BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — The sounds of spring peepers and the sight of the first flowers emerging in the yard are reasons to celebrate. So are unexpected phone calls and unwanted emergencies.
“I can really relish the unexpected as a gift,” said Susan Cross, a Providence Township resident and author.
In 2017, Susan nearly died while vacationing on the island of Dominica with her husband, Jon. A self-described Type A personality, Susan was left in the hands of Jon, her family and total strangers while recovering from a ruptured appendix.
In her 2019 Amazon bestselling book, The Power of Disruption, A Memoir of Discovery, she detailed that experience and the impact it had on her life, but she continues to be amazed at how it changed her outlook completely, even five years later.
Growing up, Susan absorbed society’s message that hard work is valued. She became an accomplished overachiever, working in the marketing and public relations field and delivering results.
“I mistakenly believed that my self-worth was attached to what others told me I did well, because it was important to them,” she recalls in her book. “I wasn’t sure who I was if I wasn’t filling a specific role.”
Even though she was fortunate to marry her soulmate, Jon, and have two now-grown children, Katie and Jimmy, Susan admits that while she gave the appearance of focus and presence on the outside, she was often miles away.
“I was compartmentalizing,” she said. “I allowed work to take up a majority of space in my mind. I was shortchanging my life.”
So, when she and Jon took a much-awaited vacation, she still checked into work with a laptop in between taking hikes in the mountains of Dominica and snorkeling with Jon – until the day everything started going black and her appendix ruptured. If she had waited another day to seek medical help, she would have died, she said.
“It’s been an interesting journey, and not one I would have chosen. I don’t recommend lifesaving surgery in a foreign country,” she laughed. “For me, it was a life-changing moment both literally and figuratively. I didn’t realize how much richer or enriching life could be until I went through this.”
She is now “present” and works hard at maintaining that presence. For her, it’s a matter of three steps, she said.
First, go outside every day.
“There’s something about the grounding power of nature that reminds me that there is something much bigger than I am, and it helps to get me on track. I think many people in the past few years have recognized that primal connection to nature and how it can be a grounding force,” she said.
Second, talk to yourself.
“If you find yourself worrying, say out loud, ‘Does this matter? Do I need to be concerned about this right now? Will this matter to me in five minutes or five hours or five days?’”
Lastly, breathe. Inhale four seconds and exhale six seconds. Do it again.
This is how she maintains presence, even in the midst of a situation she may not like.
When faced with an unpleasant work assignment or emergency, it’s a matter of being present in the moment, Susan said. In her career of providing public relations and communications for major companies, deadlines and crises can be the norm. Shutting down isn’t an option.
“I allow myself the space and grace to get through it. I may not like the moment, but I appreciate that I’ve been picked for it, that I’m on this side of the earth and I have this opportunity,” she said.
These practices have improved her relationships – with herself, her family and her friends. She now maintains more presence while speaking with someone on the phone or meeting in person.
“Being in a relationship with someone isn’t about a planned experience, it’s about being part of each moment,” she said.
Another result has been a shift in her long-term out-look of life.
“I thought I was always heading toward a predictable future. Now, I’m heading toward a future that is unknown … and I like it a lot better,” she said. “I’m looking at things with a perspective of wonder and joy. It’s not all sunshine and roses, but I get to be a part of it.”
In the past five years, Su-san has connected with others who have had near-death experiences. All share a sense of renewal.
“There’s a definite point before and a point after. The point after always includes gratitude, appreciation for life and a willingness to be present without the need to control, and most importantly, an ability to delight and feel wonder in very simple things,” she said. “Best of all, I get to be here, and that’s a gift I don’t intend to waste.”
For more about Susan, visit www.Susan-Cross.com.