“No money. No cell phone. No technology.” Those were the words that a survivor in the Philippines said to a TV news reporter in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. According to one report 600,000 people lost everything in that storm. The distressed woman’s words bothered me, because she only mentioned the loss of material things. My first thought was — at least you are alive, which is easy to say when the bad thing is happening to someone else. Then I asked myself this question. “When all you have is life — is it enough?”
Many of us have never lived through the unimaginable horrors of a typhoon, a Tsunami, or a Hurricane Katrina, but we may know someone who did. Perhaps we know a soldier who returned from war after losing one or more limbs, or maybe we have a relative or close friend who suffered an incapacitating stroke, was paralyzed in a car accident, or is enduring terminal cancer. Any of those things can change a person’s perspective on life.
More than a few people have told me that if they ever become physically incapacitated to the point that they are completely reliant upon a caregiver to do everything from feed and bath them to assist with their toileting needs – or if they are hospitalized and on a life support machine — they’d rather be dead. “I want someone to pull the switch. I do not want to live like that,” they say. I’ve even read stories about people who are so determined not to let declining mental or physical health diminish their quality of life that they have their body tattooed with the letters DNR —Do Not Resuscitate.
Life is an indeterminable roller coaster of hills and valleys. Sometimes we cruise peacefully for days, months, or years on an unobstructed theoretical highway, then without warning a sharp curve appears. It is often those blind siding crises that force us to confront our own mortality and realize that while we are here one moment we could suddenly be gone the next.
A Connecticut woman, Madonna Badger, contemplated suicide and was briefly committed to a psychiatric hospital after losing all three of her children and her parents in a Christmas Day fire in 2011. With the help and support of loving friends she managed to pull herself back from the brink of despair.
Janet Adkins, a 54 year old woman who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1989, apparently, feeling that she had nothing left to live for, became the first public suicide of Jack Kevorkian, nicknamed Dr. Death, a pathologist who believed in and practiced physician-assisted suicide.
One woman fought back, another surrendered, and a Philippine typhoon victim threw up her hands in a gesture of hopelessness as if to say, “What’s left to live for?”
Have you ever felt like you are trapped in a financial rut, living pay-check-to-paycheck, and struggling to survive? That is a common problem for many people. If you are an optimist you believe that in time – and with a bit of luck – you will dig yourself out of the rut. But what if one day your life changes drastically – you succumb to a sudden illness and can no longer work. Or your home is destroyed by a fire or a tornado. Could you handle it?
Sometimes we don’t know how much we truly appreciate something until it has been taken away from us. While you are sitting there at your computer in your cozy home or at your workplace, and feeling comfortable in the fact that you can put food on the table, go shopping for new clothes whenever you feel like it, and perhaps you have a wonderful spouse and children, imagine that suddenly it is all gone. Consider your current age, your income – consider everything that today – at this moment – makes you feel secure. Then imagine that you not only lose all of your worldly possessions, but you lose your entire family too. Be honest with yourself, do you think that you would be strong enough to recover or would you simply decide that there is nothing left to live for? That brings me full circle to the thought provoking question: When all you have is life, is it enough?”