Here’s a video of Gail Rubin’s winning speech at Albuquerque Challenge Toastmasters International club contest. She went on to compete at the area level, and did not win. But, it provides some food for thought!
The text of the speech follows.
There’s a Hollywood legend about Edmund Gwenn, a big star in the early days of film. You may remember him as Santa Claus in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street. At the age of 81, he lay dying of pneumonia in the Motion Picture Home for aged actors. A woman came to visit him during his last days. She drew close: “It must be hard to die.”
“Dying is easy; comedy is hard,” he replied.
During the last year of his life, humorist Art Buchwald spent five months on hospice with kidney failure. Celebrities and reporters regularly visited him at his hospice room – it was a modern day salon. Miraculously, his kidneys started working again – he flunked hospice! During the last six more months before he died, he wrote a book about his hospice experience. He said, “Dying isn’t hard. Getting paid by Medicare is.”
Woody Allen said, “I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Why are we so afraid of death?
In the 1970s, Dr. Ernest Becker wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Denial of Death. In it, he defined his Terror Management Theory, the theory being we are terrified of annihilation and seek immortality by creating artwork and religions, have children and write books, and make YouTube videos.
The Terror Management Theory came out in the 1970s, a time of polyester pants suits, avocado appliances and the AMC Pacer. But death never goes out of style. Death is like that little black dress that’s always in fashion.
The question that lies beneath this terror is: Is death a wall or a window? When we die, SMACK! That’s it, you hit the wall, you’re dead, you’re done, you’re toast. But if death is a window, a gateway to another existence, why are we still so afraid? Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.
I have met and interviewed people who have had near death experiences. This is when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop breathing, the person is declared clinically dead and then brought back to life. This is a bit more serious than missing your morning cup of coffee.
While they are clinically dead, these people report having remarkable experiences. And they totally lose their fear of death.
There are two kinds of Near Death Experiences – pleasurable and distressing. In a pleasurable Near Death Experience, people report feelings of peace, love, and joy, seeing people they’ve loved in this lifetime, being surrounded by landscapes of great beauty and indescribable colors. One man said he invited God to go have a beer with him.
Distressing Near Death Experiences are dark, chaotic, crowded and noisy – a lot like Black Friday at a Walmart.
We are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of not being. We are afraid of pain and loss of people and things we love – like our minds.
Those who have had Near Death Experiences give us a great gift. They let us know there is something beyond this physical lifetime, and it is pain-free. They let us know that it is awesome. They let us know we are more than animated clods of dirt.
We don’t have to worry about heaven or hell after we die. Our heaven and hell is right here… right now.
It’s reflected in how we treat the people in our lives TODAY, and how we relate to the world we live in TODAY. And as Jack Palance, playing the character Curly in the movie City Slickers said, “Day ain’t over yet.” We are here to love and learn. Let’s make the most of this finite lifetime, starting today.
We can laugh in the face of death. The Irish, God bless them, have a philosophy that should lay your mind to rest.
There’s nothing to worry about – either you are well or sick.
If you’re well, all is fine. If you are sick, you either get better or die.
If you get better, all is fine. If you die, you either go to heaven or hell.
If you go to heaven, all is fine. If you go to hell, you’ll be so busy greeting all of your friends, you won’t have time to worry!