Although it seems to me like it couldn’t have been more than a couple years ago, Jan. 15 marked five years since Captain Sully Sullenberger famously piloted the emergency landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River near Midtown Manhattan in 2009. Through his quick thinking and expert maneuvering, Sullengerger’s “Miracle on the Hudson” saved the lives of the 150 passengers and five crew members on board when the commercial jet he was piloting lost power after striking a flock of geese shortly after takeoff.
The shy pilot is widely regarded as a hero for keeping his cool during the frightening ordeal, and among the many accolades bestowed upon him, New York City bars created a cocktail in his honor. The “Sully” is made up of two shots of Grey Goose Vodka and a splash of water, and it sounds like a great way to toast the joy of being alive. Incidentally, it also sounds like roughly half the amount of vodka needed to get most folks through a domestic flight in the days following the highly publicized scare.
On the anniversary of the event, I was able to catch a TV news segment featuring survivors of Flight 1549 talking about how the incident changed their lives. Pretty much all of them said the brush with death had a tremendous impact on their priorities and that even five years later, they were still acutely aware of the tremendous value of life and how little time we all have to live and love. They started taking their “bucket lists” a lot more seriously and made a point to actually begin doing all those things they’ve always wanted to do.
It was an interesting and rather inspiring segment, but I was glad my kids weren’t around to watch. In several weeks they’ll be experiencing their very first trip on an airplane and, coincidentally, we’re actually going to take care of something that’s been at the very top of my own bucket list for many years now: camping and road-tripping through the desert and watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon.
The kids are excited about the flight, but also a little nervous. I could easily imagine them watching Sully’s dramatic landing and then turning to me with wide eyes, asking if that could happen to our plane.
“Aww, honey,” I’d say. “Don’t worry yourself over that. We’re flying over the desert so there’s pretty much no way our plane could make an emergency landing on a large body of water.” Then I’d offer them candy to distract them before they followed that logic all the way to its potentially explosive conclusion.
I don’t care to spend much time worrying about astronomically unlikely things like going down in a plane, but it is always nice to get a little reminder of how precious life really is and how important it is to make your time count while you still have the chance. The last thing any of us wants is to spend our final days and moments feeling sadness and bitter regret about the things we didn’t do rather than savoring joyful memories of all the things we did.
Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse who spent years caring for patients during the final days of their lives, recently released a book entitled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” When speaking to her patients about the things they wish they had done differently, she encountered the same themes over and over again:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. The most common regret was people who realized that due to their own choices, they had gone through their entire life failing to honor their own dreams. When time runs out or your health fails you, it’s often too late to go back and do that thing you always promised yourself you were going to do.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. Numerous patients, and especially men, regretted spending day after day struggling to make more money than they really needed rather than spending more time with family and doing the things they enjoy. In the end, no amount of money can make up for missing out on enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people go through life holding in resentments to keep the peace with the people in their lives, failing to realize that honest communication might have brought them closer in their relationships.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Patients deeply regretted letting treasured friendships slip away due to neglect and the responsibilities of a busy life. In the final days and hours of life, no one cares anymore about money or status, and those things suddenly seem meaningless. In the end, all that matters is love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Many people don’t realize until it’s too late that happiness is merely a choice they had the power to embrace all along. People regret years spent clinging to negative patterns and mindsets and wish they could have just let go and allowed themselves to laugh more and enjoy life.
Other extremely common regrets people experience in old age are missing opportunities due to fear, failing to tell people how much they love them, wasting time in bad relationships, not spending more time playing with their kids, worrying too much, not traveling more, and not being present enough to fully enjoy the good times.
We can all learn so much from the regrets of others, and it’s nice to get a little reminder sometimes to keep us on course to living the best life we can. Slow down, pour yourself a Sully, and share a toast to life with someone you love. Most importantly, enjoy.