Two years ago today, I watched a friend drown.
I don't talk about this enough – or ever, really. But two years ago today, July 24, 2010 was the worst day of my life.
Weeks prior, my friend Ed asked me to take him out on my boat. Ed managed the garage in my condominium complex, and he was my dogwalker, but he was more – he was a friend. Ed gave me relationship advice and asked for it in return. He chatted with me about his dreams of being in the military, of wanting to impact others. I often woke up to a newly cleaned car or came home to a freshly bathed dog. Ed took care of me – of us all.
Ed knew I had a boat and he had never been on one, so I wanted to take him. Going out with me that day was a dream come true for him. The day began beautifully – he was having the time of his life. He was laughing, singing, driving the boat, and taking photos. After about 45 minutes, we stopped to swim in Lake Erie – he had never been in the lake before either. The last picture I have of him is smiling and waving as he was about to dive into the cool water.
Seconds later, everything changed. Ed was calling my name, gasping for air, telling me he was tired. I tried to move the boat closer, but he wasn't moving. I began screaming “ED!” “ED!!” I threw him a rope. And again. And again and again and again, screaming, “EEDDDDDDD, GET THE ROPE.!! GET THE ROPE, ED, GET THE ROPE!!!!!” Panic set in as the air closed in and his head disappeared, quietly below the surface. “ED! COME BACK UP! EDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!” I waited and screamed and nothing. Nothing.
I will never forget the silence of the lake that day. I will never forget his face as he was swallowed whole. I will never forget the thick choking air.
Two years later, I still can not breathe when thinking about that moment. Two years later, I still think his smiling face will resurface.
I spoke to his sister today and she suggested that I begin talking about that day. That people might heal in hearing how I survived this tragedy. I happened to be entering graduate school that Fall to become an expert in Positive Psychology, the scientific study of well-being. After Ed drowned, I thought about dropping out of school. I was too depressed, too distraught. But I knew Ed would want me to go. He knew that my dream was to become a life coach and motivational speaker. My dream was to help people uncover their life purpose and live fulfilling, happy lives, which is what I now do for a living.
I think about Ed all the time. He inspires me every day to do this work. Ed who helped others every day. That was his purpose. Sadly, I don't think Ed realized it. He was always trying to make more of himself “objectively” – more money, more prestige. Thus, the military. His hopes of enlisting were dashed just two weeks before he died; he was rejected because of a heart condition. Unfortunately, this rejection put Ed in a tail-spin and apparently, he began partying every night. When Ed's autopsy was done, I found out that his body was full of cocaine.
If only Ed had known that he didn't need the military. If only he had known that he had everything he needed already – family who loved him, customers who adored him, a winning smile, a huge heart and a generous spirit that would make him extremely successful. If only he knew that he was ALREADY living his purpose… then maybe he wouldn't have done drugs that fateful morning and maybe he would still be with us.
Ed is a reminder that life purpose isn't a job or a salary. It is the way in which we ARE in the world. It is the impact we have. It the gift that only WE can contribute because we are each wonderfully unique. Each of us has a different set of strengths, talents, passions and experiences. Therefore each of us has a special purpose.
As we mark the two year anniversary of Ed's death, please join me in honoring him for his special gift of jovial service to others. And please think about your own purpose – and how you can share your gifts with the world.
Thank you for listening.