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How Almost Getting Killed Taught Me This Lesson

I’m in Puerto Rico in the spring of 2006 with my wife and three small children. I’ve just sold a business and am not sure what’s coming next. I don’t know if there’s going be a “next” because I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia. I’m not receiving lots of encouraging news from doctors.

There’s lots of fear and worry.

What I didn’t know is that I was much closer to death than I realized.

Asking For Help

I’m not a surfer by any reasonable definition of the term. The longest I’ve ever been able to stand on a moving board is about 15 seconds. OK, it was probably more like 6 seconds but it felt like a triumphant 6 minutes after falling so many times. Thrilling, yes, but it doesn’t make me a surfer. It definitely doesn’t make me anything close to an expert surfer.

Despite this, I found myself standing on a beach in Aguadilla looking out over the waves with a board under my arm. Not just normal waves, but very large waves. There was something strange that took a few moments of pondering to become ridiculously apparent. There were no other surfers out on the water. Not one. The previous day there were numbers of surfers yet today it was totally deserted.

Even to a non-surfer like myself, this was an ominous sign.

My next thought almost cost me my life.

Here’s the almost disastrous thought that swirled though my synapses…

“I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, so what if it’s dangerous.”

So I bravely/foolishly entered the water.

I paddled out to where the water looked the most promising. Time after time I used my thin gruel of a so-called “technique” trying to get up on the board and actually get surfing. If there were a sport called standing on the board and immediately falling off, I would be a legend.

After being beaten up pretty badly by the large waves and getting tired, I began the long paddle back to land. The current had also drifted me about a quarter mile down the shore to a deserted section of beach.

Here’s where I made another mistake.

20 yards from shore, I unstrapped the board from my ankle and pushed it towards the beach…

I was worried the heavy waves crashing on the shore would injure me if I were still connected to and tangled up with the surfboard. I began swimming the short distance to safety. This went on and on. Each wave coming from behind pushed me down below the water. Each time I surfaced with a gasp and saw that I was still the same 20 yards from safety. It was like a recurring nightmare. An undertow had me in its powerful grip. I was getting tired and I began to think I might not make it.

For whatever reason, a man I had only met earlier that day on the beach wandered into my eyesight. Miraculously he’d kept an eye on my lame attempts to surf and had walked the quarter mile down the beach to see how I was doing. He shouted, asking me if I was OK. My reply was immediate and loud.


I said these words for the first time in my life. In fact, I shouted them at the top of my lungs as clearly and as loudly as possible.

Then an amazing thing happened…

As he turned and ran to get the abandoned surfboard, which had washed up on the beach, I felt something like a huge hand on my backside. It was like the hand of God lifting me up. A wave suddenly, and at that precise moment of my plea, picked me up several feet and literally threw me the full 20 yards onto the shore.

My newfound friend supported my by the arm and helped me stagger onto the safety of dry land.

This searing incident taught me that I couldn’t go on refusing to ask for help. Like the famous John Donne quote, none of us is an island I too couldn’t do it all by myself. I needed the help of others.

Self-sufficiency promulgated by the culture of the “self-made man” and the comic book action hero is an illusion. I learned that it’s not enough to be willing to help other people but that I must be willing to accept help too. I learned that if I need something –


I learned that as long as I have life, I have possibility. I have hope. We all do.

None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all need help at times. I think of our human condition as something like these Alanis Morissette lyrics:

“Just a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home”

We’re all struggling through this lifetime. We’re taught to act like we have it all together and fear that everyone else really does. Sometimes we help and sometimes we receive help. If you need it – ASK. It may be a friend, it may be someone like me or it may be a stranger on a beach.

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