Embrace death in order to live courageously.
The first time I almost died was while I was river rafting down the White Salmon River in the spring of 1991. I was 9. I got sucked out of the boat in a class IV rapid and trapped underneath it, where I met a salmon eye to eye and found stillness in suffocation moments before I was yanked back out by our guide and plopped into the middle of the boat.
One of the lenses from my glasses had popped out in the ordeal.
I didn't move from that spot for the next eight hours.
The second time I almost died was the same as the third and the fourth and the fifth and probably the sixth time. Debilitating asthma rocking me awake gasping for air as though I had been smothered by some invisible force in my sleep.
Death by suffocation perpetually haunted me.
By the seventh time I had made it to 12 years old, and on that occasion I was jolted awake and unable to speak. The only way I could get enough air through to scream my mom's name, alerting her to the urgency of my imminent death, was by the brute force of throwing myself to my knees on my bathroom floor, or over the countertop, or onto the hood of her car.
The moment before the ambulance arrived I had a conversation with what I can only assume was god. Everything had suddenly become serenely light and I was pleading to stay. I was so desperate to have the human experience. I screamed, both at god -- the all-encompassing light -- and to the pitch black night sky under the canopy of the forest we lived in, that I wasn't ready to go yet.
The next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance, being prodded with countless needles. They were sure I was dying, but the truth was: I already had.
Once you've experienced death, you're not afraid to live through anything.
This is the true birthplace of courage. The most courageous among us do not defy death, suffering, heartbreak; we embrace it.