The Last Breath

“Brace yourself for an inconvenient truth about being human.” Dareen pauses to prepare his audience of nearly 2,000 gleeful participants for the moment they have been waiting all weekend for.“

This is the moment I’m sure many of you signed up for!” He looks audience members directly in the eyes; sitting in their seats and standing around the large hotel ballroom. He’s silent as he makes his way from one side of the room to the other, admiring the perfectly aligned chairs his brilliant team of assistants and production crew have maintained throughout the entire weekend.

“We’re going to do a little exercise in a moment to drive this next point home. This is going to come as a huge shock to many of you, but here’s the inconvenient truth about being human…” He pauses again, still making his way through his massive audience and finally up to the stage.

He can tell some participants in his seminar are starting to get annoyed with the constant pausing. Dareen smiles gleefully, knowing he has his audience exactly where they need to be for this next important part of his seminar.

“You have zero control over what happens in your life!” He pauses yet again to scan the faces of the audience. “I can tell, most of you are shocked! But Dareen, I came here to gain power in my life. I came here to gain control of my life. This isn’t what I signed up for, and you’re dropping this in my lap on Sunday afternoon when the seminar is almost over! How many of you are thinking something along those lines?” He pauses as a few participants begins nodding their heads.

“Show of hands.” Nearly everyone in the audience raises their hand.

“Great! Now, I said we were going to do an exercise to drive this point home, and now we’re going to do that.” A large digital clock slowly drops from above the stage to just 3 feet above Dareen’s head. It shows 1:00.

“I want everyone sitting upright. If you’re standing, please have a seat. I don’t want you to injure yourself.” He waits while everyone standing goes back to their chair in the perfectly aligned rows of chairs.

“Now, take in a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. Then exhale loudly.” The audience follows his instructions precisely.

“Now, we’re going to do that again. Only this time, we’re going to use this clock conveniently placed above my head to help you count out a minute in your head while you hold your breath.” He hears a number of participants start laughing. “I can tell that some of you are already getting where this is going, but don’t ruin it for those who don’t get it yet.”

“Please. Let them get it on their own.” Dareen pleads with the seminar participants who he sees laughing.

Dareen leads them through the breathing exercise. Shortly after 20 seconds, dozens of people in the audience begin breathing again. After 30 seconds, it’s scores of participants. 40 seconds, hundreds. 50 seconds, all but one person has begun breathing frantically.

“Is there anyone still holding their breath?”

The hand of an old man raises in the back of the room.

“Okay, you keep your hand up while you’re still holding your breath.” The audience begins to chuckle and turn to see if they can catch a glimpse of the old man still holding his breath.

As the digital clock continues to count, Dareen smiles. 30 seconds… “Someone make sure he’s not turning blue.” The audience laughs. One of the production staff walks over to check on the man, who gives him a thumbs up.

90 seconds, the audience is beginning to chatter as Dareen smiles on stage, “I once had a mountain climber in the audience who was able to hold his breath for 5 and 1/2 minutes. We could be in for a long wait, so please be patient.”

180 seconds, members of the seminar are standing up and trying everything they can to catch a glimpse of the old man. Each of the audience members who has interacted with the old man during the seminar tells the people around them a story the old man had shared with them. The stories are as colorful as a fairytale, ranging from the old man being in the last Great War of Europe in his 20s to being a fishing boat captain when he was in his 30s, a tech company CEO and venture capitalist during his 40s, traveling the world on a motorcycle during his 50s, competing and winning the Hawaiian Ironman every year of his 60s, to the pain and anguish of having lost all his brothers and sisters and half of his nieces and nephews during his 70s, and now searching for meaning in his life as he begins his 80s having been diagnosed with cancer.

300 seconds, the old man finally drops his hand and begins to breath normally, as if he hadn’t been holding his breath for nearly seven minutes. Dareen leads the audience in an eruption of applause! “Please come up on stage!” Dareen shouts as the audience gives the old man a standing ovation while he slowly makes his way to the front of the massive room all the way from the back row.

Dareen keeps applauding the man as he makes his way up the stairs. He reads his name tag. “Everyone, please welcome Gabriel to the stage. Gabriel how many years young are you?”

“I just turned 81, Dareen.”

The audience collectively shouts, “wow!”

“That’s impressive, Gabriel. Very impressive! You topped everyone who has ever done this exercise. Before I get to the point of the exercise,” Dareen looks out into the audience, “which I think everyone in the audience is getting at this point. Before we get to that, I’d like you to share what you were thinking about during that 5 minutes.”

“Well, Dareen. The first minute I was thinking this was going to be a breeze, and I didn’t really understand what the point of the exercise was. Since holding my breath for a minute was easy for me.”

Dareen interjects, “Clearly, one minute was no match for you!” The audience laughs.

“80 years was no match for me!” Gabriel shouts with joy!

The audience explodes with applause!

“Then I started thinking about life, Dareen. I started thinking about my dear family who I’ve outlived all of them and even some into the next two generations. I started thinking of all the men and women I saw killed in wars and all the petty squabbling between neighbors and nations. I thought of the injustices I’ve seen in my life, how the rich will steal from the poor and the needy, how people will align themselves with what they believe is just only to find out it’s a fraud. I then started thinking about all of the amazingly beautiful things and places I have seen in my life. And then I thought of the most beautiful of them all, my late wife, Claire.”

Half the audience begins crying, and even Dareen’s eyes begins to well with tears.

Gabriel’s voice begins to shake. “I thought of my beloved, Claire. I though of how just last year I was holding her hand in our bed as she took her last breath, and how blessed I was to share that moment with her. I felt like I was back in that moment just before she told me she loved me with her last breath. And I thought of how her and I had promised each other we’d go together, holding hands. And then I thought about how I failed her. And so I thought, what would be more perfect than for this moment to be my last breath too. To make up for that failure.”

People in the audience can be heard sobbing as Gabriel shares his experience.

“I tried, Dareen. I tried damn hard, and I’m a tough man, you see. I’ve been through it all. I’m strong.” Gabriel breaks down and wraps his arms around Dareen and sobs uncontrollably as Dareen consoles him.

“I’m the toughest son of a bitch you’ll ever meet. I tried, Dareen. I tried so hard, and then I heard my sweet Claire’s voice, and she told me to wise up, and then it hit me, Dareen.” He pulls back from Dareen.

“What’s that, Gabriel?”

“Everything I thought about. Every moment I relived, and every breath I took and shared… Even the last breath my beloved Claire shared with me…” Gabriel chokes up again and then continues, “I had no more control over it than my own breath, Dareen.”

Gabriel and Dareen smile as they stare deeply into each other’s eyes, having reached a point of full understanding of the exercise.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, another round of applause for Gabriel!”

Gabriel walks off the stage and down the stairs as the audience give him another standing ovation, tears flowing from their eyes.

“That’s exactly what this exercise is about. You might be an 81 year old bad ass, but you have no more control over the events in your life than you have over your own breath. It’s how you react to the events… that’s what you own! What you do with what’s happening in the world around you, near and far… and even what’s happening within your very own body that… you… have… no… control over… That’s what’s yours! That’s what you own! Your reaction is the only thing in this world that is truly yours. Now, own that? You’ll own your reality!”