During disasters we are naturally drawn to the stories of those who lived to tell their tales of survival; our instinct to celebrate human triumph over tragedy. Personal accounts of those narrowly escaping death, fighting to live and rescuing strangers, narratives of human strength, perseverance and fortitude, act as the coping mechanism necessary to move on with life. We each move on. Remember the days following the events of September 11th when no one thought the world would continue to spin? It did; we all did. We all spun right back into the routines of our everyday lives without learning the most important lessons these catastrophic events can teach us.
Last week, many around the world asked themselves “who do I know in Minnesota” and if their answer to that question was anything other then “no one” then they placed a call, sent a text or wrote an email. We instinctively reach out to those we know to ensure they are okay, even if eons passed since the prior conversation. The phone is picked up and dialed without hesitation; no thoughts on the amount of time the call might take, if the other person will be mad for the number of years since you last spoke, worrying of bothering someone during time with their family, or the countless other excuses we routinely use to avoid calling our friends and family. Bad news means we have no excuse to reach out and show we care. After the news becomes old, we return to the hustle and bustle of our lives, forgetting once again to keep the communication channels open with those we care about.
Whether you were in or around New York after the terrorist attacks, lived the path of a natural disaster, felt the tremors of California, resided in Minnesota after last week’s bridge collapse or been anywhere by a terrible world event, you learned the experience of being on the receiving end of the “are you okay” call. We hardly take the time to reflect on the importance of these phone calls as their numbers become as overwhelming as the experience that brought them on. Calls and messages of concern come out of nowhere as people we may forget show us they did not forget us. Through all these messages of concern and relief, we miss the biggest message of them all; the impact made on someone’s life that makes us important enough to call.
After devastating events, we recognize the real fortunes we have in our lives; our friends and family. It is not our possessions or careers that define our place and path in the world; it is our relationships and experiences. For a short time we remember to spend time with those we love, to let others know they are on our minds, and to accomplish things we want to do before we die. These are the times when we often quote an unnamed friend of Paul Tsongas, "No man ever said on his deathbed, 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.’” Unfortunately, this lesson is very short-lived. Time marches on and so do we; falling back into our routines and forgetting what we learned in the face of disaster. We begin putting work over family, stop calling friends, forget birthdays and anniversaries, neglect to tell people they are loved, forgo traveling, put off reading a good book and make excuses for putting everything ahead of the people in our lives.
If you watched TV this week, you heard the stories of human survival, but the most important lesson we can learn during these times is never delivered; life is not about surviving, it is about living. Most will never need the lesson we were delivered on surviving a sinking car, but we all could use but we all use a refresher course on how to live life:
- Pick up the phone and call your friends and family in good times and in bad.
- Know the people who care about you, and put them all at the top of your priority life.
- Carpe Vita... Seize Life!