Saturday, September 10, 2011

Live Like You Are Dying

If I could remove four words from the world’s dictionary they would be “We need to talk.” Every time in my life I have heard those words - the proceeding statements have always been negative from being fired, to getting the news of my mother’s terminal cancer, to getting caught for doing something bad or wrong, to hearing about the death of a family member.

When I opened my eyes this morning to see my husband, he was sitting solemnly on the bed next to me and the first thing he said was “We need to talk.” After hearing those words, my stomach immediately sank. He continued, “Jason was in an accident on his motorcycle and he’s dead.”

Jason was Zach’s older cousin (on his mom’s side) and for you to understand Jason, you need a little history. Jason was a veteran of the recent wars (in the last ten years: Afghanistan/Iraq) I can not be clear on all the places he was while he served because those were confidential and he was uncomfortable talking about it – so we never did. But his job in the military was to be a phlebotomist. A phlebotomist is an individual trained to draw and give blood in a medical unit. Understanding that was his role in the military, you can imagine that the things he had seen and heard would have left him shaken. After finishing his tour in the military, he struggled for many months to figure out his own life.

He had a daughter, prior to the war, named Kiona. She is now a teenager. While we were home this past August, we had the pleasure of spending private time with him and his family. It was good to see him with his daughter and her family. Jason’s ex-wife Sarah had remarried and had a daughter very close to my daughter’s age, so it was nice to be able to spend time at their house and it was very early on that I realized our families were kindred spirits. It was also the first time I realized how much my husband really cared about his cousin Jason. He looked up to him, not in a way that he wanted to be just like him or experience the things he had – in the way that he respected the life Jason had, the things he had done for his country, his family and the strength he had to come back from such horrible moments in his life and live a carefree lifestyle.

Jason knew his own mortality. Everyone who serves or served knows it could happen (Listening to “If I die young” by The Perry Band) but you never expect it to be after you are home, out of the war zone. Jason has rode a motorcycle as long as I’ve known him and he knew the associated risks with riding but you never think you may be on your last ride.

"In reality, we are all travelers - even explorers of mortality." ~Thomas S. Monson

To hear from his family that his cousin died riding his motorcycle was a shock no one ever expected. But the little I knew Jason, I know he wouldn’t have chosen to die in another way. Living forever and dying slowly is something people often wish for, but in essence to me seems like a truly horrible fate.

Jason didn’t die in the wars; he came home and died doing something he loved. Riding his motorcycle. I was told it was the type of accident where it was quickly fatal. I can only hope myself, I am luckily enough to receive the same fate, that ends me instantly.

For my husband, Jason’s daughter Kiona and his sister Cassie (and many others), I know that life will never be the same, but to find solace in such a tragedy is the only thing you can possibly do. (Listening to “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw) If anyone lived his life as if he were dying, it was Jason. He truly understood not to fear his own mortality.

"Don't fear your mortality, because it is this very mortality that gives meaning and depth and poignancy to all the days that will be granted to you." ~Paul Tsongas

If anyone could have been considered as “Life Fulfilled” to me it was Jason. His life truly encompassed the definition of Carpe Diem. When I think of Jason for the rest of my life I won’t think of him as a victim of a horrible motorcycle accident, I will think of him as someone who was on The Edge of Glory and met death bitter sweetly.

I will chant with the hope that his family will also come to this conclusion as they grieve his loss.

Rest in Peace Jason Craft, you did make a difference and I hope we cross paths in another life.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Life Lessons in Disguise

So I have been teaching at two community colleges for just over three weeks now. I teach Introduction to Communication and Public Speaking courses and we always watch the video Randy Pausch “The Last Lecture” in class. It has been several months since I watched the video and now I have watched it twice in the last week. Each time I watch his video, he makes me laugh, brings a tear to my eyes and he reminds me of the important things in life.

One particular comment rang out to me this last week and I haven’t been able to get the words out of my head. In his closing statements he says “How do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone, and I believe in karma and paybacks… Focus on other people, not yourself.” These words really hit home for me lately because my husband and I have been going back and forth in an endless cycle of who can be meaner to the other person.

In my opinion, my husband won, in his opinion, I probably won. There were no winners in this situation; actually we are both losers for not working out our problems in a productive manner. But I don’t like to look at life as lose-lose situations; I think there is something to be learned from every experience. In this particular experience, karma really hurt because nothing positive was felt. (For those of us, like myself who love to rhyme, here is one for the books.)

“There's one sad truth in life I've found while journeying east and west.
The only folks we really wound are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know; We please the fleeting guest
And deal full many a thoughtless blow to those who love us best.” ~Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Wow. What a sad revelation. But to quote Randy "When your screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore that means they gave up." What a profound lesson, makes you reconsider whether that feedback loop is so wrong after all. Did my husband deserve to be called out? Yes. In public? Well, that’s debatable. But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times over – my life is an open book and I will continue to be that way despite the repercussions.

So looking at myself in a mirror, I am wondering could I have given kind criticism? Well, research would show: avoid being mean or attacking, talk about the action (not the person), don’t tell someone else they are wrong or even don’t criticize at all. While all these are great suggestions, the truth is – the purpose of criticism is to help people overcome their flaws that they may not particularly see.

Each night in my classes, I give comparisons to previous work of (nameless) students and the flaws they themselves could have prevented. Does that mean I won’t critic my current students? No. Consider yourself - if you went your entire life without any criticism, what sort of person would you be? You would never be able to say you really learned from your mistakes because there was no one there to tell you that you were making them.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errors and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

How profound. So I guess, my husband stepping up the bar when he criticized me wasn’t so wrong – perhaps it was what I needed to realize how vicious I can truly be. Perhaps that’s the best karma I have received, actually having someone in my life strong enough to say “You’re an asshole.” Karma isn’t something that is necessarily useful if it is always good; karma is something that will knock you on your ass when you need it the most.

"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P. J. O'Rourke

Keep in mind when dealing with those consequences; you need perspective to transition them into life lessons. “The lessons we learn outside the classroom are equally if not more important than the ones we learn inside. [...] We learn how to live life, the most important lesson of all.”