“Life Can Turn on a Dime”

By now most of you know that last Friday morning at 2 am my wife, Peggy, and my son, Nathan, found me face down in the hallway outside of the upstairs bathroom. For almost a minute I was unresponsive as my panicked son yelled, “Papa, wake up!” I was showing all the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

I came home from work that night feeling tired and kind of “blah.” I took some ibuprofen for the left over aches and pains from the Grand Canyon, went to bed and turned out the light. I tossed and turned and made several trips to the bathroom. During my last trip, the bathroom started spinning. I woke up surrounded by EMTs.

I had a zillion tests and fortunately all of them came back negative. In fact, the doctors told me I was healthy as a horse. I had what is called a “vasovagel episode.” This is a phenomenon that is mediated by the vagus nerve which causes a rapid drop in heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in decreased blood flow to the brain and fainting. It can be triggered by any number of stressors. In my case, it was the onset of a gastrointestinal virus, dehydration and who knows what else.

What this taught me once again is how transient human life is. We know this intellectually, of course, but sometimes it hits you upside the head with a two by four.

Our spiritual forebears certainly knew this.

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psalm 90: 10).

That is why the Psalmist goes on to say, So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (v.12).

I have a clergy friend who was diagnosed two years ago with Stage 4 cancer on her spine and in her lungs. After scores of hellish treatments, she’s still alive and in many ways thriving. When I posted this episode on my Facebook page she wrote: “Life can turn on a dime.” She knows best.

We know all about “Carpe Deum!” “Live every moment as if it counts.” “Get all the gusto out of life you can.” And that’s true, as far as it goes. But part of the wisdom we need to gain is knowing that you’re not going to live forever, so make the days you do have count.

My sister-in-law gave me one of my brother’s jackets to wear in the Grand Canyon before I left. One cool morning I held it out in front of me before I put it on and said, “I miss you ‘bro.” We had talked often about the need to hike together more often, do some epic trips. But now he was gone and it’s not going to happen.

So do those things with and for others that you intend to do sooner than later. Fiercely love the people who love you. But also remember what Woody Allen said: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

About Norman Bendroth

Norman Bendroth is a Professional Transition Specialist certified by the Interim Ministry Network. He has served as a settled pastor in two United Church of Christ congregations and as a Sr. Interim pastor in seven other UCC congregations. He was also an executive for three different non-profit agencies. He has had additional training in Mediation Skills for Church Leaders from the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center and training in Appreciative Inquiry from the Clergy Leadership Institute. Rev. Bendroth has the M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and his D. Min. from Andover Newton Theological school where he concentrated on theology and systems theory. He is married to Peggy Bendroth and has two adopted Amerasian children.
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