What weren’t you prepared for…?

It nearly killed me that summer in Michigan. I had just turned 17. 


Having arrived in America for the first time, I was feeling upbeat, confident and ready for anything.  After all, I had planned, prepared for and passed several levels of school exams, college-entrance tests, and numerous rounds of interviews at the American consulate in Hong Kong before this day.  I even survived my first plane ride when I thought I would die of a heart attack during takeoff because the deafening engine roar not only rattled the floor beneath my feet and the cabin above my head, it nearly blasted my eardrums! My heart was racing as fast as the plane was speeding on the runway. But once we were airborne, my nerves calmed down. I’d survived my first flight ever in my young life, I thought to myself – everything’s under control.

In a week’s time, my brother and I would enroll in Cranbrook School as seniors. In a year, we would graduate with a diploma. And in between, we would figure out which college we should apply to while enjoying our time as teenagers with other American teenagers. What could go wrong? That was my 17 year-old-self thinking of course.

Then, one afternoon while watching TV in my uncle’s house, I suddenly started coughing and gasping for air. That coughing fit forced me to lie down on the floor, and it actually made me feel worse because it was harder for me to suck in air. My breathing sped up. Staring at the ceiling, I felt deep sharp pain in my chest as I was fighting to take in more air.  Just as I was feeling weaker and weaker, my uncle walked in and saw me struggling with my mouth wide-open.

He called a doctor friend in right away. The wait felt like hours while I thought I was dying without knowing why. I kept praying and hanging on until Dr. Silas showed up. He listened to my lungs and sensed something terribly wrong had happened to my lungs. “Let’s rush Mable to the Emergency Room right now.”  By the time we got to the hospital, 80% of my left lung had collapsed. The ER staff told us if we hadn’t arrived in time, my entire left lung would deflate causing the right lung to collapse as well. I had what’s called “pneumothorax”

It usually happened to smokers or people with previous chest injury, but why me? Well, as it turned out, the baggage I’d been carrying over my shoulders from airport to airport, home to home in the past few weeks since leaving Hong Kong, my hometown, might have been too much for me to bear. The sheer weight overwhelmed my body.

That was my first close-to-death experience and it would be followed by several more near-death encounters in my adult life. Over time, I’ve discovered that what I wasn’t prepared for, is less important than what these unforeseeable experiences are preparing me for.  They are like unexpected seeds planted inside me that keep growing, nourishing and transforming my mind and spirit to make me stronger and softer. I toughen my resolve while in the middle of dealing with an emergency, but I also soften my attachments to whatever seems to be so critical at that moment – physical or material.

There are still many moments of stress or distress that catch me off guard, get me down, or wear me out of course. But I notice it sooner now.  I rebound and re-center to see what’s at stake more clearly.

Don’t be afraid of what you weren’t prepared for.

Ask yourself, what is life preparing you for through each and every emergency or crisis. How do they serve as a stepping-stone for you to build endurance and equanimity? How can you develop faith along the way to achieve breakthrough, not just for yourself but also for the benefits of others?


Mable, New York

Mable Chan

Mable Chan is the founder of China Personified. Her contact is mablechan@chinapersonified.com.