August 20, 2018 By Dave Nelson, Survivor, Founder, Speaker, Mindset and Mindfulness Teacher at Milestone Mind
When I was 21 years old, I almost died.
In fact, I did die.
After a stranger stabbed me in the chest in downtown Boston when I tried to intervene in a fight, my friends rushed me to the hospital in a taxi. I died on the way to the emergency room, and I was dead for a full 7 minutes.
Then the incredible doctors and nurses at Massachusetts General revived me and gave me a second chance at life.
I made a complete recovery after this calamity – I even played football two months later – and one of the emergency rooms doctors called it the greatest comeback he’d ever seen.
I recently celebrated the 13-year anniversary of this event, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact my near-death experience has had on my life since then.
This event clearly shaped the rest of my life in so many ways, so I wanted to share a couple of reflections on what I’ve learned and how I’ve transformed since that horrific day.
A heightened awareness
The interesting paradox about having a near-death experience is that I don’t feel like I escaped death. One thing I know for sure is that I’m going to die someday, and there’s no escaping it.
But I do feel like I understand that death is very real, and that it can happen at any time.
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That doesn’t mean I’m scared all the time – it just means I’m aware that death is a part of life. Fear of death doesn’t rule my life, but being conscious of the fact that I’m going to die has led me to a deeper appreciation of life.
Each day, I try to be consciously aware of my experiences.
For example, I love to watch wildlife out the windows in my house. There’s something really beautiful about appreciating the little things as they’re happening, and trying to be as present as I can be.
The same can be true of all the tiny moments in my day, in my work, with my kids, with my wife, and with my clients.
I want to just bear witness to what’s going on in the world – and think that is partly because of my brush with death in my early twenties.
Transforming Negatives Into Positives
One day after I walked out of the hospital after my recovery, my beloved brother Chris got married. Fours years later, Chris died of cancer – and he actually died on my birthday.
Some people say, “That’s really sad,” when they find out Chris died on my birthday, but I actually don’t think it’s a negative thing. The day of my birth ties Chris and I together forever, and there’s something really beautiful about that.
Life gives you the opportunity to transform things that could potentially be seen as negative or destructive, and turn them into something full of meaning and significance.
Because I almost died, and lived to tell the tale, I feel like I have a deep sense of life’s impermanence. Life is a beautiful thing – even the parts that hurt – and it’s meant to be cherished and experienced as fully as possible.
We can transform negative experiences to create more present awareness, so we can do more meaningful, loving work. Work that doesn’t destroy the person sitting next to us, but instead builds them up so we can all make the world a better place.
Recognizing What’s Really Going on When People Lash Out
Now, don’t get me wrong – this experience hasn't been all rainbows and bubblegum for me.
There are some really interesting dynamics that come up with being a near-death survivor. I’ve had some bizarre experiences – but even the difficult times have led me deeper into reflection about what it all means.
When I returned to college after my months-long recovery, I was delighted to be back at school and have the opportunity to play football again. During my first week back on campus, I ran into one of the football boosters. This was an alumnus who had given millions of dollars to the football program.
When I ran into this man and expressed my happiness about getting back to the field and moving forward with my life after months in the hospital. The man looked at me and said, “Some people will do anything for attention.”
I was stunned and hurt. I thought, “What the hell is he talking about? I didn’t choose this. No one would EVER choose to nearly die after they’d been stabbed through the heart. Not for attention. Not for anything.”
Then I had a realization that hit me like a brick.
I asked myself,"What kind of person has so much suffering inside them, that they would make a comment like that? That guy must be in a lot of pain.”
I went from being hurt by this booster’s comment, to deciding to transform that moment into a deeper understanding of the pain and suffering in people’s lives, and how it can subconsciously motivate them to go out of their way to hurt others.
It changed the way I looked at the world, and I feel like it made me a more compassionate person. That compassion and desire to understand people has informed everything I do here at Milestone Mind. I want to help people transform their life experiences, so they can suffer less and find more peace.
a life-altering event
When something enormous and life-changing happens, I think the best thing you can is use that experience as an opportunity to grow.
Over the past 13 years, I’ve tried to use my near-death experience as a catalyst in my life.
I want to appreciate the opportunity to wake up every morning, look out the window, and take a nice deep breath – and I also want to have a deeper understanding and insight into the love and interconnectedness we can all experience in our lives.
Now I see beacons of light everywhere I look – and I will always be grateful for that.
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