It would have been so much easier to die.
Kevin Thorson lay paralyzed in the grass of a church lawn in Canada. Moments earlier, he was practicing backflips with a friend when he missed a rotation, fell on his head, and broke his neck nearly at his skull. As a friend ran for help, he lay there alone, not breathing, fading into blackness as he fell unconscious.
He told us later that it was at that moment, when he felt himself near death, that the presence of God came to him. The sense of the next world was intensely powerful, forever making this side of the veil seem the impostor. It would have been quick, even merciful, to have slipped quietly away to join God.
But God wasn’t there to take him to heaven.
Instead, He had a message for Kevin. A voice so real Kevin thought it was audible told him, “You’re going to be okay.”
He awakened not okay. He was in a desperate fight for his life. Emergency personnel worked feverishly to keep him alive until he could be put on life support. He endured a helicopter ride to a larger hospital in Calgary, a doctor’s push for euthanasia, surgeries, pneumonia, bronchoscopy, paralysis, loss of privacy, and much pain in the first weeks before he returned home.
Later he endured serious infections that landed him in intensive care. He had more surgeries for kidney stones. He spent two years on the ventilator before weaning off it on days, something that had been declared an impossibility by his doctors. He regained more than they expected, but not enough for a normal life.
The loss was profound. It came in layers as the reality of the depth of his disability struck home. Some days he grieved over the dreams he would never see realized. Other days he longed for just the feel of grass beneath his feet again.
But as victories came, like breathing on his own and taking his first steps and running a computer, there was a stirring in his soul. He began to truly appreciate being alive. Watching him struggle to live out his faith despite profound brokenness, I began to see how completely God had brought to pass what He promised Kevin: He would be okay.
Today I understand this: Existence, in all its facets, is a gift.
It is the man who has been told he would never breathe on his own who appreciates the feeling of air in his lungs.
It is the man who has endured great pain who appreciates a day when his body is at peace.
It is the man who once lost all feeling who takes joy in the warmth of the sun on his arms, the softness of a kitten’s fur beneath his fingers, and his legs under him again as he takes his first shaky steps.
It is the man who has had everything taken away who treasures anything given back.
It is in loss that we understand the gift.
To exist is to be. We are made in mirror image of our Creator, who calls Himself the great “I AM.” We were made to experience. We were made to feel, to love, to laugh, to hurt.
Those who say, “I would never want to live like that” must give room to those who do want to live, even if it is “like that.” The disabled and the vulnerable and the aged and the pre-born have no duty to die because their existence is inconvenient for others.
Yes, it would have been easier for Kevin to die that awful day in 1997. But what richness of life we would have missed in knowing him. The world is a better place because he exists.