If Not Now, When?

“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”

Chuck Palahniuk

 

Renowned blues musician Stevie Ray Vaughan once had a strange dream — he was at a funeral, standing amongst thousands of weeping mourners. Only he didn’t know who they were mourning for.

Only four years earlier, Stevie attended his father’s funeral. He was in the middle of a big tour, and rushed home upon hearing the news of his father’s passing. Just as soon as the funeral was over, he was rushed back into a jet to finish the tour. 

It couldn’t be his father that these thousands of people were mourning for. As he looked closely, the man in the casket was himself. It was his own funeral that he was attending.

Upon waking up, Stevie felt “terrified, yet almost peaceful”, according to what he had told his band and crew members. But no time to worry now, he had another big show to play — a very special one, as he shared the stage in East Troy, Wisconsin, with blues icons Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, as well as his first musical inspiration, his brother Jimmie Vaughan. 

On stage, Stevie looked happy and rejuvenated as he played the blues. He seemed incredibly healthy too, as he was proudly in his fourth year of sobriety, finally having learned to love himself and find inner peace, and to put an end to his long struggle with drugs and alcohol addiction. It was almost a miracle for a man who began stealing his father’s drinks at as early an age as six years old. 

What prompted him to finally change?

A month into the tour after his father’s funeral, Stevie hit rock bottom. “I woke up one day in very bad shape,” he said. “Woke up crying, scared to death and didn’t know why. Physically, I was a wreck. Mentally, spiritually and emotionally it was chaos.”

Until that point, he consumed 4 grams of cocaine every day, and his morning ritual consisted of mixing cocaine and whisky together. This addiction was tearing his stomach apart, and he began vomiting blood. Stevie made it through only two more shows, and decidedly had to cancel the tour. His doctor told him that he was just a month away from dying, and there and then, Stevie checked into rehab.

Since sobering up, Stevie had worked on improving virtually all areas of his life. He played better, he reconnected with his friends and family, especially his Mom and brother Jimmie. Best of all, he dedicated himself to helping and inspiring others to do the same for themselves. He wrote songs about recovery, he attended meetings with recovering addicts at home as well as during his tours, unselfishly sharing his lessons for getting better. 

He had learned to live again, and he was at his happiest. “Everything about living is a lot better,” he said in an interview. “Even on my worst day now it’s a whole lot better than my best day then.”

Everything was better, and tragically, everything was about to end. 

After the all-star show in East Troy, Stevie waited for his helicopter ride back to Chicago, where the band and crew stayed. A thick and dense fog was setting in, and everyone was urged to leave as soon as they could before the weather got any worse.

While he was supposed to share the same ride with his brother, he felt eager to return to Chicago immediately, and took the only empty seat available at the time, with four other crew members. “I really need to get back,” he told his brother. 

The next morning, there were reports of a helicopter that failed to arrive at its destination in Chicago. The band’s drummer, Chris Layton grew immensely anxious when he found that Stevie’s hotel room in Chicago was empty. For a long moment, time stood incredibly still. He remembered Stevie’s last words to him from the night before, “I love ya”. 

At about 7 in the morning, Jimmie Vaughan was called into the morgue to identify his brother’s body. Stevie Ray Vaughan was no more. He was only 35 years old, and died exactly four years from the day of his father’s death.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s story is a powerful reminder that we don’t have forever to change ourselves for the better, and neither do we have a say on how long we are expected to live. 

For Stevie, he struggled at the very bottom of the pit, finally emerged to clean up his act, only to die in an unfortunate accident a few short years later. 

Yet in a sense, he was fortunate to have passed in a state where he had reconciled with his demons, where he had done so much good for himself and for others. 

We don’t like to think of it, but we could die any day. At absolutely any time, this gift of life could be taken away from us, and all that would be left is what little we have done, and forever gone are all the good, all the aspirations that we have said “maybe someday” to. 

It’s worth asking ourselves the question, if not now, when? 

If today isn’t the best time to be our finest selves, to be of great value to the people that we serve, when is? So go ahead, take a step, no matter how small, towards the becoming the man or woman that you hope to be. You would have to wrestle to be that person, needless to say. But it’s worthwhile. It surely is. 

Plus, Ramadan is coming in just a few days. Take advantage of this time, because you never know if it would be your last. 

Take that tiny step. Before tomorrow comes. 

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