Gratitude is more than just a river in Egypt

Earlier this month I thought I was going to die. It was nothing really, just the garden variety, hypochondriachal brush with mortality. I was at work when I experienced a sudden numbness in my left arm. It was almost nothing but because I have access to google, my brain is a barely trained instrument of fear. Here’s how it went down.

Scene 1.) Arm: goes slightly numb because shirt sleeve is rolled up too tight.

     Brain: “Oh my God! My arm is doing something funny… What’s that thing about the heart attack? is it the right arm or the left arm? I’m going to die!”

Spurred on by a sense of impending doom, my brain went into overdrive analyzing the catalogue of knowledge at my disposal which could possibly save my life.

“Maybe I’m having a stroke.” I thought, remembering something I read once about the smile test. All you must do is smile and make sure that both sides of your face are working properly, if one side is limp, you are having a stroke. Apparently every second can save your life in the event of a stroke.

For context, let me say that this event happened while I was having a conversation with a coworker. She was telling me a story when a perplexed and worried expression came over my face. My right arm griped my left and my posture slightly drooped. I then abruptly left the conversation in order to stand in front of the nearest reflective surface, which was the glass of a display case and began rapid fire smiling like a crazy person. My reflection wasn’t very clear so it took several attempts to ensure that both sides of my face were in fact working.

“Great!” I thought, “Looks like I’m going to live.”

No longer did I feel Death’s icy grip upon my heart, my journey into the fray would be postponed. I was alive and at work and I looked like a delirious moron.

I should have felt embarrassed, I’m not usually susceptible to bouts of panic. Instead though, my seven or eight seconds of terror left me feeling exceptionally grateful. As absurd as my perceived dance with death was, it forced me to confront the possibility in a very real way. For that moment I was overcome with a profound sense of lost opportunity. Never again would I kiss my wife or hug my kids or watch the sunset or pet my dog or do any one of the multitude of things that make my life meaningful. I had been taking all of these things for granted. I had been taking my life for granted.

I can’t tell you what exactly was on my mind before I freaked out and thought I was going to die for no reason but I can guarantee that it was one of the usual suspects. One of the problems that tend to monopolize my energy, probably work or bills. Upon realizing that I was going to live however, those problems were all far away and I was simply overcome with an enormous sense of gratitude. I was grateful for that moment to laugh at myself with a friend and grateful to just have another day. I was grateful to be living the, as of yet, unwritten story of my life and grateful to be the person in control of the plot. As clichĂ© as it is, I was actually, authentically and amazingly grateful to be alive.

Gratitude, I believe is the key to actual happiness. Unfortunately however, gratitude is a fragile thing. It’s easily displaced by worry and regret. It’s easily overshadowed by business and routine. Most of the time it takes almost losing everything in order to tap into the kind of life changing gratitude which can jolt a person into appreciating the marvel that is their own life.

This brings me finally to my point. It’s an exercise that I now try to do daily. When I catch myself feeling bogged down by the events of the day, I close my eyes and I imagine in great detail my untimely demise. I pay special attention to all of the things that I will miss out on as a result of my sudden and shocking death. Then I open my eyes and I check my perspective on the universe and I strive to really appreciate how wonderful it is to be alive.

Give it a shot, I promise you’ll be grateful.

Thanks so much for reading. Until next time,

Adam