Learning from our defining moments
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Every life has a defining moment, sometimes even more than one. It is different for each one of us. For some it is an unexpected victory. For others it is a crisis, a failure even. This is when we are revealed to ourselves and to others. But what really defines us is how well we rise after we have fallen.
Wouldn’t it be great if these all-important moments happened in slow motion? We could then take our time to look at all the possibilities and carefully weigh the consequences of our choices. “Collateral damage” would be minimized.
Some say that when it happens, it is like time is holding its breath, just waiting for you to decide, to choose. Very often it involves facing our biggest fears.
We all take wrong turns in life. Even when we have a map, we always think that ours is the shortest, the best way. Our error in judgment is not the tragedy here. The mistake is not to admit that we have taken the wrong road. Only a few of us have the wisdom to stop and review the map or ask for directions. Instead, we zoom past every warning sign and ignore any opportunity to make a desperately needed U-turn.
I look back on my defining moments. Yes, there have been a few. When you’ve lived as many years as I have, you are given more occasions for choices, and alas, for mistakes—and mercifully, as many chances to make them right.
Once upon a time, in the middle of what looked like a blissful state of life, the bottom fell out. The ceiling caved in. I was buried under an avalanche of unfulfilled dreams and broken promises, many of them my own. Like most, I sought refuge in the wrong places and dug deeper into a dark pit of self-loathing. I was lost and didn’t remember where I had fallen.
Eventually I was resigned to live with the stench of hateful thoughts and dead aspirations. I was convinced that this was my fate, a well-deserved punishment for past folly.
I lived in Manhattan. The crowds and the noise were a distraction but did nothing to soothe my pain. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was time to call a halt to my tumble downhill. I just didn’t know how.
I believe that God has appointed certain voices for us. In time, mine urged me to forgive and come home. I struggled. Then I listened. And my life was changed forever.
My father once spoke to me about drowning. He said that if you thrash against the waves, the ocean will swallow you. You must try to ride them instead. And if you start sinking, don’t fight. Slowly blow the air out of your lungs and when you have hit bottom, push up with all you’ve got. You will rise to the surface and find fresh air.
But you must first hit rock bottom. Just like life, isn’t it?
We recently witnessed the vivid accounts of survivors from the recent plane crash in San Francisco. I keep thinking of how their priorities must have changed.
You have to be hopelessly calloused to remain indifferent after having stared death in the face.
I wonder how the flight attendants feel today after helping the injured and hysterical passengers, some they carried on their backs down the chutes to flee from the burning wreck. Was it their rigid training that compelled them to go above and beyond the call of duty? Or did they simply respond to that one life-changing moment that called for selflessness even in the face of imminent death?
Three young women were recently set free after 10 years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of a predator who abused them sexually, forced an abortion on one of them, and threatened them with death if they attempted to escape. One of them did, and in a matter of a few days, the depraved man was apprehended and the girls returned to their families.
On television the other night all three spoke about their joy at getting their lives back, how they want to forget what they endured and resume living their cruelly interrupted lives. One of them said that this was indeed a defining moment, but that she would not allow the hatred and horror she suffered to define her life.
‘In between time’
I am reading “Cross Roads,” another bestseller by Wm. Paul Young, author of “The Shack.” The main character is Anthony Spencer, 40-ish, a very successful, self-centered and shrewd no-nonsense businessman. He suffers a heart attack and lies in a coma at a hospital.
The writer takes us on a journey with Spencer as he hovers between life and death. With him we visit a vacant space in the realm of the unknown and meet some very interesting characters. The author calls it our “in between time.”
Spencer realizes his life has been miserable. In tears, he reviews his broken relationships, relives memories of his mother, has a moment with his dead son, and witnesses the results of cruel situations he provoked and had never cared to fix. Tony Spencer faces himself and is horrified. The ride is incredible, at times heartbreaking.
I am not done with the book and I don’t know if Spencer recovers. Will he have time to make everything right in his life?
I know that the book is a work of fiction. But think: will there be an “in between time” for us? What if there isn’t?
Let us not risk our forever. Love now. Forgive now. Not tomorrow. Don’t be waiting for something dramatic or world-shaking to happen. It’s a new day!
Remember: “Every new day is another chance to change your life!” (From Lessons Learned in Life)
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