If you are Mario Manningham, and you’re reading this right now, you know what it feels like. That all important sequence of events when it’s either do-or-die and your margin for error becomes zero as it pertains to the success or failure of your life from this point. Although it wasn’t really life or death last night when the Giants receiver managed to tip toe both feet in bounds while being shellacked by two Patriots and held onto the ball through the catch out of bounds, it sure must have felt like it to him at the time. During the few moments before that amazing, game/career/life defining moment, when New England still had the lead the tension was palpable. Maybe that’s why so many millions of people around the world stop everything to watch the Super Bowl every year; no, not just for the commercials. For one brief moment, a game actually means everything to the players, and that’s as close as the censors will allow to show a true life and death struggle in a public forum these days.
There’s a certain lost piece of humanity that long ago would intentionally put itself in a life or death situation for the glory of winning and surviving. Today, very few examples of that are legal or considered humane. The once exalted heroes of the Roman empire, who donned sword and shield against ferocious opponents, both man and beast alike, knew the exact weight of the moment when their fate was to be decided. Since their time passed, the world has changed. Life over the past two centuries has become less nasty, short and brutish in most parts of the civilized world. That doesn’t mean we haven’t inherited that impulsive sector of the genome that craves the glory of battle for survival, but for most of us, just watching the Giants win the Super Bowl in a last minute drive is enough to slake their blood-thirst for glory and keep them happily living a life where any near-death situation comes along rarely, and is never an invited guest at any party.
For those of us who like the taste of near-death, there are plenty of ways to go out there and find it, bring it home and have dinner with it on the cheap. I have almost died while skiing once, and again while surfing. Those could be considered tame sports, that are safe enough for the smallest of children to master without injuring themselves seriously. However, anyone can put themselves in situations, in either case, where death reaches out and taps a bony finger on your shoulder, beckoning you to the great beyond. Hot Dogging in the trees, landing chest first on a partially obscured stump after a poorly executed jump failed miserably nearly got me once. Then losing my surfboard as the leash broke while I dove under a 6 foot wave nearly got me another time. Both times, as I lay there gasping for air in the icy air covered with snow, and as the waves crashed over my head relentlessly, I heard one voice telling me “This is it; the end is now.”
As much as I probably deserved it to be so, for my stupidity in both situations, neither proved fatal. It was a lesson for me that I still think about on a daily basis, especially as I watch someone else testing their luck and skill against an opponent, or put themselves in a dangerous situation that gets out of control quickly. In both my examples, I was asking for it.
But what about when you don’t ask for it? Sometimes near-death situations come to you without you asking. I believe there is good wisdom in either situation, as once I found myself almost sleeping through the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 as a shelf of trophies fell from the shelf above my bed above my head and my father ripped me out of bed just before it was too late. There will be moments like this too, like it or not, so it’s best to prepare for them before they happen, and not be paralyzed by fear or fatalistic thoughts when they come.
Here’s what you should do when faced with a near death situation so that you have a chance of surviving:
1) Recognize One thing that kills a lot of people in these situations is that they don’t realize that things have gotten out of hand until it’s too late. When should you realize that you’re putting your life in your own hands? The second you set foot out there when you’re about to do something dangerous. It could be the moment you pack your parachute before your next skydiving trip, or when you strap on your snowboard before getting on a lift, or a million other innocuous events, of which people ignore the significance. Know that it’s always possible when you’re doing something dangerous that this could be your last rodeo and prepare for the worst, mentally, physically, spiritually. You will react quicker if you do, especially when things go wrong at the most unexpected of times.
2) Don’t Over-think It As you find yourself skidding out of control doing multiple three sixty degree circles around an icy on-ramp on black ice doing 60 mph, the worst thing you can do is start thinking about what to do next. That may seem counter-intuitive, but you won’t have time. Reacting to a situation means you’ve put the forethought into what comes next so that your muscles take their cues from the survivalist portion of your brain that already has things figured out for you. Now, this section of your gray matter may not always bat a thousand on its own, but you have to trust it when things go south that it will protect you the best way that you know how to protect yourself. If you second guess what to do, that’s when the brown stuff hits the fan in earnest. You never want to do that.
3) Know the difference Life and death is not always life and death, it just might seem like it. There are many examples of experiences that can be mistaken for life and death that are not really all that fatal. We tend to over-respond to these and the psychological results can be almost as bad as a serious physical injury. If you think you’re going to die because you lost your job, you’ve got another thing coming. (Read 6 Things You Need To Know About Losing Your Job) The same goes true for someone who may have lost all of his money, or a loved one or something else of great value. Those are not life and death situations, and you shouldn’t let your survival instincts take over the way you should in a real life threatening event. You may be tempted to let go of the reins and “fight-or-flight” your way out, but believe me, the damage that will be done isn’t worth the risk.
4) Live Prepared Panic in times of life or death has to be the number one cause of people not to survive when there is a chance to do so. As events unfold leading to a final resolution, everyone has a choice; forge boldly forward as though there is nothing to lose, or fall victim to thoughts of what could be at stake for the rest of one’s short life. (Read What Shooting Kids Taught Me About Getting Over Anxiety) I have always felt that when my time has come, I’m not going to be panicking because each time I’ve had a close call I was ready to meet whatever came next. The greatest piece of knowledge that I could give anyone would be the gift of knowing that if you live your life to it’s fullest and have no regrets, you won’t find yourself paralyzed at the moment when you need to have your wits about yourself. So, start living that way as soon as possible, if not you’re going to regret it at the very wrong time!
I could go on for days about that last point, but suffice to say there’s a universal truth in football that I think applies to life as well; never take your eye off the ball, and don’t run with it before you’ve made the catch. Everyone makes this mistake at one point or another, but if you’re focused on the outcome, not the process, you’re going to be very disappointed in the results; that is, if you’re alive to be disappointed.