All of us can point to pivotal moments in our lives that either propelled us on an entirely new course or, at the very least, prompted a renewed sense of perspective. For some, it was when they fell in love for the first time; for others, it was when their dad introduced them to the Beatles, or when a friend accidentally left a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy lying around.
Actually, all three of those examples come directly from my own personal list. And that's the point: as someone who has transitioned from one country to another, I believe there is never just one key event that shapes our lives, but several.
The latest for me happened exactly one year ago today. My wife, Tarah, went into cardiac arrest in our living room.
Just writing that sentence feels strange, as if the events of the last year happened not to us, but to other people entirely. The moments that included and immediately followed her resuscitation—administered by yours truly—were among the most overwhelming of my life. The weeks that followed, confusing though they were, were among the most reflective.
Sitting by my wife's bedside while she recovered at Indiana University Hospital, I had a lot of time to ponder some of life's major questions: Why are we here? Where are we going? And just what is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?
I once read that the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose. This idea came roaring back to me during those hospital stays, when I realized that the life of the person I loved the most was almost completely eradicated—seemingly without purpose and certainly without warning.
But she lived. Her ablation procedure was a success and she was discharged from the hospital after 8 days. In the meantime, we had a hospital bill coming our way that would not be easy on our wallets. The mere idea of being billed, in fact, was still an alien concept to me, growing up as I did with the UK's National Health Service.
But when that first envelope arrived some weeks later, I'm not sure even my wife could have anticipated the preposterously large figure enclosed therein. I opened it on the sure understanding that we would probably be billed, on the high end, no more than $30,000—a figure that would have been itself enough to shock us back into the hospital. But the actual figure was so unfathomably large that it led not to abject horror, but resigned laughter. The actual figure was $119,000. We immediately applied for medical assistance and hoped for the best.
In the meantime, it was clear that a number of lifestyle changes were needed in both of our lives. Over the course of the next few months, we started to lay the groundwork for what continues to be a re-building process—an overhaul of the way we view the world and our role in it. For my part, I've shed 30lbs and am presently in the best shape of my adult life. She has significantly altered her outlook—to the point that those otherwise trivial grievances are now of such little concern, where previously they had often been her every concern.
One of the more unexpected features of our new outlook was the desire, on both our parts, to offload unneeded material possessions—objects that had barely been touched in more than three years or that bore no sentimental value to our lives. You'd be amazed at just how many possessions we gave to Goodwill or, in the case of the severely undonatable (I'm coining that word), the amount that were simply thrown into the bin/trash. Once all the shoes, books, clothes, paperwork, and miscellany had been bagged, we had roughly 25 full-size trash bags filled to the brim and awaiting a new home.
And speaking of new, in July of this year—after applying extensively for positions throughout the summer—my wife soon received an offer to start doing what she loves most: teaching. Except this time—unlike the job she had held during her hospitalization—this wasn't a substitute position; she had been offered a salary position and a job that was all her own. It was almost the perfect way to round off her recovery.
For my part, my own personal evolution has continued despite the backdrop of actual personal tragedy—the death of my grandma back in February. While we chose to celebrate her life rather than mourn her passing, I was moved nonetheless to consider my own mortality and the wise words of the late Steve Jobs: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
Partly inspired by these words, I started hosting YouTube videos back in May—something I had previously been reluctant to do, but something that has since become a popular and seemingly well-received feature of this blog. Even Tarah gets in on the act occasionally, though I've yet to convince her to show her face on screen. Moreover, I have acquired the bravery to embark on my first book and to imminently launch this blog's audio podcast, Halfway Planet, in tandem with my wife. I am learning, day by day, to live a life of purpose.
As I sit in my writer's office one year on from the traumatic events of September 2, 2014, and as I ponder the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, I cannot help but wonder if there was something quite karmic about how things turned out. After all, perhaps karma would account for why—just one day after Tarah's job offer—we finally received word back from the medical assistance provider. The $119,000 that had previously led me to resigned laughter, now caused laughter of an entirely different kind. The $119,000 had been completely written off.
And so, after all the ups and downs of the past year, there is one more thing I have learned to do. I have learned to pay very close attention to the large, friendly letters on the front of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't panic.