In the 1860s, when faced with the reality that their nation was being systematically wiped out through the loss of buffalo, the march of soldiers, alcoholism and the death from white man’s diseases, the Sioux Nation divided loosely into two camps. One petitioned the whites at the forts, hoping that through surrender they might survive. These were called “hang around the fort people” or “loafers” by other tribespeople.
The rest were warriors. Holding in their hearts the plight of the women and children in their teepees, the legacy of their Nation, they rode into battle against far superior forces. Lances against bullets. They said, “This is a good day to die.”
A slightly more modern version of this is “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”, a paraphrase of the famous order issued by Admiral David Farragut during the Battle of Mobile Bay.
While both of these are offered in the context of war, let me offer another context.
Seize the day.
This phrase vividly brings to mind the movie Dead Poet’s Society with my hero, Robin Williams. In the story his teacher inspired, challenged, uplifted, and for what he did, was sacked. But in the end, it paid off in transformed students.
Every day, each of us is handed the gift of 24 hours. No more, no less. What we do with it is up to us.
I was thinking about that this morning. At 64, one thinks differently about time. About opportunities. My dear and brilliant friend Dr. Jane Barlow, starting a brand new concern in her mid-seventies, agreed that yes, it’s so exciting. But there is a bittersweet realization that there is limited time to get it all done. All the more important that she exercise (she does) eat well (she does) and do all she can to stay at maximum ability.
I meet so many people who would hurl harpoons at me to slow me down, tell me to not do this adventure, that’s too dangerous, you’re too old. Don’t do this, that or the other. I hear folks tell me that their friends do the same to them- at all ages.
Yet these same people, when gathered at the wake of a loved one who died young, nod sagely and talk about how important it is to live out loud. Take risks. Do amazing things. Then they go home and scroll Facebook for six hours. Watch reruns of Criminal Minds. Live vicariously through Survivor. Eat crap. Avoid exercise. Drink too much. Take dangerous pharmaceuticals with horrific side effects.
Today is a good day to die.
This past March as I lay broken and bruised, my rib kicked in by a terrified horse in Turkey, I had the sudden, sobering realization that my injuries might be fatal. You simply don’t know until you know. My life didn’t hurtle before my eyes. I didn’t suddenly “find Jesus.”
I just felt…..gratitude.
My god, what a life I’ve been given. How can I possibly give thanks?
For the brief few seconds before I flipped over and began spitting to make sure my lungs weren’t full of blood, ready to fight to stay in the game, I knew it was a good day to die.
But not yet. Not yet.
I have faced death on multiple occasions. My fellow soldiers, those of us who love extreme sports and have had various adventures where mistakes or mishaps happen and you really do realize This Might Be It can relate.
Each of us responds differently. However, you do not walk away from these experiences unscathed. The gift you have is an intense appreciation for life, and how not to waste it.
Twenty-four beautiful, magnificent, precious hours.
Damn the torpedoes. Are you living the life you’ve always wanted?
Is today a good day to die?