By Chris Kim, Class of ’20
We often like to think of ourselves as untouchable, living as if we are able to choose the day death arrives on our doorstep. We don’t realize the gift of life, and we take for granted every breath we take. For the first time in my life this past spring break, however, death flashed before my eyes, and I was reminded of the incredible fragility of life and the importance of centering our focus on what is truly important in life, which is to seek truth. Granted, I have faced near death experiences before; in Japan, my mom, sister, and I almost got hit by a motorcyclist. Another time, our car was totaled on a crowded freeway in Los Angeles. While both of these experiences could very realistically have ended in my death, I was either too young or the event too short-lived for me to truly ponder the possibility of me dying. This past week, however, I confronted death in a way that I never have before.
On Wednesday, I had decided to swim some laps at the gym to work off all the food I had been eating over spring break. I swiped in and was greeted by the familiar smell of chlorine, freshly laundered towels, and cheap body wash. I changed into my dad’s swimming trunks and shuffled to the pool in my flip-flops. The water was comfortably warm, and I stretched before taking off. While I like to think of myself as an endurance runner, swimming is a whole different ball game. After two laps I was panting in the water, my heart racing furiously. As soon as I had caught my breath I took off again, taking a break after every two or three laps. On the fourteenth lap, I was immensely tired. I leaned out of the water to catch my breath but unlike before, I felt nauseous. After a few minutes of trying to catch my breath, I decided maybe it was a good time to stop. I had swum for about 40 minutes, and I was too tired to continue. As I got out of the pool the nauseating feeling increased. Grabbing my towel and flip-flops, I left the pool into the locker room and made my way to my locker. With each step, the weight upon my chest increased, and I plopped on a bench to catch my breath. I was struggling to breathe, and my vision started fading.
In that moment, it occurred to me that I could be dying. In between breaths, I cried out to Jesus. I asked him to save me and to give me another chance. I do not know what struck me to say that, whether it was out of pure panic or fear of not being ready to go. As I think back, I wonder why I could not say that I was ready to die. Approaching God’s judgment seat in that moment was a fearful thing. In death, there is no turning back, no last minute good deed, no “winging-it.” Death is the end of our earthly lives and we are judged by God by how we lived our lives. As soon as I began to lose vision, I cried out for help. Four gym staff members rushed around me and began asking me questions. At first I answered in between long gulps for air, but to my immense relief, I began to regain my breath, and my heart rate began to stabilize. I focused my vision and answered their questions more completely. I was all right.
I used to think of death in two ways. In a world wrought with war and conflict, I often thought of death as the result of violence. We hear in the news about the death toll in the Middle East or victims of a recent shooting. The second picture I have of death is the slow, painful process my grandmother went through as a cancer patient. After this experience, however, I realize that death can steal us in the blink of an eye when we are least expecting it. My mom used to say, “While there is an order to when we come into the world, there is no order to when we leave it.” We all come into the world expected to take the reigns from our parents and from society, but there is no chronology in death. As tragic as it may be, many parents bury their children, accidents occur, and the futures we create for ourselves vanish in an instant. The Psalmist was right when he said, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psalm 103:15-16).
This close experience with death opened my eyes to how simple life really is and how complicated I have made it. I get paralyzed in decisions about what I should do over the summer and fear making choices that might negatively affects my future. But in the end, who knows how long I have to live? It is only by the grace of God that we are still alive; every breath we take is a gift from Him. Why do we live for tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, when today might be our last? Jesus says to love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. He calls us to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded us and has promised to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20). God has given me more time to live, and I want to deepen my faith in Him above all things. I want to know God just as tangibly as I know the people I am closest to here on Earth but I want to love Him far more deeply than any human relationship. For me right now, I feel that means to grow in wisdom and knowledge of His words in the Bible and to understand more fully my sinful nature and my need for God’s forgiveness. With the time I have left, I want to love others as Jesus loved others, boldly proclaiming the gospel in both grace and truth, while also forming Christ-centered relationships that mutually push us toward Christ. I need to be ready so on that day when I stand face to face with God, whether tomorrow or many years from now, I will be able to run into His arms and hear Him whisper into my ear the sweet words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”