On Near Death Experiences, Marketing & Life Lessons

On Near Death Experiences, Marketing & Life Lessons

(Just a heads up – this post contains both graphic scenes and overly-sentimental musings that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Consider yourself warned…)

On August 1st, 2010, shortly after midnight in the wee hours of the night, I woke up to pounding on my front door. Immediately in panic mode, several things registered all at once – the sounds of sirens too close by for comfort, the yells of the firefighters standing on my doorstep and one of the most awful smells I’ve ever experienced.

I grabbed my glasses and my robe and damn near sprinted down the stairs to the door, where the firefighters told me the condo next door was on fire, and that I had to get out immediately. Still waking up and processing everything that was going on, I begged them for a few minutes – time to round up the cats, my laptop and the important documents from our file cabinet. There wasn’t time, they said – for my own safety, I had to get out right away.

So I stood outside in the grass, alongside my neighbors, as we watched them extinguish the fire in the neighboring condo’s kitchen – the wall we shared with that unit – not knowing how much damage had been done to my unit, or whether the cats were still alive inside. And we watched as the firefighters carried out my badly burned neighbor, only later putting together that she had passed away when we realized that no ambulances had taken off from our parking lot.

Eventually, the fire was put out and I was allowed back inside to gather a few personal effects. The cats were scared, but alive, and even the Fire Marshall was amazed to discover that the only damage to my unit was four holes in the kitchen where the firefighters’ pick axes had come through – even though the condo next door was a total loss. I had some minor smoke inhalation issues from the fumes that had seeped through to our unit, but otherwise, I was safe and alive.

But despite what was truly a terrifying night, the hardest part to cope with was the story of how the fire started that was pieced together that night. The official cause of the fire was determined to be unattended cooking – food left cooking in the oven while my neighbor took a nap. But the scary part is that there were no working fire alarms in my neighbor’s unit.

The only reason the fire had been caught as quickly as it had been was that another neighbor came home from work at precisely the right moment to see flames in the kitchen through the patio door – before the fire had grown large enough to vent itself by breaking the windows or to begin spreading to other units. If he had been even a few minutes later, it’s likely that my injuries – as well as the damage to our house and the other condos in our building – would have been much more severe.

A few minutes could have been something as simple as getting a green traffic light instead of a red one. Going straight home after a shift instead of choosing to chat with a co-worker for a few minutes. Even parking in a different lot in our association could have made the difference between me and my home being safe and a significantly worse outcome.

Coming that close to death is a lot to process. To be honest, I still don’t know how I managed to go to work that week, write thank you cards for the gifts we’d received at our wedding the week before or take dance classes like normal. I do vividly remember the bottle of champagne my husband and I split when we were finally allowed back in for good the next afternoon, as well as the stuffed crust pizza we shared with the firefighters who were still on the scene, trying to keep the news cameras from filming in our patio door.

But reflecting back on the experience a year later, there’s one thing I take from it – that there really, truly will not be a better time to live a life that you love than right now. There are lots of things we can do to reduce our risk of dying (fruits, vegetables and regular exercise – I’m looking at you!), but there are also plenty of factors outside of our control.

It sucks, but you could get hit by a car tomorrow. You could be involved in a natural disaster. Heck, you could even get hit by a flaming toilet seat falling from a space station (and anyone who gets that reference, you’re my new best friend…).

Don’t let that realization paralyze you – let it empower you. You only have a certain amount of time on this planet, so let that time be as amazing as it can be. Fill it with meaningful work, projects that matter to you, gut-busting laughter and the people you love.

On the one year anniversary of one of the hardest days of my life, I’m going to spend the day writing content and developing websites, because I truly love the work I do with my online business. I’m going to do my weekly Meals on Wheels route, because I believe in karma and the power of giving back to a community that has given me so much. And I’m going to grill out tonight with my wonderful husband and great friends while we celebrate this beautiful weather with a few beers and some good company.

And if, in the ultimate display of irony, I were to die later tonight, I’ll be able to say that I’m truly grateful for the life I was privileged to live. And I hope that all of you are able to find the peace, love, strength and courage to do the same (and, obviously, that it doesn’t take a near death experience for you all to get there).

Thanks, as always, for listening to me ramble, and for your continued support of Common Sense Marketing. 🙂

Image: monkeyatlarge

22 Responses to On Near Death Experiences, Marketing & Life Lessons

  1. Jon says:

    Sarah,

    First off: Dead Like Me. I knew it the second you wrote it because when I watched the pilot of that show I cracked up. The girl looked up and was like…”awwh s***”

    Truth be told I only remembered “Dead” was in the title I had to look up the rest (am I right?)

    This sentence made me read it 3x:
    “there really, truly will not be a better time to live a life that you love than right now.”

    Lately, I’ve been giving that exact thing quite a bit of thought.

    Thank God you are okay. So tragic your neighbor passed. Life is delicate. Treasure each moment 🙂

    -Jon

    • Sarah says:

      Haha – Yep, you got the show right. I knew there was a reason we get along… 🙂

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. You’re right that life is delicate – no better reason not to enjoy what we’ve got of it!

  2. Mike says:

    Great post Sarah. I like your sentimental musings. It helps put things in perspective.

  3. Thanks for this very interesting story Sarah – I’ve got one for you. I almost drowned. I was alone on the beach, but there were no wave to speak of when I went in swimming. Then a huge wave set came in and I found myself surrounded by big waves, and a strong current had already pulled me under 3 times. I wasn’t that far from the beach but the waves were huge and kept pulling me back out to sea – the shoreline was all lava rock but I figured if I could somehow manage to fight my way to the beach, scrapes and even broken bones would be preferable to drowning. I was so weak I still don’t know how I managed to escape but I did and it was a good 45 minutes before I could stand up. That was 10 years ago, and it’s as vivid an experience to me today as it was then.

    • Sarah says:

      Wow – how scary!!! I’m glad you’re alright, but what a crazy experience that must have been to actually decide to fight the current and try to live.

      Thanks for sharing your experience – pretty powerful stuff! 🙂

  4. Kurt Swann says:

    Sarah,

    Have been to three family funerals in the past few months . . . which is three too many. One of them was my uncle who always told me, “If there’s something you want to do you’d better go ahead and do it.” So I can relate to your post . . .

    And to show the power of Google . . . I typed in “flaming toilet seat from outer space” and in less than a second I am on a Dead Like Me website. Have to confess, I wouldn’t have know without Google 🙂

    Kurt

    • Sarah says:

      Kurt – Even if you had to Google it, we can still be friends 🙂 (FYI – It’s a good show, though, if you like dark humor…)

      And I’m so sorry to hear about all the funerals in your life lately. Losing people who are close to you sucks big time, but what a beautiful sentiment your uncle left you to remember him by.

      Take care!

  5. Hi Sarah,
    What an incredible experience, and a beautifully written post. I am glad you are now living your life now with such purpose and happiness!
    It is very interesting to consider the whole ‘sliding doors’ concept (like the movie). How small, seemingly unimportant happenings can be the difference between life and death, or meeting a loved one.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah says:

      Rachael – Exactly! Honestly, though, I think that if we were really aware of all the times we came close to dying, we’d be too afraid to do anything at all 🙂

      All the more reason to enjoy what we’ve got here and now, I suppose!

      Take care 🙂

  6. Hey Sarah,

    Wow, you sound like you’ve got your life all together… very happy for you.

    You story is so inspirational and comes with a powerful message. As I get older, I find myself thinking more about things left undone (my bucket list?) and what would happen if I were to die tomorrow.

    It’s a little morbid, but you want to be sure you leave this World a little better than when you came. Am I right?

    Anyway, in the midst of some late course corrections, I am striving to be a better person, better father and a contributor of all that’s good to this World of ours.

    Thanks for the inspiration this morning, Sarah. Rock on!

    • Sarah says:

      Dr. Bob – Haha, some days it feels like I’ve got things more together than others, but you do the best you can with what you’ve got… 🙂

      And that’s fantastic to hear that you’re actively working on being a great parent and bringing good to those around you – the world definitely needs more people like that!

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments 🙂

  7. Jayne Kopp says:

    Hi Sarah… wow… what an incredibly scary experience.

    You know, you are so right. There is no better time to live than right now.

    I find the older I get the more weight I put into thinking about this.

    I have lost a number of friends these last few years, and more recently a much loved friend in January.

    I know life is short. I do live it! I try not to get caught up in the stupid things… still need work sometimes as we all do… but… in the back of my mind I am grateful for every minute!

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. It just wasn’t your time. Your neighbour was meant to come home exactly when he did.

    I am sorry for the loss of your neighbour.

    I hope you enjoyed your time with hubby and friends… and a few frosty’s along the way! Sounds like my kinda night!

    Lovely to see you back.

    Jayne

    • Sarah says:

      Jayne – So sorry to hear about your friend. Death sucks 🙁

      But you’re right – we might not always be good about keeping the importance of living in the now in the front of our minds (especially not when deadlines are pressing, blog posts need to be written, etc), but it’s still important to try.

      Take care!

  8. Very well written experience, Sarah. I agree, it makes perfect sense to be always thankful for whatever happens as there is a belief that whatever happens is for good only. Its only matter of time when we realize this. Sooner we do, better it is.

    • Sarah says:

      Maninder – Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂 You’re right – life is better when you realize how precious it is and be thankful for it!

  9. Rowena Bolo says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing that near death experience of yours a year ago, and I am just glad that you were able to look at the positive from this traumatic experience. There are really life lessons from every incident, especially this one which tells us that life is really short, and that there is no better time but to live life right now. Your post and the comments from the wonderful bloggers allowed me to truly reflect about my own life, and I am sure that what you shared here has inspired so many people, no matter where they are now in their lives.

    Thanks for this lovely and personal post, Sarah!

    – Rowena

    • Sarah says:

      Rowena – Thanks so much for your comment 🙂 You’re right that there’s a good side to everything, no matter the situation. Life is all what you make of it!

  10. Hi Sarah,

    I’ve never seen a dead person, except in a funeral home, but sometimes, it seems like I’ve been near death for years. We live in so many dangerous circumstances…I appreciate being home in my recliner where the only moving thing is my wife setting dinner on the table.

    Lou

    • Sarah says:

      Lou – What a wonderful, safe image of a comfy recliner and a good meal 🙂 I hope that death stays far away from you!

  11. Catarina says:

    Firmly believe that we pass away when our time is out. Once woke up in a hospital bed in London with a drip in my arm and looked at people about to die around me. Turned out I had been hit by a cyclist coming out of nowhere and had been unconscious for 48 hours.

    Lived through the IRA bombing campaign in London, came out of a bad car accident in Saudi Arabia without a scratch (I wasn’t driving)and managed not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in The Middle East.

    Had my time been out when the cyclist hit me I would have died. Agree with you that we should make the most out of life and enjoy it to the full. What’s the point of waiting for tomorrow that may never come?

    • Sarah says:

      Catarina – Wow, what a story! If anyone has claims to the “believe you’re going to die when it’s time” thing, it’s you.

      Glad to hear you’re safe and sound, and enjoy however much longer you have here 🙂

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