By Jim Corbett
I once had a near-death experience that has helped to focus my life and has enabled me to keep things pretty well in perspective.
I have always understood and accepted the fact that my death will occur during a routine household maintenance project. Anyone who has ever seen me use power tools will readily agree. The way I envision it is that I will be at the top of a tall aluminum extension ladder repairing some roof shingles or fixing a gutter and I will slam my finger with a hammer.
The ladder will skitter across the roof line and fall thirty feet to the ground. I will land in a wheelbarrow full of shingles and nails and the wheel barrow will roll down a hill into the street. I will then be hit by a car and sent flying high up into the air. On my way back down I will grab at some high tension wires; the high tension wires will break off on one end and I will ride them, Tarzan-style, into my neighbor’s pool and be boiled. Sort of a “Rube Goldberg Meets The Dying Swan.”
With this as a backdrop to all household projects I engage in, it’s surprising, in hindsight, that I didn’t have second thoughts about using an electric circular saw on top of a rickety step ladder on the side of a steep hill in a rose garden to trim the tops off the fence posts on a fence that I had built. I was painting the fence, and I decided to top off the fence posts as I proceeded.
When I got to the steepest part of the hill I really had to stretch to get the circular saw at the correct angle on the posts. I was sort of straddling between the rickety step ladder and the top of the fence, leaning over to try to cut a straight line, when the saw bucked backwards and I went flying.
The ladder crashed down on its side into the roses, providing what I would later discover to be a very uncomfortable landing site, and the circular saw and I went up into the air. It was about this time that I began to regret the decision to use the locking mechanism on the trigger of the saw to keep the blade running continuously while I was working. Because as my body went into a twisting, torquing, slow-motion descent, I got a real good, close-up look at that saw blade spinning. Isn’t it odd that even though I was going in slow motion, the saw blade wasn’t?
It’s at times like this, though, that one has the opportunity to step back and review the events of one’s own life in pretty good detail. It isn’t like you have a lot of choice in the matter, since your brain is flashing these events up in front of you saying, “See, I told you you’d regret doing these things.”
In my particular case, this review came in the form of two lists: the list on the left was the meaningful things I had done in my life, and the list on the right was the meaningless things I had done. Not surprisingly, the list on the right was considerably longer. It’s pretty shocking to see how much time in life is devoted to pretty meaningless stuff — even though the meaningless stuff seems like a pretty good idea at the time that it’s being done.
Pretty soon my attention was brought back to the circular saw still descending straight for my head. I watched in rapt attention as the blade spun round and round and came ever closer; I began to reach out for the high tension wires, which I instinctively knew must be near at hand, when all of a sudden, everything changed.
All at once my body was engulfed in a warm white glow. It was hard to focus my eyes, but it seemed as though I was traveling down a narrow tunnel. Everything around me was white. I could hear a high-pitched ringing in my ears that appeared to be some kind of heavenly choir, sustaining one long, high, beautiful note.
And then an angelic voice spoke unto me. It said, “Would you like to come in now, we’ve been waiting for you.” It was a voice that sounded very familiar, and it repeated, “Would you like to come in now, we’ve been waiting for you.” And all the while, that heavenly note was ringing in my ears.
I was confused; I was trying to comprehend what was happening. I had always believed there was a natural explanation for everything, so how could this be happening to me? But soon it became clear.
It was about that time that my eight-year-old daughter came out and took the five-gallon white-wash bucket off my head and said, “Daddy, would you like me to turn off this power saw?” I wiped the paint out of my eyes and said, “Yes, dear.” As she released the lock on the trigger, she said in an angelic voice, “Would you like to come in now? Dinner is ready and we’ve been waiting for you.” I told her, “I’ve been working on the fence.” She looked at me sympathetically and said, “I see that.”
Well, that was one experience I won’t get over for a long time. (Frankly, I was lucky that paint bucket came down when it did, even though I could have sworn I was traveling through a long narrow tunnel.) But it was an experience that taught me an important lesson about life: There are some things worse than dying — and one of those things is living a meaningless life.
There are a lot of meaningless shots we take on the golf course as well. In fact, some people think that all of the shots we take on the golf course are meaningless — but they’re not, not if we can learn the important lessons of life while we’re taking them. But, see, now you have an excuse to play more golf — you can say you’re going out to plumb the depths of the meaning of life…for six hours — and have a couple of beers afterwards.)
At the time we take those shots they seem like a good idea, but we often look back on those shots with regret. It’s a good idea to keep those shots to a minimum. Remember, your course management skills should prevent you from taking any shots that don’t increase your chances of hearing the sweet sound of that ball falling into the cup. And it is our life management plan that will keep us from having our meaningless experiences outweigh the meaningful ones in our lives.