As I sit down to write today, my phone chirps and a notification pops up that just now, the last of the 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave in Thailand have been rescued. In case you did not hear about this, the coach took the boys, ages 11-16, on a hike into a cave that was regularly visited. However, while hiking, a strong rain storm came in and began to flood the cave, blocking their exit and forcing them deeper into the cave. They were trapped for 10 days until rescuers found them and then many more days to get them out using scuba equipment in an intricate process involving hundreds of volunteers from around the world. Unfortunately, one of those rescuers, an ex-Navy seal, died in the process.
The story captivated much of the globe with regular news updates popping up everywhere. The emotional highs and lows experienced by the trapped kids, the coach, their families, the rescuers, the reporters, and all those on the ground must have been incredible. This story captivated us because each of us can envision ourselves in the shoes of those affected and you can imagine what it would be like to be them.
Our family has just returned to the US from an extended season living in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has a national motto called ¨Pura Vida,¨ roughly translated as Pure Life. But the literal translation does not fully captures the concept. I had heard the term Pura Vida before going there, but it took some time for it to penetrate, to understand what it meant.
Pura Vida does not just mean the good life or those high moments when everything is good. Pura Vida means all of life – yes, the highs, but also the lows and those things in between. The phrase is used as a greeting and a goodbye – kind of like Aloha in Hawaii. It is also used after something amazing – like a beautiful sunset or after navigating class IV rapids on a whitewater rafting trip. Sometimes it is used in an almost ironic way, like when the mechanic can´t get a part for a week or there is a giant line at the bank that you have to wait in – sort of a ¨what can you do about it?, thats just life¨ kind of way. But it is also used when something terrible happens – like a death, or a car accident, or other tragedy.
In many ways we have attempted to shelter ourselves from Pure Life. We live in nice homes, with amazing technological advances that make our lives easier. We have climate control, food refrigeration, television, internet, smart phones, etc., and I am grateful for all of these advances. Most Costa Ricans have been able to embrace these changes as well, although we did meet some who are still living without.
But to paraphrase from a movie that was partially filmed in Costa Rica, ¨Life, uh, finds a way.¨ (Jeff Goldblum in original Jurassic Park from 1993). Life finds a way to break through and give us moments of both incredible joy, and also sorrow. Moments of awe and wonder, and moments of anger and jealousy. Moments of tenderness and love and belonging, and moments of frustration and pettiness. We distract ourselves with an endless assortment of diversions, but through this, these moments punch through and change us.
And while the highs are great and make us appreciate life, in many ways, the lows are what define our lives more. I remember a pastor talking about how when he spoke to people looking back at their lives and their defining moments, it was almost always around negative experiences and how they were able to overcome. No one defines their lives by that one time they got a new TV or a new car, even though at the time we thought it was amazing. But we look back and see where things got difficult and how we were able to overcome – a loss of a job, death of a parent, raising a child. These are not easy things and yet they end up becoming the things that make us what we are.
I still remember the first time I had to tell a patient that they most likely had cancer. A blood test came back that was pretty definitive for leukemia, and although it would still need to be confirmed by an oncologist, it was clear that something was very wrong. And I was nervous to tell the person – not knowing how they would react, not knowing the best way to say it, not knowing how to act. I was pretty new in practice and this was a new experience that I never had before. However, once I told the person, I instantly knew that I could still be a support for them – I could listen and share what I knew and I could help them find the resources they needed for going forward. I knew that I could not fix what was going on instantly, but that was not my job. My place was to be there for that person in the best capacity that I could be and to help them through this tough season. That moment changed me for the better and I became a better doctor because of it.
I also remember time sitting on the beach in Costa Rica watching a sunset that was better than the perfect one the day before. With my kids playing in the sand and my wife in the beach chair next to me as we shared a beverage in the warm breeze. I remember the scarlet macaws, toucans, pelicans, and hummingbirds flying around our neighborhood. And I remember the great conversations I had in my friend Richard´s house talking about our families and our lives and philosophy and religion.
And I imagine that most of you could think of events in your life that were Pura Vida moments. Times that stand out from the mostly repetitive rhythm of our life. Moments that make you stop and appreciate the opportunity to experience them. Or moments that were so overwhelming at the time, you are only able to appreciate years later. And while these big moments are what often define us the most, Pura Vida is found in the day to day normalcy as well. As much as we try to avoid it, life will find us.
The Pure Life means appreciating and experiencing all of it. We never know when we are going to be in a situation like that Thai soccer team when a seemingly regular day turns wild on us and leads to a struggle for life. Or experiencing the relief of the families today knowing that their sons are safe and coming home. Or like the family of the rescuer who lost his life in the cave, who are experiencing the intense grief of the loss of their loved one.
We also don’t know if it is the last opportunity to share a beverage and a few minutes with someone you love and reconnect with them, so that we remember why life is worth living. Or if the sunset tonight will be the most perfect one that has ever existed.