If you were to die tomorrow, which stories from your life would stick out to you?
For me, it might be a summer trip I took with my three siblings to Burning Man last year. We had all reached adulthood (barely... my sister is just 21) and decided to meet up and go exploring in the vast, mind-bending jungle of the playa.
Maybe it'd be a memory from my childhood growing up in Victoria, B.C., Canada. My brother and I used to dress up like knights and stage mock wars in our backyard with other kids from our neighborhood. We collected comics, so the chance to play heroes was like heaven on Earth.
Maybe it'd be about my parents.
I spend a lot of time thinking about which experiences in life mean the most. For the last five years I've been lucky enough to work on a project called The Buried Life. Our job is to ask people: What do you want to do before you die? We've made a television series, written a book (which just became a New York Times bestseller!), and spoken at colleges and conferences around the world.
We've also had a bevy of unique life experiences of our own. When we started ("we" being three childhood friends and I), we decided that we would also try to accomplish every item on our own list of 100 things to do before we die. For every item we crossed off, we promised to help a total stranger do something on his or her own list.
So if I were to die tomorrow, which memory would float to the top? Would it be #43, "dress like a knight for a day"? Or #6, "crash the Playboy Mansion"? Or maybe #95, "play basketball with the president"?
Something in the air today makes me think of a story I wasn't even a part of. While writing our new book, we asked our fans on Facebook and Twitter to send us the things they wanted to do before they died. One particular letter came in that struck us deeply. Although it didn't make it into the final pages of the book, I want to share it with you now. If it had to be a list item, I'd label it "save a life":
Last week, starting with Monday, I started waking up every morning at 3 am exactly. Which is odd in the first place because I rarely wake up in the middle of the night. Along came Friday morning, and sure enough I wake up, look at the clock, and it's 3 am. This time I decided to actually get up and go wash my face in the bathroom. I currently live in a dorm so we have the community bathrooms. So I walked into the bathroom, turned on the light, and all I saw was blood. Everywhere. Of course my first instinct was that someone was seriously injured so I started checking the bathroom stalls and the showers. When I walked into the last shower I found a girl, hugging her knees hysterically crying, in the corner of the shower, covered in blood. I immediately sat down next to her and before I could even say anything she was already hugging me, holding on for dear life. I asked her if she was hurt, if she was bleeding, she pulled away for a second and looked at me and just held out her wrists. She had been cutting herself. Really bad. So I immediately ran to my room, grabbed my first aid kit and my favorite teddy bear and hurried back to the bathroom. I gave her the bear to hold on to because I know that's gotten me through some really rough times. I cleaned out her wounds, bandaged them and wrapped them up. I asked her why she was doing this, why she had sunk to self injury and she told me that about an hour ago her boyfriend had broken up with her. He had told her she wasn't good enough.
It absolutely broke my heart. I sat with this girl hugging me, on the floor of the shower, both of us covered in blood, for almost three hours. She told me about her life and I told her about mine and that she is always good enough, absolutely always...I told her about my first real relationship and how I ended up in court with this guy for two years because he wanted to kill me. I told her that all these experiences were reasons to always remind yourself that you are better than anyone says you are. After about an hour of sharing she looked at me and said, "You have given me more care and love than anyone else in my life ever has, and you don't even know me." That hit me so hard. This poor girl needed love and no one had ever given her the time of day, and the fact that I was sitting in the shower with this girl telling her how wonderful she was meant more to her than absolutely anything else in her life.
But this hit me harder. Before I was about to say goodbye after three hours and get her to a safe place she hugged me. She held on for a while and then finally pulled away and said this. "I was not planning on leaving this bathroom alive...Thank you, because you saved my life."
I am a very firm believer in that everything happens for a reason. And what this girl doesn't realize is that she thinks I saved her life, well, i think she actually saved mine. Because nothing, absolutely nothing, is that bad, and it always gets better.
As much as we know that death looms around each of our doorsteps, perhaps we forget how precious life really is. Maybe I shouldn't try to narrow life down to one final memory to serve me on my deathbed. Maybe it's all the memories combined.
So, I suppose I should ask you: What do you want to do before you die?