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CIO Unplugged 7/24/13

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

The unEXPERIENCED Life is Not Worth Living

The famous phrase by Socrates about “the unexamined life” has made its way into many lectures and speeches beyond its philosophical niche. No, I’m not a philosopher. But as I dug deeper for the sake of this post, I stumbled across a distinction he made between people (Athenians) who watched life and those who experienced it.

Observing an Olympic athlete cross the finish line gave a “semblance of success,” but was it true reality? We love to admire superb performance and bask in a new world record. But what would happen if we personally strove for such experiences ourselves?

I choose experience. It doesn’t need be extravagant or expensive. It can be turning off the soccer match on TV and joining a local team. Signing up for ballroom dance class rather than just watching “Dancing with the Stars.” Putting down the books about the missionary taking care of the poor in India and signing up at your local soup kitchen. Turn off Facebook virtual relationships and instead host a live get-together with living people.

My plan had been to share with you fresh leadership and teamwork insights from a recent climb atop Europe’s highest mountain, Elbrus. That was a victorious experience. But my heart isn’t into writing about climbing because of a tragedy that unfolded two days later.

Tradition calls for celebration following a summit. While touring St. Petersburg, five members of my team, including myself, walked down the bustling main street, Nevsky Prospekt. We traded climbing stories and talked about our motivation to climb. People we met said interesting things about the danger of climbing mountains. Our common response became, “Life is short, and a sheltered life was no life at all. You might get hit by a car while playing it safe, so you may as well embrace risk.”

Still light outside, midnight was approaching as we began the journey back to our hotel. Approaching the intersection at Kazan Cathedral, we formed a quasi column so we could pass pedestrians coming from the other side. I entered the crosswalk, leading my friends and walking immediately behind two ladies age twenty-something. In a split second, tires screeched, headlights blazed, and I instinctively dove out of the way. To my left, I heard flesh hit metal … then glass (windshield).

As I landed on the ground, I viewed the unthinkable out of the corner of my eye—those two ladies cartwheeling through the air. By the time I rolled to a stop, they landed 10 meters away. Unconscious. Contorted. Broken. A surreal scene.

After a few seconds of verbal rage and gathering our wits about us, we jumped into action. JJ, our mountain guide, took command. We became docs, EMTs, and comforters. We had both patients stabilized. The dozen policemen who showed up were completely clueless and just stared at us.

I recall vividly watching my bunkmate Frank clasp one girl’s hand and speak calmly to her. She told us she was visiting from Siberia. Her friend lay unconscious and deformed, with her head held stable by our buddy Zac. At the 10-minute mark, a “first aid” vehicle showed up and a woman wearing scrubs emerged. She was with infection control and had no real medical supplies. Applying smelling salts, she was trying to get both patients up and walking before understanding the severity of their injuries.

Adding to the chaos, a policeman grabbed Zac, thinking he was the negligent driver. Tried to arrest him. Bystanders intervened, and our friend was released. We continued providing support, but our counsel to the “infection lady” and the swarming, interfering bystanders was ignored. Ms. Infection was forcing the second patient, now conscious, to move despite obvious skeletal trauma.

I backed off and prayed over the situation, asking God to send the Holy Spirit for comfort, healing, and wisdom. Not having our passports in hand, we left a few minutes later as the mob grew more aggressive. My team prayed from a distance.

Once back in the hotel room, I buried my head in the bath towel and sobbed. I Skyped my wife and texted a friend. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw those ladies doing cartwheels over me. I slept for three hours and returned to the scene, which had since been cleared. I wondered what happened to the Siberians and how they were doing. Who was looking over them? Who was holding their hands? I spent another 30 minutes just praying and reflecting. I could not stop crying.

Today, my team is still processing what we experienced. As traumatic as it was, we were glad we’d been there and hoped the aid we provided helped save a life. We witnessed firsthand how quickly life can be taken away. In a blink of an eye. Something as safe as crossing a street.

Life is full of tragedy and heartbreak. You can bank on it happening again tomorrow. But does adversity really hold us back in life? I’d venture to say it’s our fear-based belief about painful incidences or the possibility of them happening that paralyze us. Instead of falling prey to that paralysis, experience the depth of heartbreak and then grow stronger from it. Conquer the fear and keep living.

Living life with no regrets means crawling out of the ashes of tragedy and walking stronger. On purpose. Determine to live a life fully experienced. We Live.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.