*Head’s up! Adult language within.
When I received the text, I was shocked to my core: my heartbeat increased and sweat began to bead on my forehead.
How could this have happened?
Instantly, my mind began to race and the half-baked plans that had been swirling around for the past eighteen months collided. In that moment, I finally knew the path my life would take. Unfortunately, it took a devastating tragedy for this clarity to unfold.
I met Jimmy at an outdoor retreat sponsored through our university—the kind where fifteen students get together in the back country and form strong bonds. We laughed, we grew, we learned and we studied. After we all undertook a 24-hour solo adventure, it was Jimmy and I who drove to the local liquor store to get a great party started. This solidified our newfound friendship and the experience forged a bond between the two of us.
When I first met Jimmy, it was clear that he had a small limp—the kind that kept him at the back of the pack when hiking a mountain. As it turned out, he dove off of a shallow dock in his youth and injured his leg; however, it didn’t affect his schooling or his passion for racing cars.
After the class finished, we both graduated, but kept in regular contact. But life got busy and we lost touch. A year onward, I remembered our great times and sent Jimmy a text. I received this response:
Hey man. Been in the hospital. Feel free to come visit me in this nursing home.
Holy crap! I made plans to visit and made my way down to his place. He greeted me in a wheelchair.
As it turned out, his neurologist thought he could fix Jimmy’s limp. Instead, the surgery was botched and swelling on his spinal cord meant the loss of his legs. He could still use his hands. He spent a lot of his day in physiotherapy. I remembered one comment in particular from this visit:
“Spence, it is funny how quickly your life changes when something like this occurs. School, girls, cars, job-hunting…they no longer matter.”
That quote stuck with me.
Fast forward six months and I got in touch with Jimmy again (I really should have sooner—admittedly, I was pretty wrapped up in my minor problems). This time he invited me to the city hospital. A second surgery went wrong and left him with only 25% use of his hands—he was more or less a full on quadriplegic.
How could this happen to such a chill, down-to-earth guy?
The worst part? There was absolutely nothing I could do as his friend except visit when I could. I hung-out with him and chatted for awhile—and it was during this visit that I experienced a rising feeling in my chest. My heart was beating pretty fast when I walked out of the hospital and I had this weird, surging energy coming off of my skin. I can only describe it as a half shiver, but with a lot of adrenaline.
I jumped into my car and sat there. F*ck! F*ck! F*ck! I hollered as I slammed on my steering wheel causing people to look at me. Why did this happen to my buddy?
Then it hit me. Everything aligned in that moment. All of my previous thoughts about exploring the U.S., going to South America, leaving my corporate job and pursing a start-up that made me happy, came together in a moment of what I can only describe as pure clarity.
At that moment, I made up my mind to get after life and forget the sense of forced obligation to follow the societal norm that had me stuck in a rut. Seeing Jimmy’s experience unfold showed me that life can change in a split second—it sounds cliche until you see it happen to someone close to you.
I drove home and immediately ordered that splitboard I had been debating about for months. I had always wanted to shred down the mountains that I had been climbing up, so why wait any longer? Who knows what would happen to me tomorrow? I spent the next two months getting my finances and life in order before leaving my corporate job.
I am now traveling around the U.S. and planning to leave for Chile in 2016. No more offices for the time being. My priorities shifted from collecting possessions to a focus on collecting experiences.
I keep in touch with Jimmy when I can—last I heard, he was finally out of the hospital system after eighteen months.
Ultimately, Jimmy’s experience made me think long and hard about how precious my time on earth is. Life can change for the worse in an instant. It is time to start living and make your fantasies a reality. I implore you to not wait for an experience like I did. The time is now.
Our days are so precious and so few, so use them wisely.
Author: Spencer Raymond Madden
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Redd Angelo/Unsplash