Down to My Very Last Breath

What I learned about life by almost drowning

Mitch Ditkoff


Photo by Li Yang on Unsplash

Now that I am 76 and increasingly realizing in my bones and my joints that I am mortal, I would like to take the next few minutes to share just a little bit about the preciousness of life — something I’ve always sensed, but didn’t know for sure until the moment I almost died at 21.

Looking back to that time, 55 years ago, beyond the massive trauma of it all, I understand now what a great gift I was given, tough love from the universe, shock therapy for the soul.

I will spare you the back story and just cut to the chase.

Caught in a rip tide, I was drowning. I was going down for the third time, gulping water as I climbed an invisible ladder to nowhere, gasping for breath.

My strength was gone, completely sapped. I had nothing in the tank. Nothing. At that moment — only one thing was clear. I was just about to die.

This was the end.

As that realization entered what was left of my mind, I looked to the shore and read the epitaph that a stranger would write: “You will die here and people will remember you as the person who died here.”

That was it — my entire life reduced to a single sentence — me a cautionary tale on the back pages of a local newspaper.

Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

As I looked to the shore, completely unhinged, I heard a word I had never heard before in a language I did not know, volcanic, pristine, pure, as if the earth, itself had a voice.

“Existalz! Existalz!” it exclaimed, symphonic in its resonance — my life, or what passed for my life up to this moment nothing more than a cartoon.

Only this moment was real. Only. This. Moment — the one that would soon be my last, every cell in my body awake. What a joke! And it was on me! Never before I had been so alive, so conscious, so completely alive and it was all about to end.

And then? A moment I will never forget, one I will never be able to explain or honor from the sacred place from which it emerged — a moment that even now…



Mitch Ditkoff

Co-Founder of Idea Champions, Face The Music & Sage Catalysts. Author of Storytelling for the Revolution, Storytelling at Work, Unspoken Word and Free the Genie