In a Heartbeat

In a Heartbeat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

In a Heartbeat

It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons.

~Friedrich von Schiller

I swore I would never play golf. The game is the direct opposite of everything I’m wired to do. I’m blessed with many things, but one of them isn’t patience. Patience I have to work at. What I love is speed — fast boats, fast cars, fast results. During the three decades I’ve been helping transform the quality of people’s lives, my message has always been the same: You can change in a heartbeat. How? You can change your focus. If you change the stories you tell yourself, you can change the meaning of what happens to you.

The story I always told myself about golf was that it was slow and boring. But my boys started to play golf, and I wanted to do things with them, so I took up golf. Even though I hated it. But then I thought: “Why spend the time if you’re not going to enjoy the game?”

I focused on what I liked about the sport. Golf courses are built in some of the most beautiful places in the world, so I could enjoy the view. Then a buddy pointed out that I could play by my own rules. If I didn’t want to play all eighteen holes, I could play six. I could play only the best, most scenic holes. Pretty soon I was thinking, “Hey, this sport is great!”

When you learn to change your focus, it helps you feel gratitude for what you already have — and that is truly the key to happiness.

What I am most grateful for in my life is my beautiful wife, Sage. She has given me more joy than everything else combined. And the only people I love as much as my wife and my children are my father-in-law and mother-in-law. I had four fathers, all of them dead, and my mother has passed, too. So Sage’s parents are my mother and father.

So once I learned to love golf, I wanted to share it with my Pops. He’s a very strong man, a good, honorable man who spent his life in the lumber business and never had time for something like golf. But I got him playing and before long he was hooked.

One day he said to me, “Tony, let’s go play golf!” Then he named a golf course that was a two-hour drive away, and not a particularly great course. I had to catch a flight to London first thing the next morning, but I could see how much he wanted to go, and I loved him so much I didn’t want to let him down. So off we went.

When we got there the course was even uglier than I’d expected, and I wasn’t playing well. Then suddenly, just as we were about to tee off, three deer came prancing out of the woods and stopped right in front of us. They stood there staring, and we stared back. It was a perfect moment, suspended in time. Then, just as suddenly, the deer took off and were gone.

As we walked back to the car I remember thinking, “You know, you’ll never know how long you’re going to have the people you love.”

I immediately forgot the game and the lousy course, and Pops and I started having an even better time together. When we pulled up to the last hole, my father jumped out of the car and said “I’ll go first.” He took two steps, then spun around and looked at me. His eyes rolled back in his head until all I could see were the whites, then he toppled over like a big tree falling in a clear cut, crashing straight back and smacking his head on the ground. In that moment everything in my world changed, and it happened unbelievably fast.

I didn’t know what to do. I’d never been trained in CPR. But I knew he would die if I didn’t do something. My whole nervous system started speeding up and I remembered from somewhere that I had to clear his airway and pull back his tongue to keep him from suffocating. I did that, but there was no breath in him. So I started giving him mouth-to-mouth, like I’d seen in the movies, but it wasn’t working. He was limp and changing color. I screamed for help but there was nobody who could hear me. Terrible thoughts were rushing through my mind. “If I hadn’t taken him golfing we wouldn’t be here in this godforsaken place! I can’t let him die right in front of me, without his wife and daughter by his side!”

Then something popped into my head out of nowhere, a random CNN news show that I’d seen years ago, that I had no reason to be watching. They were talking about people who could have been saved if they’d been given chest compressions instead of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. There is already oxygen in the blood, and intense chest compressions can force it into the brain, and it’s the brain that you’ve got to keep alive. So I started chest compressions, but it wasn’t working. After three or four minutes he was still lifeless.

I was going crazy now, and I just snapped and started shouting, “You’re not dying now! Not on my watch! You are going to be with your family!” I said a prayer and then started to smash his chest, pounding down with incredible ferocity. I pumped and pumped and then all of a sudden he coughed. And then there was a breath. He still couldn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t speak, so I grabbed his hand and I said, “Squeeze my arm right here if you understand what I’m saying right now.” He squeezed it.

Finally help arrived, and we eventually got my father to a hospital. There was no brain damage, and they never could tell us what happened or why. There had been some kind of arrhythmia, followed by cardiac arrest. His heart had stopped, and then he came back to life.

There are many ways to tell this story. I wanted to blame myself for teaching my father to play golf and then taking him somewhere so far from help. But then I thought: Who did I think I was? Who put me in charge of what happens? A better way to look at it was to consider the timing of his heart attack as a gift. What if we didn’t play golf, and he was driving his car when he passed out? What if he was in his workshop, alone when it happened? I wouldn’t have been there to save him.

For some people, when an ambulance races by and just misses them, the story they come up with is, “I was almost killed.” Other people say, “Wow, God protected me today.” The quality of your life is not the quality of your events, it is the meaning you attached to your events.

The story I choose to tell myself is that my father is alive and God guided it. I got to be part of that process, so I get more time with him. I’m going to value every moment we have together, even more than before. And we’ll be spending some of that time playing golf.

~Anthony Robbins

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