September 23 2016
Life after death. What if…
4 years ago I witnessed death in my arms and saw what fighting for your last breath of air really was like.
I had been on a dive with my girlfriend and we went too deep for too long. Too irresponsible.
After an emergency ascent I saw her bloodshot eyes, her pale face and her blue lips as she was gasping for air. I was two meters away and my spine was screaming, my longs were burning but the panic in her eyes made me forget any pain I had at that moment. I knew our lives were over as we knew it.
I’ll spare you the horrific details but her last words, “I am dying” as she looked me straight in my eyes, a couple of minutes later, bleached everything to what remained in my memory.
All the feelings, all the pain. I remember all, but that moment was her life last breathe.
24 hours later I was paralyzed. Nitrogen was blocking my spinal cord and I was a partial
paraplegic. I had the bends, caisson disease. I knew as soon as the neurologist said that I might not walk again that my fight had just begun.
Something switched. I had changed. Defying I heard my mind say:
“You don’t know what I’m capable off!”
She had not died so I could feel sorry for myself. She did not fight till her last breath so I could be a hopeless being. I needed to build a new life. And live for two, this time. So I pledged my promise to live for two, for the both of for the rest of my life.
During physical therapy sessions it was soon clear that I would not accept the part of being a helpless man for the rest of my life, however there was no social structure to motivate me, to inspire me or to help me be the strongest I could be.
And then, after seven months I was send home…
After being in a clinic surrounded with people dealing with the same kind of struggles. I was suddenly alone. Very alone. I live in the middle of nowhere. With my parents. Who were at work during the day. So I had some time to think and be confronted with my demons.
Depression finally hit after months of survival. Nine months after death. I was crying for the living.
The questions that kept coming back were:
Had I loved enough?
Had I gave enough?
Had I mattered at all?
Had I really gave it the best I could have given? Could I have saved her? I knew all the answers. I just had to get them clear in my head. For good this time.
I had my responsibility of acceptance.
I had one angel on my side though. My physical therapist, Mirjam. She would really, and I mean really, really, really, push my buttons by telling me I couldn’t go on this way. I had to do something more useful with my life. Survival wasn’t enough. I had to find a job. Deal with the physical pain. Have a purpose. But I was losing hope.
I kept wondering; What if I could take control of life and steered it the way my ship was meant to sail? What if I took control of my life, my body, my future… What if I took responsibility for my own actions? What if I could give meaning to all this? I should have been death, but I wasn’t. Now how am I going to live?
I collapsed on the bathroom floor and cried till there were no more tears left. There in my darkest moment I decided to rise and never fall again. I had made a promise to her.
The next day, while I was stretching my numb limbs on the therapy mat waiting for my physical therapy to begin, I watched an elderly lady, misses Granville, adjust her prosthesis. She was about to stand up from her wheelchair as her physical therapist approached to help her, her words sounded clear as she was talking to me. And she blew life in an idea I was breeding for about a week..
“I might be incomplete, but I can still function”
She said as she brushed the young man off.
And that’s when it hit: Everybody deserves a second chance at life. 2ndLife. 2ndLife Curaçao.
Immediately tons of questions raised. There was a small hiccup, I was lacking the funds. My social insurance pay was a whopping 160,- guilders (less than 80 US dollars every 2 weeks.) How am I going to do something for people who need a second chance at life? How am I even going to help myself?
Sustainability is environment, economy and society.
I wanted to help the society, but I have no economy. The environment, The environment. We are throwing tons away every year. Garbage, money, lives. Garbage, money, lives. It kept repeating itself in my head.
Our environment needs help.
Our economy needs help.
Our society needs help.
I need help.
We all need help.
As an old dive, bike and hiking guide the connection was easily made.
I will use garbage, recycle it into money and give the society, people with a disability, a second chance. An unexpected impulse to our economy, nobody can be against that? We will create and give a second chance to each other.
2ndLife Curaçao found its first two suppliers in my mom’s garbage bin and my dad’s yard. With some old paint my business was born. I started collecting glass jars, squash, coconuts and cans. There were tons of cans. Cans are being thrown away daily. Tons. And they can’t be recycled effectively.
But soon I saw trash turn into an art.
My recycled art. I found my purpose. I would recycle life.
With these cans I could bring hope to some dark days and maybe, maybe even more…
Social entrepreneurship, or how I like to call my business; a sustainable enterprise, is easier to create than you think but not as easy to sell. We think too much in limitations and difficulty, that is our human behavior. I know, I did it for years… However, we need to raise our social consciousness.
The first few, respectable, people I pitched my idea to responded with “What are a few handicapped people going to do?” So that’s where the Pirate comes in. I’m good at rebelling at injustice. So I build a social media following that would support my newly created environment and started promoting and selling my “garbage”.
Won a price, stood on the cover of a magazine and even managed to buy me an amazing car that would fit all my cans and crafts.
The only way for us, as a humanity, to become more sustainable is when we raise our standards. Society is not them, it’s us.
Your standards are not just taught, they’re created. By you. And your standards are stuck!
Social entrepreneurs drive social innovations and transformation and it’s finally becoming the trend. While a while back I would be laughed at, I suddenly have restaurants, shops and business owners interested. Not just because it’s the cool thing to do, but they realize how important it is what we leave behind. Some even hope to turn 125 in 70 years and still be able to walk a clean beach and receive a retirement cheque. We are making money with what normally would go to waste.
I’m getting business owners collecting cans, sending their children to learn. Other NGO’s starting to ask questions: How does sustainable thinking work?
It’s a growing global platform with lots of people who are improving our world.
We bring a message of hope and unity.
In the future I hope to have a big work floor filled with people who are recycling materials like cans, pallets and other natural materials in to local art and souvenirs. No social security but a social job to raise their value for life. To raise our society’s value for life.
Sustainable enterprises led by social entrepreneurs is the way to an inspiring future to our young ones. And the most beautiful part is, we can all be part of this.
What if we changed the standards of our society?
We would raise our economy.
We would save our environment
We would create a sustainable society.
There are examples of social enterprises that are over a 100 years old. We should know by know that our society is measured by how we treat our weaker members and the environment we live in.
I am just playing a small part and I still live with my parents. For now…
I’m perfectly happy in the middle of nowhere, where I live. Where I fought my demons and conquered them. I don’t want these stages and bright lights. I don’t care for the meetings and attention. I want that smile from somebody that learned how to improve his or her family’s life. By creating something out of nothing and saving our environment while we’re at it.
I nearly saw two lives slip between my fingers and the world we lived on…
I’m taking responsibility for my own actions.
Please take yours.
NOTE: This was the official transcript for my TEDx talk september 23rd 2016. The whole event can be watched *here* (at 2.50).
Music of Choice: Evanescence – My Immortal
You used to captivate me by your resonating light
Now I’m bound by the life you left behind
Your face, it haunts my once pleasant dreams
Your voice, it chased away all the sanity in me
These wounds won’t seem to heal
This pain is just too real
There’s just too much that time cannot erase
When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears
When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears
If you would like to receive the presentation used, please mail email@example.com