I once had a gun pointed directly at the center of my face. I was a bad kid, but not so bad that I had in any way created this moment. No, I’d just walked through the wrong door on the wrong night and found myself staring at a loaded handgun.
I was 17 when a friend and I walked through the double doors of my girlfriend’s high school into that parking lot. I couldn’t have anticipated that there would be this boy — I’ll describe him as something less than emotionally balanced — standing outside with a gun in his hand, ready to inspire my bladder to empty (no, it didn’t, if you’re curious). Nothing could’ve suggested that the next few minutes of my life would be spent facing its potential end.
This kid was terribly casual, considering the circumstances. He held my life in his hands and yet was quite jovial. I walked backwards as the three of us crossed the parking lot, led by the physical momentum of my friend who was directing us all towards his car and the hidden weapons inside. How stupid we all were in that moment. How stupid that I kept walking despite knowing that my friend was probably going to get me killed as he moved toward the only things he thought might save us.
The kid cocked the weapon. A bullet flew from the chamber, making way for a fresh new one. I watched as it caught the light of the nearby street lamps and thought that this was my gunpowder-filled harbinger of doom. You might think that’s a bit dramatic, but remember that I was 17 and LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL OF A FREAKING GUN!
My friend’s car door opened. I could hear the sounds of him moving objects around as he casually reached to find either his shotgun or his nunchuks — as if he had the Bruce Lee-like skills to deflect bullets with them. But before he could secure either of his weapons the kid smiled big and laughed, slapping me on the shoulder and saying something like, “You’re alright! I like you!” Then he walked off into the night, as if his approval with me were enough to add a little zest to the rest of my life.
It was random. Terrifying. A defining moment.
I missed the lesson.
After an event like the one I just recounted for your entertainment there should be … something. A shift. An assessment. A revelation.
I picked up that discarded bullet, the one that had been ejected, or rejected, and I kept it for a couple years. I’d carry it in my pocket and try oh so hard to glean some sort of [I don’t know] from it. I think I might’ve been looking for the question that would reveal the answer I’m only now, a couple decades later, starting to understand.
I failed to realize that life is precious, fragile, short, and should be spent living rather than waiting. I missed that life shouldn’t be wasted watching badly written television shows, or filling the coffers of fast food chains. Or waiting. As if waiting would somehow deliver to me the body, lifestyle, sense of joy that's possible in the living of the life I was given ... and spared.
Looking around, it’s easy to find faces — reflections — that fail to realize, and may never (given they never look down the barrel of a gun themselves), that they deserve to live their lives fully, on their terms, authentically, happily, inspired, fulfilled and engaged in an act of giving. Behind desperate eyes that look over that half-devoured but unsavored, GMO-laden, assembly line burger, there lies a soul left wanting and deserving a life filled with passion and love.
Give yourself permission to make the changes you want, to move your body, eat great meals, tell bad jokes, have amazing sex, meditate, make new friends, create works of art, take that yoga teacher training, start that business, laugh out loud, fall, scrape a knee, get back up, and to be authentic, vulnerable, loved and loving. After all, as Ferris Bueller brilliantly offered, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once and awhile you could miss it.”
Don’t miss it. Dodge the bullet. Live it. Fully.