Many years ago I bought a couple versions of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. I learned how to stop a runaway camel, how to escape from quicksand, and how to deliver a baby in a taxicab. I read that you should fight during a shark attack, play dead if you encounter a bear, and make yourself look big for a mountain lion. And I wondered how in the world I was supposed to remember all of this in my time of crisis?
Instead of feeling empowered with all of this helpful information, I felt vulnerable and small, just more proof that the world is a scary place and I need to brace myself for the next bad thing. It seemed that in order to stay safe, I needed to live in a state of anxiety. I mean, I didn’t want anything sneaking up on me, right? I wanted to be prepared. But all that preparation came at a high cost, so slowly over time, I stopped reading the books, I stopped carrying a can of mace the size of a flashlight in my purse, and I stopped focusing on the next bad thing. My anxieties faded, mostly.
A couple weeks ago while on vacation, I found myself on a boat in the middle of the ocean. The sky was remarkably blue, the water was shimmering aquamarine, and the boat was ridiculously fast. The all day tour of the island had started a couple hours late due to a transportation issue with some other passengers, so we had 125 nautical miles to travel with two less hours to do it.
I was hoping for a nice leisurely excursion gently gliding across the ocean. That’s not what I got. Instead we raced across the ocean, the boat jumping into the air and smacking back down against the water, jumping, smacking, jumping, smacking. This was not what I signed up for. I braced myself for the worst. Surely I was going to be flung out of this boat. Surely the boat was going to capsize. Surely the captain was trying to kill us. I could think of no other explanation for his behavior.
My brow was furrowed, my chest was tight, my muscles were tense. I was terrified. I looked around and everyone else seemed excited. They raised their hands like on a roller coaster and yelled out with enthusiasm. I was missing out on the fun. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place, and I was bracing myself for death.
So I did the only thing I know to do when scared senseless, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and talked to God. “I don’t like this,” I told God, “I don’t feel safe. I want to enjoy this instead of thinking I’m about to die.” I took a few more deep breaths. Then I heard the Divine whisper, “It doesn’t matter how you die. What matters is how you live.”
Something in me shifted. Suddenly I knew I could spend this ride preparing for the moment of my death or I could spend it fully alive, fully in the moment, enjoying every second.
Slowly I allowed my muscles to soften, my face to relax, my chest to release. I thanked my body for trying to protect me but assured it I was safe. I opened my eyes, put my face to the wind, and prepared to live in the moment, the wind-blown, fast-paced, magical moment.
I thought of a quote from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
I just want to get busy living. I just want to stop bracing myself for the next bad thing. I just want to believe that if a crisis happens, I will deal with it in that moment, instead of dealing with it through anxiety for the 20 years before it happens.
I just don’t want the thought of dying to stop me from fully living, from fully tasting and touching this moment. I just want to experience life with a soft belly, with a soft heart. I just want to believe that death is not so scary. I just want to let go, to surrender, to live, to really live.
I just want to ride on a boat in the middle of the ocean racing across the water bracing myself for nothing feeling completely alive. So that’s what I did. And I lived to tell the story.