The 15 Minutes Criterion - Br. David McClung reading this email
One day I had dinner with a friend. We were talking about career, life, present, past, and future, the usual chat. One question came up about plans for the future and what we hope to achieve. He told me that his plan for his life is to retire when he is 64. After that, he would work on his farm growing cattle and enjoying a peaceful life. At the age of 72, he will be sick, and die at 74. I laughed, and asked him how does he know that he is going to die at 74. He answered me with a: "Don't you know statistics? Statistics say that men live until they are 74." He was convinced that he was going to live until 74. A few days later, my daughter came to tell me that one of her colleagues from high school died in a car accident. He was 21. I remembered my friend, and I said statistics do not mean a thing if it is about life and death. Even if statistics shows that 99% of the men die at 74, that is not a guarantee for anyone that he will live that long. He simply could be among the remaining 1%.
How little we know. Scientists tell us that this whole universe started 8, 15, or 20 billion years ago, and these days, each person lives for 1, 20, 70, or 90 years. Life span is very small compared to that of our universe. We live our lives in constant trials to improve our way of living. However, we are not sure if we are going to succeed or fail in those trials. But, only one thing is certain and that is everyone is going to die. As a matter of fact, we are born with a sentence of death. Now imagine that our life started in a courtroom when the judge announces that we are sentenced to death. Then our whole life is just like waiting for the judge to announce when, where, and how we are going to die. This is not an attempt to paint a gloomy picture on life. This is an honest attempt to put life in its real perspective, because this concept of living in a prison waiting the decision of the judge can actually improve life, set our priorities in order, and project a sense of humility in our life.
One time, I had problems with the air conditioning unit in my car during a hot summer. My priority at that time was to find an honest car mechanic to fix the car. I had so many troubles finding one. Few days later, I went to my physician to have a physical examination. He told me that he suspected cancer. Now, you can imagine what happened to my car problem! The cancer turned out to be a false alarm, and I am grateful to God for giving me more time.
How many times does a "healthy" person visit a doctor for a routine physical examination to be told that he is terminally ill and has few months to live? How many times does someone driving his car, get involved in a fatal car accident? How many times do people die in a natural catastrophe? The fact is we do not know when, where, and how we will die, and probably we do not want to think about death. However, the first step to understand many facts should start by believing the only shocking fact in our lives: death. To approach that, take the following priority test:
What would you do if you were told that?
You have 20 years to live?
You have 1 year to live?
You have 6 months to live?
You have one month to live?
You may die at any moment?
These are not the kind of questions that you read in a book, only to continue reading the next sentence. Ask yourself these questions, and stop here and think. Try to write your answers. When it comes to the possibility of knowing that you have only one month to live, very many things will change in your life. Your priorities will turn upside down. Things that used to bother you before will loose their significance. And other things that you used to ignore will become important.
The 15 Minutes Criterion
Now, try something else. Imagine yourself laying down in bed, and you are in your final moments. Actually, your final 15 minutes in this life. What are you going to be thinking of? How are you going to evaluate your life? Is there something that you wanted to do and kept postponing it? Did you actually live your life the way you wanted?
Remembering death could be a very positive experience in our lives. You can use "The 15 Minutes Criterion" to overcome many frustrations in life. When you face many of the disappointing situations in your life, you can judge the importance of that frustration by whether or not you will think about it during your last 15 minutes before death. Next time you have a frustrating experience, remember the 15 minutes criterion, and put that experience in its real magnitude.
People who encountered a near death situation tell us that their priorities changed drastically. They say that they started appreciating flowers, human relations, etc. Some even start thinking about God. The question is why should we have to wait for a near death experience to think or feel. And are we going to have a second chance of life or are we not going to have a chance at all.
One day I attended a very interesting speech by Dr. Nizam Peerrwani, the medical examiner of Fort Worth, Texas, about death from a scientific point of view. The following is an extract from his speech:
"Medically, death is only an abstract noun which is meaningful to laymen, lawyers, philosophers and the clergy but which is very inadequate as a biological description. It is, however, a useful and convenient term to describe death as a disintegrating biological process in which we may recognize a beginning and an end, with striking changes in between. Although legally and religiously, there is a precise moment of death, there is really no moment in time at which it occurs. We die in bits and pieces, hence medically, we can only state with reasonable certainty that death occurs when it can be demonstrated that an irreversible disintegrating process has started.
We recognize that there are three independent systems necessary for the maintenance of life, namely respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. Failure of any one system leads to the failure of the other two, and thus death occurs. Since the precise moment of death is a legal definition, there had to be some legal criteria based upon medical understanding of the process of death. Death was defined by the simple criteria of the failure of either the cardiac or the respiratory system. No mention, thus far, was made of the nervous system. In the 1960s, the advent of human organ transplantation caused scrutiny to be directed towards the definition of death. Tissues such as heart valves, bone, skin, cornea, and tendon can be used from a non-heart-beating donor. Other organs such as hearts, kidneys, livers etc. can only be used from heart-beating donors. Committees were formed to examine the exact definition of death, tens of whom were physicians representing various medical specialties such as anesthesiology, neurology, pathology, psychiatry, neurosurgery, general surgery, and internal medicine, as well as lawyers, theologians, and historians of science. The purpose of these committees is to try to distinguish true brain death with irreversible termination of brain function from vegetative state in which a patient in a coma may exhibit spontaneous respiration upon removal of life support systems or may have brain stem reflexes. There is no complete agreement on the exact moment of death, and any existing criteria of death may be challenged in courts. The conclusion is that we do not understand fully the only common fact in our lives. And the irony is there are those who claim relentlessly that they know all the facts in the universe."
How can anyone be arrogant after knowing what is going to happen after being pronounced dead. Medically, body changes become evident in the first and subsequent hours after death. These changes include four steps:
1. Body cooling: body begins to lose its temperature at approximately 1/2 - 1 degrees each hour until it reaches that of the environment, provided that the environment is colder than that of the body.
2. Body stiffening: shortly after death, within 3 - 4 hours, the body begins to stiffen. By the 12th hour after death, the entire body is stiff. Once the body begins to decompose, it then begins to lack firmness.
3. Gravitation of blood: with the termination of the heartbeat, blood begins to collect in the dependent portions of the body after death. Within 8 - 10 hours after death, blood is pooled in all these areas and cannot be displaced if the body is turned over.
4. Decomposition: decomposition involves different processes, which may occur singly or in combination. Decomposition of a body includes the following:
Breakdown of cells and organs caused by slow down of chemical processes by lack of heat.
Bacterial growth in the tissues generally arises from the large bowel where they reside in large numbers during life. Bacterial growth affects the tissues by changing their color, producing multiple different gases, and resulting in gradual softening of the tissues.
Mummification when bodies are buried in dry or warm soil due to dehydration.
Some of the fatty tissues are transformed into a soap-like substance.
Thus the human being decomposes to chemicals worth approximately 5 dollars buried in the ground, while some humans, throughout their lives, have pride worth a million dollars. Death transforms the life of a human being from a state of action without knowledge to a state of knowledge without action. If we truly know that we are going to die, how can we be arrogant or stubborn? Arrogance is the main reason why we do not think straight. If you search for one human trait that produced so much pain and suffering, that took humanity in wrong directions, and that started wars: it is arrogance. Hitler started the Second World War because he believed in the supremacy of the German race. History tells us of pharaohs and kings who placed themselves above everyone else to the extent of making themselves gods. Arrogance is the one single character that destroys peace and security that everyone is trying to achieve. After all, it is the original sin of Satan.
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