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BC’s Tales of the Pacific | A tale of two lives

PEOPLE say in a near-death experience they often see their life flash before their eyes.

Recently, when I thought I was near the end, my thoughts passed quickly through the memories of my life so far, then diverged into two different futures. I saw two of me, one right after the other.

In the first version, I made all the safe choices in life. I ate familiar foods that I knew I liked, drank the same coffee and the steaks always cooked medium. I immersed myself in the warm companionship of familiar friends and loving relatives. At work, I kept my head down and did my job, occasionally scoring a raise here or a promotion there until I retired. I listened to the music I knew and loved and when I heard other kinds of music I called it “trash” and “noise.” I avoided risky situations. If I saw someone stranded on the side of the road, I reasoned that it might be a trap and drove on, muttering “someone else will help that man.” I preferred the company of people my own age. Afterall, we grew up together, had the same experiences and cultural references. We watched the same movies and lived through the same traumas, so we understood each other. For vacations, I always returned to the same spot. We stayed at the same hotel and sat on the same beach. After a lifetime of this it was practically a second home. I knew every local resident and snorkeled the same reef every year, even named some of the fish. Life was comfortable and safe. There was peace of mind in knowing what was coming every day.

In the second version, I was a risk-taker. I constantly tried new foods, ate at different restaurants, tested new ingredients and recipes. I cherished old friends but constantly met new people when opportunities arose. I started conversations with total strangers at airports and grocery stores. At work I did not put up with bad bosses or senseless tasks and as a result I usually got passed over for promotions and raises. I didn’t stay at one job very long because an inner restlessness led me to explore new career avenues. I read a lot and asked a lot of questions. I listened to music from all over the world, and if I heard a style that was particularly popular I gave it a try, figuring if so many people liked it, it was worth a listen. In that way I developed a taste for a dizzying variety of musical styles. My wife said it was impossible to profile me from my music collection. When I saw someone stranded on the side of the road I always stopped, and if I couldn’t help them, I took them to safety. And I wasn’t mugged once. I rarely vacationed in the same place twice. The world was full of interesting and diverse things and I wanted to catch as much of it as I could. Life was sometimes risky but always exciting. There was hunger, there was discomfort and even danger. But every day was different from the last and I got to experience every human emotion, sometimes all in the same day. I met a great many diverse people who taught me a lot.

Since surviving my ordeal, I have thought a lot about the two lives that flashed before my eyes. The doctors told me it was a close one, that every day from now on is an extra one. Which life do you think I should live?

BC Cook, PhD taught history for over 20 years. He lived on Saipan and travels the Pacific but currently lives on the mainland U.S.