As much as it still hardly feels real, I almost died this year. This past November I had a heart attack caused by two major blockages. I did the typical “man-thing” in the sense that I did feel like something wasn’t right, but still thought I could drag my heels on it. I mean, hey, I’m standing upright. I’m still breathing. I’m good, right? I was later told by my doctor, that’s why most people die, for not treating these symptoms with an immediacy. I had a lawyer friend die earlier this year under similar circumstances.
The truth is most people walk around with a sense that we’re invincible, until we’re not. This is why some people drive they way they do on the roads, or even take daredevil chances they way they do for recreation. There’s a idea in our mind that we somehow play a part in controlling our final fate. I suppose its also why the police, firefighters and others rescue they way they do. There’s a sense of no fear, a sense of not me, not now. I thought I was immune from that attitude. I usually think, “here we go, this is it!”
But not this time.
I was at work when I felt some pain in my chest that I hadn’t before. For all the times I thought I was having a heart problem, yeah, this felt just a bit different. So naturally I called one of the court officers from my job, while I sat in my lonely courtroom and waited for the ambulance to take me away. Or maybe I waited 45 minutes to clock out at my job (priorities) and drove myself home, thinking if it got worse, I can stop at the hospital on the way home.
Not only did I do the latter, I waited till after dinner to have my wife drive me to the nearby hospital. The pain was spreading across my chest now, It felt like it was tightening at an alarming rate. I don’t know how it actually feels to have an elephant sit across your chest, which is the example they use, but it feels pretty spot on. A few minutes later, my wife dropped me off in the emergency room, and before she could find parking, they tested me, prepped me, and then threw some waiver in my face to sign. The next time I saw my wife, I had a stent inserted through my groin to wedge my blocked artery open. Before I left the hospital, I had a second inserted.
Despite the pain and discomfort, it still didn’t feel quite real. The danger didn’t feel immediate or possibly terminal. I never lost consciousness. I got everywhere I needed to go under my own power, right up to walking into the emergency room. This heart attack or symptoms of, started around four in the afternoon and I walked into the emergency room around seven.
Statistically, people who wait, tend to die. So, why am I still here? I was discussing this with someone else who had life threatening heart issues they needed to address and we both had the same feeling of living on borrowed time. I think of my father and how he lived longer because of advancement in the medical fields. In another era, he would’ve died in his fifties from cancer.
I’m still not sure how to feel about it. Why was I allowed to live? Why was I allowed to take three extras hours and still survive? I know it’s not because, “God’s not though with me yet” or “he has a special plan for my life.” What I mean is, God will do what God will do, whether it’s me or someone else. I’m fine with that. The only thing I could think of in that moment was, “It is appointed for man once to die, then the judgement”
I have an appointment. This wasn’t it.
Everyone dies. Even the most upright people. They even die young sometimes. And some of the worst of society survive. They walk out of hospitals and clinics with the proverbial clean bill of health. I don’t understand it, and neither does anyone else. If you’re ever faced with a tragedy like that, and you will because, well… life, run the other way if someone tries to explain why anyone specifically lived or died in some specific moment. I guarantee they are trying to comfort themselves more than you. Most of the hard issues of life are easier to ignore when explained away in some kitschy, “God needed another angel” way, but they don’t get dealt with. “I don’t know” is a much better answer than people give it credit.
Here’s the thing, whether people are good or bad, someone will eventually “super-spiritualize” that moment for you. They will use any opportunity take grace and heap a stinking pile of law manure on it. You’re alive? Good? Now what? What are you going to do with it? Don’t waste it! Don’t squander the gift you’ve been given! Make sure you earn what God has given you through this whole ordeal!
I mean, do you want to give me another heart attack?
I can tell you, I’ve already squandered it. I’ve already wasted the opportunities before me. I’m human. That means I fail. It doesn’t mean I won’t consider those things. It doesn’t mean I won’t want to be better. How about though, just for a little while, even for a more extended period, just letting me sit and contemplate the grace before me. The grace that has allowed me to continue on? How about letting grace be amazing for just a bit longer? Maybe grace can be the impetus for greater and better.
Even as I’m writing this, I know this very well could have been nothing but a blank canvas if things had gone down just a bit differently. It could’ve been a sadder thanksgiving, a more somber Christmas, a less joyful new year. For all those reasons, my experience feels like a rebirth. Like being born again. That means learning to walk, to talk, to have new and different perspectives.
That’s where I’m at. I still don’t know what quite to make of it.
I’m hoping for better for me… for my family… for my friends…
But I’m hoping in the Grace of God, because I know what it’s like to be rescued spiritually AND NOW physically by God’s grace. I know what it’s like for God to hold back the scissors on that “life-string” and say, “not yet.”
It has been by Grace that I have been saved. Spiritually for my eternal soul, physically in the hear and now, emotionally, when my heart sometimes wants to fold, mentally when I feel drained beyond all understanding.
Promises to be better won’t ever get me there. Striving for excellence is fine, but we place too much stock in it, because God’s excellence would still call our own to the carpet and say, “not even close.”
It’s grace. Always grace.
Here’s a final Gospel reminder for you:
On November 13th 2019, My heart stopped functioning right. It was about to stop functioning all together, and I along with it. I needed something miraculous to happen. Something to come from outside of me, to rescue me and give me life. Now, I have a heart that still functions, because of something outside of me, now placed within me. Something that gave me new life, a new hope. This heart is still not perfect, renewed maybe, but not perfect. I even have to war with myself sometimes to keep this heart from having the same old problems.
This will be a lifelong journey.
I am still grateful.
Even for the struggle.
Happy New Year and blessing to you all.