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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Column: A toast to life

Every time I’m on an airplane, just as it’s about to leave the runway and enter the open air, I send a little prayer to God. I thank him for the life I have and ask him to protect the pilot and passengers and to deliver me safely to my destination.

Even though a person is more likely to die from a car accident than from a flight gone awry, there’s something about exchanging the security of the ground under my feet for the uncertain, mysterious skies that brings my mortality to the forefront of my mind.

This past Sunday, a flight carrying 153 people from the city of Abuja to the city of Lagos in Nigeria crashed into a building as it was approaching the airport. There are no survivors. In an instant, due to unforeseen circumstances, 153 individual life journeys came to an abrupt end. These were people with pasts, friends and families, and aspirations for the future. They’re gone.

I can’t help but be shaken up by stories like this one. They make me think about tomorrow. Not tomorrow as in the distant-future-20-years-from-now tomorrow, but literally, the day that comes after today. I think about going to sleep and never waking up, or stepping out of my apartment door for the last time. I think about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and making a fateful, or should I say fatal, decision that brings my life to an end.

I don’t think it’s healthy or productive to walk around day in and day out with the thought of the possibility of your untimely death in your head. What are you going to do, stay locked up in your room all day to avoid danger? No, that would be impractical and you would die from starvation or insanity, or both.

However, every once in awhile, it’s absolutely necessary to take a moment and appreciate the fact that you’re here on this earth. No matter what your circumstances are, you are alive. You are more than a memory in someone’s mind, a name on a page, a social security number or a face in a photograph. You exist, right now.

I have a lump in my throat as I write this final column, because I think of all of the people who never made it to 20, or the people who were here yesterday or last week but never made it to June 6, 2012. It’s nothing short of a miracle that you and I are here today. That is why I invite you to celebrate life with me.

I’m celebrating this past school year, I’m celebrating this past weekend, I’m celebrating this very moment that I’m currently experiencing. I’m gratefully looking back on the amazing opportunities I’ve had, the wonderful variety of people I’ve gotten to meet or know on a deeper level and the places I’ve been. I’m even thankful for the hard times, the very hard times and the mistakes I’ve made. I’m thinking about how much I’ve grown and how far I’ve come.

Yes, death is an inevitable part of life, and it’s depressing to think about it, but celebrating my current state of being alive takes that negativity away. When I realize how much I take my world for granted, and how blessed I am to be able to take my world for granted as I do, I can’t help but smile, shake my head and feel very, very grateful.

Are you celebrating life? Or are you letting the daily distractions and stresses of the world weigh you down and turn you away from the big picture? What are you celebrating? What have you accomplished, what have you learned, what are you lucky enough to be doing at this very second? (Reading an amazing, super deep, thought-provoking column, of course).

And what is looking at the past and the present without looking at the future? Even if tomorrow isn’t promised, there’s nothing with having a little hope and dreaming big. I hope that you can look ahead and be excited for what’s to come. Here’s a toast to life. Cheers!

PAMELA NONGA NGUE can be reached at pamnonga@ucdavis.edu.

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