I’m Supposed to Be Dead: Living a Bonus Life

Taking a risk on the rocks in San Clemente, CA at a recent photo shoot with photographer Jerrell Turner.

I know this is kind of odd, but at an early age I had a very clear feeling that I would not live past the age of 40. It’s something that stayed in the back of my mind all the years moving forward. I wasn’t scared of growing older, and it definitely wasn’t that I believed it wouldn’t be cool to be over 40. It was just this very strong sense that age 40 was it, and that would be ok. I would occasionally tell someone my belief about my early demise, and they would either laugh uncomfortably or tell me not to think so negatively. To me it wasn’t a negative outcome, it just was my reality for a very long time.

Today, I’m 45. So, I’m not sure why I had such a strong sense about dying before turning 40, but maybe it is about how it ultimately impacted my life. When I was 39, I went on a mission trip to help the victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. It was a harrowing and heartbreaking trip. On the plane coming back to the U.S. after the trip, I realized I was a few months away from my 40th birthday. And, for the first time in my life, I thought: “I may live past 40.” But, I still felt like if that wasn’t the case, my life had been really good, and if the end were coming, that would be ok.

You see I’ve always lived like I had a very limited time here, which is basically true for all of us really. And when my 40th birthday came and went, every day since has sincerely felt like a bonus or kind of like earning extra credit, even though the five years since have been the hardest of my life. Ironically, I got sick on my 40th birthday, and it was the beginning of some health problems and a major life crisis that led me to now be on energy-draining Parkinson’s medication for a neurological problem that impacts my speech, and I make a living as a public speaker. (See earlier post How the Gym Saved Me) I’m not sure if that is somehow related to my long held thoughts of an early death before 40 that manifested into a chronic illness instead, but for better or worse I am different today because of my health problems and the fact that I’m living longer than I thought was possible for me. Every day is a gift, and I want to make the most of it. It feels like I earned a bonus life in the Super Mario Brothers game.

What if everyone saw life that way? I wonder if this would be a kinder, less conflict-torn world. See I don’t have time for unnecessary drama or conflict, and when it arises, I try to take care of it in a rational manner as soon as possible. And if someone in my life is a source of constant unrest, I intentionally distance myself from that person if possible, because I want to enjoy the time I have left. That’s why I take big risks like moving across the country to live my dream life in California, leaving friends, family, and financial security behind, I embrace new opportunities like a late in life fitness-focused social media and sponsored athlete adventure, and I am always looking for new ways to enjoy life by myself and with others. My only regret is I have not married or had children, but I haven’t given up on that, and I realize how many great opportunities I have experienced because I am single.

There are moments when I am just in awe of the unique experiences I’ve had in this lifetime: interviewing a wide host of people as a television reporter and anchor including two presidents, visiting some of the most amazing places in the world sometimes free through educational opportunities, nine international mission trips that helped shape who I am today, winning three national teacher awards and seeing my students succeed at the biggest film festivals for teens, guiding people to a deeper understanding and relationship with God in small groups, growing an international fitness social media account and representing awesome companies at the largest fitness shows, and oh, have I enjoyed the best food our world has to offer! I could go on and on, because it’s been a crazy ride.

As a Christian, I am comforted by my Faith’s belief that the next life will be even better, plus free of pain and sin. But, on those days when I wonder about the afterlife and question how I will feel if what I believe about death and heaven doesn’t come true, somehow I’m still hopeful because I’m already living a bonus life. Sure, there’s a lot of pain and heartbreak in this life, but it still feels like a gift to get up each day to spend time with friends and family when it’s possible, fight for my health in the gym, sit at the beach and marvel at the waves or even dive in and ride them, enjoy good tasting healthy food and sometimes things a little more fun like donuts or pizza, and for me, to sense the real joy of regaining the ability to speak clearly through the gift of modern medicine that I am reminded of almost daily in interactions with others. My hope is when I die at least these three things will be said about me: I would not settle for the ordinary, but instead sought the extraordinary; I somehow impacted this world in a positive way; and, I really enjoyed life.

Think about it. What if every night was like Christmas Eve when you were a child and every day was like that Christmas when you received THE thing you wanted the most. I’m talking your first bike or video game console, THAT good. That would probably change your perspective.

It makes me want to run down the stairs of my home and see what’s in store out there in the world for me every day.