near death

Fear is not unfounded when catastrophe is looming nearby. An encounter with failure can be a near death experience that inspires new perspective.

My father, Rev. Edwin Lynn’s favourite sermon was titled “It Could Have Been Otherwise” which talked about the life affirming impact of a near death experience he had when a tree fell on his car. A number of friends who have survived cancer describe how the experience shifted their life priorities putting greater emphasis on a seizing and appreciating each day.

Such mortal danger confronts businesses as well. Harvard Business Review published a piece “Companies Can’t Be Great Unless They’ve Almost Failed” which describe

  • · “But the more important part of the story, the lesson that applies to all kinds of companies in all sorts of fields, is that every one of these star performers faced at least one ‘near-death experience’ during the course of its long-term success. I don’t mean a few quarters of sluggish growth or a one-time product flop, but a radical shift in its market, a major technology disruption, or a disastrous strategic bet that threatened the company’s very existence. In the case of Balchem, a huge investment in a new coating technology was so slow to pay off that the company lost 53% of its market value in less than 13 months. Ultimately, it took “patience, grit, and good luck” to transform Balchem from a basket case to a superstock… ‘When it comes to innovation,’ she argued, ‘the same hard-won experience, best practices, and processes that are the cornerstones of an organization’s success may be more like millstones that threaten to sink it. Said another way, the weight of what we know, especially what we collectively ‘know,’ kills innovation…Why can knowledge and experience be so lethal to innovation? Because when we become expert, we often trade our ‘what if’ flights of fancy for the grounded reality of ‘what is.’”

The scourge of the pandemic has confronted individuals and businesses with more life-and-death consequences than either have experienced for over a generation.  And the world inches out of the worst impact, the silver linings are to be treasured (eg.  revolution in work practices), the harsh lessons must not be forgotten (eg.  preparedness), and appreciation for simple things should be accentuated to new heights (eg.  an evening with friends).

In my dad’s talk, he reads the Jane Kenyon poem “Otherwise” which poignantly portrays the appreciation that near death experiences evoke:


  • I got out of bed
    on two strong legs.
    It might have been
    otherwise. I ate
    cereal, sweet
    milk, ripe, flawless
    peach. It might
    have been otherwise.
    I took the dog uphill
    to the birch wood.
    All morning I did
    the work I love.
    At noon I lay down
    with my mate. It might
    have been otherwise.
    We ate dinner together
    at a table with silver
    candlesticks. It might
    have been otherwise.
    I slept in a bed
    in a room with paintings
    on the walls, and
    planned another day
    just like this day.
    But one day, I know,
    it will be otherwise