two feet to the left, more rocks. At the height of the route I had just summitted, I was 75 feet off the ground. Had I fell from any higher than I did, I might not be writing this blog post today.
A lot has changed in my life since that day. The world looks a lot differently than it did one year ago. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from nearly losing my life and then recovering from a fractured spine:
– Life is a Gift – Nothing makes you realize how little time you have on this planet than coming face to face with your own mortality. Priorities change when you go through something like that. I try to remind people that you never know when something like this is going to happen. Sure, rock-climbing is a good way to tempt fate, but whether it’s a car accident, a heart attack, an unfortunate turn of events that changes your ability to function or walk: you never know when something like that is going to happen to you or someone you love. Don’t take a single second for granted. Do the things you want to do. Tell the people you care about how you feel. Prioritize what’s truly important. If you knew exactly how much time you had on this planet, how would you change the way you live your life?
– Positivity Goes a Long Way – When I was recovering from my spinal injury, I was living at my parents’ house in Buffalo, NY. I couldn’t do much, so I spent the majority of my days reading, watching movies, writing and doing whatever I could to keep myself from going crazy. Little things were a big deal to me. I would challenge myself to take out the garbage or make my bed. People would often try and stop me, asking me, “Can you do that?” I realized, if I told myself, yes, I can do this, I would feel stronger, more capable, more resilient. If I went along with the person telling me I couldn’t, I would feel weaker, less capable, and I would go sit back down and shrivel up. No matter what challenge you’re facing, the first step is believing in yourself. It all starts with telling yourself, yes, I can do this.
– There Are People In the World with Real Problems – Life’s problems don’t seem to get me down as much these days as they used to. I studied abroad in Kenya for a semester in college. That was the first time I realized how incredibly fortunate I am and how trivial “first world problems” tend to be. Now that I’ve survived a near-death experience, I really feel like I’m playing with house money. Just yesterday, my car was towed at the end of a really long, rough day. I wallowed in my frustration and complained on Facebook my life was so tough. Then I realized: I can walk. I can breath. I can talk. Car or no car, I’m doing pretty damn well. Every day I wake up, I can move my arms and legs, I can take a deep breath into my lungs, that’s a gift. I am eternally grateful.
– Everything Happens for a Reason – I know it sounds cheesey, but you can’t convince me this is not the case. Up until the moment I fell, I was planning on spending another 2-3 months in SE Asia traveling, studying Thai massage, eating, and meeting new people. I had been looking forward to seeing Cambodia, Vietnam, and Northern Thailand for years. That all changed in an instant. I had a clear choice: I could either be bitter and angry that I was missing out on the experience of a lifetime, or I could embrace the experience that was available to me, living in Buffalo, NY, spending time with my friends and family, recovering from this massive injury. I had to let go of all those plans and embrace my new path. Had I spent all my time wishing I was somewhere else, I would’ve missed out on all the growth and knowledge I gained from the experience I did have. I am without a doubt, a stronger, more emotionally evolved, better person for having had this experience. While I wouldn’t have chosen this path, I am eternally grateful for the opportunities it’s provided me. I believe this all happened for a reason. That reason is so that I can share the experience with as many people as possible and make the world a better place as a result.
To say the least, this experience has changed me. My message to you is that you don’t have to go through something like I did to get to my point of view. Learn from my experience. Gain from my perspective. Embrace the opportunities that are given to you. Don’t waste a single second of a single day. Tell the people you care about how you feel. You never know what the future holds.