Near-Death Experience Teaches Most Valuable Lesson of All
Life is hard. Bills can add up, stress can mount, and the smallest of problems can often seem to signify the end of the world. But after experiencing a far-too-close brush with death yesterday, I finally understand just how wonderfully sweet this world really is and why every day is more special than the last.
Let me set the scene to better explain where I am going with all of this. My name is Paul Fladten and I am a 28-year old aspiring journalist from Milwaukee that is exactly two months away from marrying my best friend and soul mate.
Like many of today's twenty somethings, my fiancé Meghan and I are attempting to make the leap from confused college graduate without a sense of purpose to productive element of American society. Now granted, we have both been blessed with supportive families who are always ready to help, but we are also driven to make something of ourselves financially. And as many others can attest, money is scarce during these times - but a solid partner easily allows one to forget about financial shortcomings and focus on the important aspects of life. But I digress.
Sunday began as innocently as any other as we attempted to recover from the night prior that consisted of hanging out with friends and having a few cocktails. After beginning my day with a nutrient-rich bubble gum slush and having lunch with my mother, grandmother, and aunt, Meg and I packed up Barkley, our two-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, and headed out to spend the day at her parent's house.
After exchanging greetings and checking on some college basketball scores, I took Barkley outside to toss him a Frisbee and let him get some exercise outside of the city. What happened next was a mess. The dog, who is freakishly obsessed with any body of water, immediately made a full sprint to Meghan's parent's backyard pond.
Barkley, who was informed just weeks ago that he needed a diet after tipping the scales at 118-pounds, was no match for the rapidly decaying layer of ice on that unseasonably warm March afternoon. With a horrendous cracking of the ice the dog was nearly 100-feet from shore in water reaching a depth of 20-feet. The situation was dire at best.
At that moment life somehow seemed to come at me a million miles an hour and freeze at the very same time. It was instantly evident that without help Barkley had no chance at survival and the clock was ticking.
Now mind you, over the course of Barkley's two-year reign of terror, Meghan's larger-than-life tendency to worry had constantly imagined this exact scenario. Unfortunately, either I didn't listen too well during these rants or a solution was never established.
Without much thought, I made a quick scream to the house and began taking off my pants, sweatshirt, and shoes - still not really sure why. I found a rowboat that always resides upon the beach and began pushing it across the ice as Barkley frantically pawed at the ice while making a scream that will haunt me to the day that I die.
Still pushing the boat with the intention of jumping aboard when the ice below it began to crumble, I was completely caught off guard when the ice below my own feet was the first to give. I crashed into the freezing water while holding onto the boat but it quickly took on water and began sinking. My first option was now gone and I never really got around to thinking up a Plan B.
With clear and concise thinking still avoiding me, I made my way over to my struggling family member and began pulling him to shore. The process was grueling and the coldness of the water unbearable but I was able to get Barkley closer towards safety. What I didn't envision was that we eventually ran into the segment of ice that was still intact just feet from sweet stability. The ground of the pond remained unreachable and Barkley's pace had considerably slowed and I was certain his time had come to an end.
Trying anything imaginable at this point I dove down into the cold and tried pushing him onto the ice or at least closer to breathable air. It was of no use. Panic immediately began to sink in as did hypothermia, pain, and the realization that I too may not be able to make it out of the situation. I desperately screamed for Meghan but was too far away to be heard.
After what felt like an eternity of keeping myself and the struggling dog afloat, I noticed a hysterical Meghan running outside followed by her parents Becky and Bruce. Things began to get a little fuzzy for me around that time and I have no recollection of Becky securing ladder to be used to pull us in nor Bruce falling through the ice in an attempt to reach us. What I did see was Bruce somehow making it to the edge of the broken ice, ripping Barkley out of the water, and extending his hand towards me in a moment that will never escape my memory.
Besides some frostbite in the tips of my fingers and some cuts from the ice, no physical changes seemed to have occurred from my initiation into the Polar Bear Plunge club. Yet mentally I will be changed forever.
Life is very short and it can be taken away in an instant. The reality and severity of death, something that I have watched on television thousands of times, is so much closer to us than we realize. And while I was able to get a better grasp on the dangers of death on Sunday afternoon, it wasn't the most important lesson I learned.
The most crucial moral that Barkley's fiasco taught me was that while death need be respected, life must be continually celebrated. We only have one of these things and there is no point wasting it. So, make that next bold career move, ask your dream girl on a date, or just do whatever it is you've always wanted.
Before departing from the farm on Sunday I finally told Bruce and Becky how much they mean to me, I will kiss Meghan on the forehead every night before bed and make sure she knows how important she is, and I will attempt to make each day count more than the one before it. I hope you do too.