Looking back at my years on this planet, there were so many times that I should have been swept up in the cold, clammy, clutches of death. Starting with that night in the cemetery when I was twelve years old.
Like most young boys, my friends and I were extremely competitive. Sadly, for us, we were into “competitive drinking”. You know, how much can you drink, how fast? While others in our school were competing in sports, academics, or music, our game of choice was drinking alcohol, fast!
That night I was being challenged by an upstart trying to beat my record of downing a pint of Gin in thirty-minutes. The upstart, Bobby, said he had been practicing with his mom’s gin and he knew my record was about to be broken. John, Danny, and a couple others were there to witness the winner of the challenge that Bobby and I would not remember. A skinny kid that couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds, Bobby was full of drive and tenacity.
Surrounded by headstones in the darkest part of the cemetery with only a full-moon and a flickering light beaming from inside an old mausoleum lighting our way; the bottle of Beefeaters Gin glistened in Bobby’s hand as he unscrewed the cap. With his eyes closed, he took his first big gulp, then another, and another, until it was empty. Big John cried out, “We have a new record! Start to finish, Bobby drank the whole thing in twenty-three minutes!” As Bobby fell to the ground mumbling a brief victory cry while passing out, the group looked at me with eyes of eager expectation.
My memory of the first time I set the record, was not good. It took me days to recover from a night I still don’t remember. Now, Bobby had knocked seven minutes off a record that I hoped would last years, not months. Thinking, “Well, a challenge is a challenge” as Danny handed me my pint of Gin with that doubtful glimmer in his eyes.
Opening the bottle and remembering the smell of evergreens that had seemed to stay in my nose for days the last time, I was wondering, “How do people drink this stuff every day?”
Taking a deep breath, closing my eyes, I chugged the Gin down. I had learned to pour the alcohol down the back of my throat to avoid the gagging that comes from your taste buds, making even Gin go down quick and smooth.
After throwing the bottle down, the group of guys started screaming. That was the last thing I remember, until someone poured cold water on my face while frantically calling my name. “Mark, Mark! Are you okay?” I was so groggy I couldn’t figure out who it was, or what was going on. Then, everyone ran away, leaving me alone on the grass, next to a tombstone.
Fading in and out of consciousness, I knew I was in trouble, but I couldn’t move, talk, or even crawl. I do remember praying. I’m not sure what I was praying, but there is no doubt that God wrapped me in His Grace that night. I should have died, but He had different plans.
It would be great to tell you that I learned my lesson, but, no, I didn’t. While breaking Bobby’s record with a fifteen minute chug-a-lug cured me from ever drinking Gin again, I went on to drinking Scotch, smoking pot, and choosing partying over school. My life was consumed in self-pity, looking for answers in my ability and my understanding.
While becoming more cautious in my use of alcohol, my life was filled with pushing the envelope and courting death; car crashes, broken necks, heart failure and emergency brain surgery all took me to the brink of the end of my life here on earth. Every time, God answered my prayers with His grace.
In my fifties, I wasn’t drinking or smoking pot, but I had found another way to kill myself: Food! On my fifty-first birthday I weighed 420 pounds and had just got out of week’s stay in the hospital where doctors told me multiple times a day, if I didn’t get the weight off, I would die soon.
My encounters with death had emboldened me, making me arrogant about my mortality. Almost dying twice before my twentieth birthday, and several “close calls”, led me to see myself as invincible. Thinking “If all that stuff couldn’t kill me, food certainly was no threat either.” Ignoring the fact that I was pre-diabetic, with severe sleep apnea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that required a C-PAP and oxygen supplement machine, along with extremely high blood pressure, food, almost killed me once again.
This time, God sent His Grace through an angel. My mom.
Growing up, my sister, brother and I were blessed to have a wonderful mother that believed in each one of us deeply, giving us so much strength. She always wanted us to live our lives to the fullest; and would never miss an opportunity to tell us that we could do, and be, anything we wanted.
Standing next to the hospital bed, my mom was dying. She had fought the good fight in a life that hadn’t been too kind to her. Still, she showed us all what it meant to persevere in the face of adversity. Her last battle started with lung cancer some fifteen years before she passed. Then, ten years after beating the Cancer in her lungs, it crept into her brain causing a tumor and subsequent brain surgery. Like the trooper she always was, she fought back, and gained five more years with her beloved Grandkids, and the family she was so dedicated to.
Now, on her death bed, she was succumbing to another bout with brain cancer. Knowing her fate, she held my hand and said "Mark, please promise me that you'll lose all the weight and take care of yourself. Your family loves you and needs you."
That was so much like her. Here she was dying, and her main concern was about me, my health, and my future! I miss that lady every day. So, the end of the story is that I promised her I would lose the weight.
No doubt if I hadn't kept my promise, I'd be dead. Turns out that was just the beginning of my personal reformation. All glory to God as He was "Ordering" my steps, even through the loss of my wonderful Mom.
Today, my life has a single purpose: To bring Glory to God in everything I do.
It took me several knocks on Death’s Door to figure out that God wanted me here on earth for something. So, ever since that day in 2014, almost dying yet again, waking up in the Mayo Clinic after emergency brain surgery, I have dedicated everything I am and everything I will be, to Him, …
… for it is only By the Grace of God, There Go I!
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This story appeared in God’s Good News Gazette and is used with permission.