Friday, May 12, 2017

Last Chances Don’t Come With Warnings

We never really learn from the first mistake, second or third.  It only hits us when we're given the last chance.- Wiz Khalifa

Last night, I was reminded about the importance of finishing what you’ve started with a sense of urgency while you still have the time to do so.

Late last night as a small group of us stepped outside to wind down our evening, we noticed a lightning storm off in the distance.  The lightning was beautiful and approximately 4-5 miles away according to the old “one-one thousand, two-one thousand” quasi-accurate calculation of distance.

Assuming it was safe to proceed with the storm safely off to the south, we began walking when suddenly lightning struck the ground all around us with blinding light, phenomenally loud thunder and a strange, loud sizzling sound in the air.

It wasn’t just one flash but several.  I had fallen to the ground, saw it striking the ground all around us and I remember yelling “Get down, get down, get down”.

After the terrifying moment had passed, I noticed my colleague was still standing and shouting incoherently.  When I asked “Why didn’t you get down on the ground?”, their response was, “I couldn’t – I was frozen and too afraid to move.”

“You always hit the ground when this happens”, I replied, shaken and frustrated at the same time while feeling grateful having survived my third near-strike of lightning.

I later morbidly tweeted that the shareholders would have been ticked off had we been killed so close to the conclusion of a significant deal.

This morning, my colleague still wasn’t feeling 100% as we discussed how close we came to an untimely end.

It got me to thinking about close encounters in my Life.

Bear with me for a moment – there is a method to my madness:

I have survived:

  • 5 aviation incidents - two RPM governance failures on takeoff, a near-miss on final approach, a structural integrity compromise during a violent storm (requiring an emergency landing) and a depressurization.  The lightning strike I encountered on a flight once is considered normal.  I mused about one of the incidents in the post The Last Hour of My Life.
  • A bicycle crash that split my helmet in two when my temple hit the pavement at 25+ mph and left me with a serious concussion, a lot of cuts and abrasions and a destroyed bicycle.  I am an official member of the “Saved by the Bell” club, a designation where a Bell bike helmet was proven to have saved your Life.
  • Another bicycle crash that occurred when I was clipped on the left by an SUV whose driver wasn’t paying attention to how close they were to me.
  • Two near misses by tornadoes, including one that touched down half a block from where I had gone out for a walk and one that formed over me in Vulcan, Alberta and touched down a short distance later.  In the latter incident, I was so busy filming it over me that I didn't realize I was in significant danger.
  • A strike by a vehicle from behind where the vehicle was carrying a piece of lumber sticking out the passenger side of the vehicle.  It was a rainy night and I was walking on the sidewalk when a voice to my left (right by my ear) yelled “look out”.  I jumped to the right, startled by the voice and at the moment, the lumber struck me across the shoulder blades, knocking me out.  A witness in a car behind the car that struck me told me later that he saw a flash of light right beside my head just before I jumped and thought I was jumping because of that.  I was informed by police that had I not jumped at that moment, the lumber would have struck me in the neck and likely killed me.  Who warned me?
  • Two mini strokes, one in my teens and one in my early 20s.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (stage 4) at the age of 30.
  • A near head-on collision with a large snowplow.  I had come upon a single lane cut in a 20-foot deep snow drift, stopped, saw no one coming towards me and proceeded through it.  Unbeknownst to me, a snow plow had decided to take a second run at clearing the snow and had backed up around a turn in the road in front of me in order to get some acceleration for the second run.  As I was halfway through the tunnel, he came around the turn driving straight towards me.  In a flash, I knew I could beat him to the end of the snow tunnel and so I accelerated towards him.  I cleared the tunnel just as he entered it.  I escaped but the van driving behind me took the full brunt of the head-on collision as the plow entered the snow tunnel and the driver of the van was seriously injured.  People who witnessed the accident thought I was either lucky or crazy for accelerating towards the plow.  Maybe I was both.
  • I’ve been attacked 5 times in New York City, 4 times by individuals and once by a group of 4 or 5 guys.  Of the first 4 incidents, 2 of the 4 guys were unconscious before they hit the ground.  Regarding the group, myself and another colleague were held up by a gang of miscreants who demanded our wallets as we headed home from Brooklyn late one night.  When I refused, the leader (I assume it was the leader) told me that I couldn’t take all of them.  I acknowledged the truth of this but said I would at least kill the first one.  They looked uncertainly at each other and left the scene.  Steve, my colleague, asked me if I would have done that and I said “Yes – we were going to die anyway.  I gambled that I had to look crazier than they were and it worked.”
  • I was stabbed by a man with a mental health issue on a subway stop in Toronto who found a new use for the metal tip of his umbrella.
  • I hit a patch of black ice on a turn one night while driving 65 mph and went into a full spin (I still remember each rotation in slow motion).  I missed all the oncoming traffic, bounced off an ice wall on the opposite side of the road, crossed the road again, missed traffic in both directions, hit the wall on the original side of the highway and then came back across the traffic.  I stopped in the middle of the road, facing the wrong direction.  My car didn’t appreciate the experience but I was completely unhurt.
  • I was almost struck by a vehicle while crossing a street in Calgary during a rain storm but was saved when someone else saw it developing and blew their horn to warn me.  I mused about that in my post Angels Amongst Us.
  • I was the passenger in 5 different high speed accidents in my second semester of college.
  • I have narrowly missed many accidents as a driver, with the vehicle in front of me or behind me being taken out by various incidents.
  • I was rushed to hospital last summer with a blood pressure of 190 / 130.  Doctors were impressed that I hadn't had a stroke or heart attack.  My blood pressure is now a normal 90 / 55.
  • 15 minutes before the World Trade Center bomb exploded, I was standing on the very spot that was vaporized when the blast went off.

All of these came to mind as I reflected on last night’s moment, my third near-lightning strike.  The first one came as I stood on my lawn in New Jersey and watched a distant storm coming in.  I suddenly felt “strange” as if something was inside me and at that moment, lightning struck a playground set about 50 feet from me, with the intense light and blast of thunder knocking me over.  I was later told that a “streamer” was likely coming up through me, making me a candidate for the strike had it connected with a leader coming down from the storm cloud.  Another time, I was riding on a bike trail that cut through a car wreck yard, trying to beat a storm home, when suddenly lighting began hitting the junkyard.  I lay on the ground as lightning blasted all around me like artillery fire.

The funny thing is that I live a relatively low-risk life.  I don’t sky dive, smoke, drink or intentionally put myself at risk in any way.  I eat well, exercise and take care of myself emotionally, physically, intellectually and spiritually.  I drive the speed limit and minimize my risk in business.  I’m so uptight about obeying the rules that even jay walking is something not on my “can do” list.

And despite a low-risk Life, I have dodged a lot of things that many people succumb to on their first encounter.

As I discussed this with my colleague this morning, I made several observations:

  1. We’re still here so let’s not spend too much time navel gazing about it
  2. Either “Someone” thinks we are not finished with our Purpose or we are very lucky – either way, we have to do something with this second chance (or whatever number I was up to, I’d lost count until I sat down to reflect on the moment).
  3. The shareholders are still happy.
  4. Let’s finish what we started.

The reality is that once again, we’ve been given a reminder that our time here is borrowed time – we don’t know how much we are given to start with, we don’t know how much is left and once time is burned for good or for bad, it can never be reclaimed.

How much of your time are you taking for granted?

The Bottom Line

We exist for a variety of reasons, to love, to share, to learn, to teach, to grow, to lift / serve others, to create and for some, to be a lesson to others.

Whatever our Purpose, we may not have as much time as we think to accomplish it.

In fact, today may be our last day, with our final moments coming without warning (the blog post title is a quote from Rob Hill).

Are you willing to allow your legacy, your gifts, your talents, your family, your colleagues or your sense of Purpose to be allowed to languish or remain unfulfilled because you took your time for granted?

Do you need a warning shot for motivational purposes?

Don’t wait for such a warning because it may signify your departure, with anything in-progress remaining unfinished.

I end my emails (and many meetings) with “Create a great day” or “Create a great day because merely having one is too passive an experience”.  Careful observers notice that I also always capitalize the L in Life.

I do it because I recognize that Life is a holy gift, without guarantees, and that we should create a great day because today may be our last.

Are you creating a great day right now?

In service and servanthood.


PS I am not a Nickleback fan at all but I was amused to discover that as I finished this post, their song, “If Today Was Your Last Day” is playing on the radio.

It’s just a coincidence, of course.

Isn’t it?


  1. Three things.

    1. I am very grateful that it was no worse than a near miss.

    2. My friend Mark Elfstrand used to sign off of his radio show saying, "Remember, this day is a gift from God. Let's live like we believe it."

    3. Words from the Steve Miller Band:

    Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
    Into the future
    Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'
    Into the future

    Feed the babies
    Who don't have enough to eat
    Shoe the children
    With no shoes on their feet
    House the people
    Livin' in the street
    Oh, oh, there's a solution

    1. Thank you so much for this, Doug! I am grateful for your kind words and your powerful observations!