The Moment Where Everything Changed

The Moment Where Everything Changed


Cancun, Mexico


Summer, 1999


The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival. Aristotle


It was a beautiful day in Mexico. Families were swimming with children in tow, jet skiers were crisscrossing over the calm waters of the beautiful and warm Atlantic Ocean. There is something about the Atlantic ocean, it’s pristine aquamarine hue and the shallow, warm waters that paints a beautiful picture of adventure and journey unlike any other body of water on earth. Just looking at it awakens the imagination and brings to mind buried treasures and pirate’s loot waiting to be discovered.


I always liked the Atlantic more than the Pacific. Where I live, in Los Angeles, our beaches are the opposite of the beaches found in Miami, Florida or on the eastern seaboard of Mexico. We have beautiful beaches and cliffs as well, but our water comes down from Alaska and the northwest. No matter how hot it is our ocean water is almost always cold. It is refreshing, but never as calm or warm like the shallow waters of the Atlantic on the east coast.


The beaches of Los Angeles are also littered with trash, often too full of people swimming in their underwear, nasty gangbangers, graffiti, homeless people, traffic jams and overcrowding, expensive parking, and the filth of an ocean where we send the sewage of over 20 million people. But if you can deal with all of that and still maintain a positive attitude, it’s still beautiful. And if you take a boat and go to Catalina or a bit deeper into the ocean, it’s always crisp, cold, fresh, and beautiful because it’s still clean a mile from the beach.


But this was a stark contrast to that. Not only is the Atlantic more warm and clear than the oceans of Southern California, it’s also more serene and beautiful. In the Atlantic, you can see small fish swimming past your feet. You see abundance of life and marine creatures small and large, wondering aimlessly in and out of the water and the sugar-like sand.


It seems as though the Atlantic Ocean has a story. Stories of sailors and gold, pirates and lost treasure, battles with giant squid, tails of buried mafia loot. It seems it’s always full of adventure and curiosity. After all this is the same ocean Christopher Columbus sailed centuries ago.


But on this day and in this moment I was more interested in staying alive.


I had decided to take a parasailing trip off the coast in Cancun on this day. Seemingly innocent and beguile were these salesman of the oceans, and not knowing what I was getting myself into I quickly signed my life away in a 5 page, small type contract they had me sign excusing them for killing me, if that is what should happen. Nobody ever reads those stupid contracts, especially when you’re on vacation with friends and on a natural high, seeking adventure and action. However, a few moments later I would regret this decision. These Mexican parasailing “ship and crew” were just uneducated, unskilled workers and they just didn’t know very much about sailing, the wind, the elements, or anything else. We basically signed our lives away to unskilled minimum wage workers.


The next thing I knew I was being pulled underwater at about 35 MPH by a speedboat run by these guys that neither cared about my safety nor having a safe adventure. You see, what happened was instead of the gust opening my chute and inching me upwards, which was what’s supposed to happen, the wind gust slammed me up then quickly back down, where the chute collapsed instead of blowing upwards. I was supposed to be parasailing and getting an amazing view of the ocean. Something amazing happens when you are gliding above the ocean. The view of the calm waters and sand is serene. The families and children become like small insects in that birds eye view; I knew all this because I had done it many times before, safely in Miami and elsewhere. 


However all I got this time was a view of ocean water and salt going up my throat. As I was being dragged underwater, I was trying very hard to not drink the saltwater and drown. The 2-3 minutes this went on seemed like an eternity. You know what they say about your life passing before your very eyes? It’s supposed to look like quick video clips of your childhood growing up, images of your loved ones, or your imagination running wild with what “could have been”. This is partially true. I can tell you that as my life was being dragged underwater, as I was getting closer to death, it wasn’t so much a slow motion video clip I was seeing as very quick flashes of pictures. I saw myself as a kid, my mother chasing after me, me getting into tons of trouble like I always did, then it just stopped. The images stopped because I had to focus 100% of my attention on staying alive by holding my breath as much as possible.


I remember thinking, “No way. I have survived too much to die now. I am stronger than this. I need to have kids and a legacy.” It was a very powerful thought, one that kept me alive. I wasn’t about to win the Darwin award because I was stupid enough to trust these guys with my life. I was going to have children and die at a ripe, old age, after I squeezed every inch of life I could out of my life. I was under water for over a minute until the 3 stooges driving the boat realized I was even being pulled.


Finally the captain of our speedboat must have turned around and noticed that instead of gliding in the air I was underwater. They stopped the boat immediately.


I swam up a few feet as fast as I could. I spit all the water out and took a nice deep breath. I must have drunk about a cup and a half of saltwater, but at that point I was so happy to just breathe and be alive that I didn’t care. I spit as much of it out as I could and took a deep breath.


Fear and Anger turned quickly into thankfulness to God that I was still alive, still breathing, and had all of my legs and hands. My legs were hurt because they got tangled up in the rope as I was being dragged, but I could tell right away there was no permanent damage, thank God.


I got up on the boat and we slowly drifted back towards the shore. The Mexicans that almost killed me were quite apologetic. It didn’t matter. I had almost just died and as I looked around the shore, no one seemed to care. People were oblivious to the fact that I had almost just nearly died. I was being dragged underwater and had almost drowned. People were still tanning, enjoying the sun calmly, reading their novels and magazines, even though some of them did see what happened and were watching me to make sure I was at least OK.


It was then that I realized how important my relationship to God was. I believe that even if I had died, people’s lives would continue that day. They would barely have noticed. This was the Moment Where Everything Changed. I made a decision that day to take life seriously; to thank God for every day I have on this earth, and to make the most of my time and resources.


I realized from then on to take life as the real adventure and learning process that it truly is. Things that were so important to me before like status, education level, and my financial worth all took a back seat to just knowing who I was, not taking life for granted, and having a relationship with my Maker.


Since then, there have been many ups and downs, but that drive has taken me so far as to push myself to getting a Master’s degree in Leadership, a certificate from UCLA in marketing, with honors, and to help my family open 4 more restaurants and have helped give over 200 new employees full-time jobs. I would say my life has become more meaningful, but I am not even close to where I want to be. I’ve since read so many volumes and done so many positive things. But to think all of it could have ended based on one stupid decision is really difficult to fathom. I will never forget that day as long as I live, and I will take this message with me all over the world: To take life seriously, work hard and be the best person you can be, and never take anything for granted, lest God take your breath from you that He freely chooses to give you. Too many people are like I was, taking life for granted, not caring enough, not reading the fine print and easily signing their life away. I have since changed my ways and take life more seriously. I value my life too much now to risk it for dangerous things like that without a safety net. That is not to say I don’t still love adventure and risk, just that it has to be thought out and calculated against living a long and productive life and loving and serving my family to the best of my abilities. 


I don’t think you should spend your life praying for things, but I do believe you should thank God for what He’s given you… but I think the scripture teaches us that we can pray for our dreams, pray for the big things… he’s not a small God; this God is incredible. Joel Osteen


The meaning of life is not to be discovered only after death in some hidden, mysterious realm; on the contrary, it can be found by eating the succulent fruit of the Tree of Life and by living in the here and now as fully and creatively as we can. Paul Kurtz

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