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What Will You See When Your Life Flashes Before Your Eyes?

I heard the noise, “Bam!”, and I knew exactly what happened. As the ladder disintegrated under me, I began my fall 30ft to what was surely my death. I was to either fall in the water and be sucked under and into the screws of the one-hundred-foot cargo ship I was climbing at sea or impaled on the gun mounts, radars, or console of our Rigid Hulled Inflatable boat that carried us to the target.

The details of the Navy SEAL operation I was on when this happened are not important to this story. Perhaps someday soon I will share them publicly. What is important to this story is what happened on the way down. 

A random Google search will tell you it takes just under two seconds to fall 30 ft. Given that statistic, you might be wondering, “What can possibly go through your mind in that short of time, especially during the chaos of a certain death experience?”

The answer is simple: The things that matter, both good and bad. The scary part is that if you ever find yourself in this position you won’t get to choose. The thoughts will just come to you. What do you imagine would go through your mind? 

I was literally reaching my hand to my teammate who had safely climbed to the top and was ready to assist in pulling me over the railing of the cargo ship when the ladder broke. I’ll never forget the look of disbelief in his eyes as he kept his hand held out as I began my fall. 

The first thing I did as I fell was to bellow out a massive F-bomb. I don’t remember this, but my teammate told me that is what I did. “I couldn’t believe it,” he later shared with me, “you didn’t scream, or thrash. You just calmly yelled ‘F*@k’.”

That was the first thing that came to my mind, actually. I distinctly remember thinking, “Go out like a man. Go out like a leader. Give the men a story they will be proud to tell of their fallen leader.” I have no opinion if this was a good or bad thought. It is simply what went through my mind.

The next thought was, “Good life! I made a lot of mistakes and would do some things differently if given the chance, but they were mistakes of a life lived with passion.”

And finally, I thought of my father. He and I had a special relationship and I remember thinking I was going to miss him terribly. But I was more concerned about how he was going to fair after my death. I was worried for him and said a quick prayer asking God to help him through this. The adage, “There are no atheists in fox holes,” rang true for me.

And then, almost in passing, I began to assess my chances of surviving the fall. Given what I referred to earlier, either impaled or sucked under the cargo ship and chewed up in its screws, my assessment was I didn’t have much of a chance. My only thought was, “Whatever happens, I hope it happens fast.”

I’ll never forget the impact and the sound it made as I landed on the one spot in the boat that wouldn’t kill me. I bounced about 10ft into the air, did a quick assessment of my injuries and what could happen next, and then landed back in the boat. 

I was alive! Injured, but alive. I literally walked away from the fall until I almost died because of being administered too much morphine for the pain after the fact. The irony!

I am generally happy with what passed through my mind in under two seconds. Especially the “good life” thought. I predictably think about what would go through my mind if something similar happened to me again and I work every day to ensure I would think good things about my life if it came down to it.

Some people say you should write your own obituary and try to live how you would want people to speak about you after your death. I think this is a good drill and everyone should give it a try.

However, before you do that, think about what you would want to go through your mind in a split second as death knocks at your door. Nice things will be said about you after you are gone because people are generally kind. 

The real question is what will you think about yourself in the most honest moment of your life? In my view, this is the life you should strive to live. 

Now go live it because it is never too late!

Errol Doebler is a former Navy SEAL platoon commander, FBI terrorism investigator and founder of his leadership consulting firm, “Ice Cold Leader.” He can be contacted at Hello@Icecoldleader.com

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