Sunday, 07 December 2008

Life is a precious gift

As I barbecued a large salmon one summer evening, my bare foot happened to stand upon a bee. The bee struck out, thrusting its stinger deep into my foot. My son helped to remove the stinger and brought me an anti-histamine.

Within moments my vision began to blur. I passed out, moved in and out of a state of semi-consciousness. Hatzolla (a Jewish voluntary medical emergency organisation) arrived with an ambulance within minutes. I breathed the oxygen as I travelled the short distance to the nearest hospital. The hospital was ready and waiting. I was rushed straight through to the emergency unit. Adrenaline was pumped into my body and electrodes and other monitoring devices were attached to my body. The attending doctor monitored my progress throughout the night. My blood pressure almost disappeared. By morning I had recovered enough to return home where I continued to rest.

I didn't realise quite how close to death I was. The doctor later told me that it was touch and go. She did not know that I would survive. Without Hatzolla and my special doctor (she is now my GP) I would not be here to tell the story.

For the next few weeks my response to the standard "how are you" became "I am alive".

Life is a precious gift. It is a gift that we only get to use once. We spend time worrying about trivialities, about wrongs that we have experienced, about money. But it is only when faced with death or the death of someone close that we realise just how much life means to us. Life is sacred.

Life tends to be taken for granted. Some people reject the sacred gift and take their own lives. Others kill so as to steal the victim's money.

A number of years ago the journey to the summit of Mount Everest caught the attention of the media. Inevitably, some members of the party did not return. Other members of the expedition were not particularly upset by this. They themselves had been close to death. They had to step over bodies while ascending the mountain. Injured people were left to die as any attempt at a rescue would have jeopardised the ascent. To these adventurers reaching the summit was more important than life itself. If they care so little about their own lives, why should they care about others?

By contrast, there are numerous stories about people risking their lives to save others. Some do this on a daily basis in the line of duty in the fire service, sea rescue, the police and many others. Stories of heroism emerged following the attack on the twin towers or the tsunami that swept through Thailand taking many lives. These heroes know that life is a sacred gift. These are people that will do anything to save a life.

The Talmud teaches us that "To save one life is as if you have saved the world." Not only have you save a single life, but all the possible lives that will follow from that life.

Each life is precious. Jewish law recognises this to the extent that saving life takes precedence over all other laws.

Life is sacred. Life is a precious gift.

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