Near-Death Experiences Remind Me Life Is Fragile


The other day, I was thinking — and, no, not for the first time — about what a gift childhood is and how lucky we are to survive it. I was thinking about all those parents — and there are too many of them — who have lost a child and blame themselves for it. I wish I could take away some of their pain because, if you think about it, each and every one of us has had at least one experience in our lives where we walked away thinking, “I could’ve died!” And everyone I talk to has their own story of living life large and somehow making it through. I remember ducking when my brother threw a brick at my head. If I had turned instead, if the brick had hit my temple… if, if, if.

A friend of mine recalls running straight off the edge of a cliff as a child. “My legs were spinning around in mid-air like one of those cartoon characters until my buddy grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back onto the ledge,” he said. “To this day, it seems impossible that he even could’ve reached me.”

My cousin actually did fall down a cliff. We were at a Wisconsin park that overlooked Lake Michigan. About 100 yards away from where we were, there were steep wooden steps that wound their way down to the beach but, being kids, we decided to “save time” and climb down. Of course, we grossly underestimated the grade of the drop-off and, by the time we realized we were in trouble, found ourselves clinging to rocks and vines in order to slowly lower ourselves down. That’s when Larry (13 at the time), lost his footing and did about 15 pretty dramatic cartwheels over stones and broken glass to the bottom. He lay sprawled on the sand while we got to him as fast as we could. He could’ve been knocked out, or maybe he was in shock, but, by the time we finally reached him, he was standing up, brushing off the sand and heading for the water. Kids are rubbery.

When I was about 20, a gas stove exploded in front of me. A huge oven-sized fireball came straight at me and, because the kitchen was tiny and also contained a table and four chairs, I had nowhere to go. The fireball singed off my eyebrows and all the hair on my forearms, melted my acrylic sweater and sent a shower of ashes and sparks up into the air. The whole thing was my fault (what did I know about pilot lights?), but that’s beside the point. The point is, I should’ve died or, at the very least, needed reconstructive surgery. I didn’t. My cartoon character friend is also still alive. Larry, however, died in a car crash 10 years after cartwheeling down the cliff.

So, is it “the luck of the draw” that some of us survive and others don’t? Is it fate? Who knows? All we can do is enjoy life while we have it. I think that’s what Larry and all the other kids would want for all of us — but especially for their parents.