Oct 24, 2022 - Health

Axios Finish Line: Life lessons from lettuce

Illustration of a head of lettuce and carrots as a skull and crossbones

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

I almost died a few days ago, Axios' Danielle Jones writes.

  • I'm a relatively healthy person. I've quit, cold turkey: sodas, cigarettes, meat and, most recently, booze. I'm vaccinated and I minimize risks.
  • But an unexpected thing happened, something I never in 50 years prepared for.
  • I was surrounded by 1,000 people gathered for a Halloween-themed fundraising luncheon.
  • And, in all seriousness: I almost choked to death on a piece of lettuce.

Why it matters: I spend a lot of time living in fear. I have anxiety about most things, especially the future.

But if you had asked me to name the least dangerous thing I could think of, the threat about which I worried the least, I may well have said a serving of mixed greens.

  • And yet there I was, unable to breathe, people screaming, doctors rushing, a Heimlich maneuver that didn't work the first few tries.
  • They said my eyes were "gone." And that's just the tip of the Iceberg.
  • I remember thinking: This is it. And then I remember thinking: What an embarrassing way to die.

But it wasn't my time. The lettuce dislodged. A thousand people applauded as I stood, in shock, in a witch's hat. Friends cried. People continue to message. My lifesaver is bonded for life.

I'm still between laughter and tears. I'm grateful. I'm in awe of how kind humans can be. I'm scared to eat alone. I have what my brother calls "post-traumatic salad disorder."

D.J., in witch's hat, after her close call. Photo courtesy Danielle Jones

🖼️ The big picture: "Strange how people can be so preoccupied with a life they cannot hold onto and neglect an eternity they cannot run away from." It's a quote my pastor shared recently, and it's something I keep thinking about.

  • We get preoccupied with not dying — and forget to live.

My husband has cancer that is unlikely to be cured, and it's like a game of whack-a-mole: It pops up, we hit it with treatment, and then we wait for it to pop up somewhere else.

  • What I've realized: For all of us, life is just a series of whacking moles.
  • Every time we walk away — from COVID complications, a car collision, sudden surgery or a bed of leafy romaine — we have whacked another mole.

The key is to appreciate the in-between parts and to worry less about whatever mole is going to pop up next.

The bottom line: I've been given a new leaf on life. I've survived salad. And I want to be less wasteful with the time I have left.

  • "If you ever do succumb to salad," my stepson wrote, "I get dibs on saying 'Lettuce pray' at your funeral."

There is a reason I have the words "be thankful" tattooed on my wrist: I am in love with this life and the precious people in it.

  • It wastes time to stress about things we can't predict or control.

And maybe if I spend more time focused on the present, then whenever my time does come, it will be easier to swallow.

  • No matter what, I'm giving up salads.
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