Alive Day

September 7, 2013 — 35 Comments

My dad gave me a small white Timex alarm clock for Christmas when I was around 12 years old.  He gave it to me so that I could start getting myself up early in the morning for swim practice.  For six years, I got up before 5 AM most mornings, prepared my swim bag, brewed a pot of coffee, and when it was ready I would prepare a cup to offer my dad when I woke him.  Neither of us ever said much in the early morning hours.  We would silently climb into our mini-van, at first just me, and then as my siblings grew, so did our morning crew.  Dad would always tune to “Smooth Jazz” while we drove to the pool.  He would patiently wait in the stands adjacent to the pool while we knocked out a few miles, then we’d all drive home to go about the rest of our day. For eleven more years I woke up every morning to the same alarm clock.  That alarm clock woke me up for swim practice at the Naval Academy, for morning “PT” during Navy Dive School, for early morning study sessions during EOD School, for my flight to Iraq, and on the afternoon of September 6th before a combat mission in a small valley in the Khandahar province of Afghanistan. On the morning of September 7th, I didn’t need my alarm clock because I was already awake.  As I watched the sun rise in the east that morning, I was crouched atop the roof of a small mud walled building.  Other members of my commando unit were in a small courtyard below me, obscured by the darkness of dawn and a four foot wall, comprised of the same material as the building currently supporting my watch position.  I carefully studied everything between me and the horizon, looking out for anything that might pose a hazard to me or my unit.  As my gaze scanned westward from the sun peering over the horizon in the east sky, I could trace  the outline of a growing mountain range against the still starry sky.  The most prominent peak was directly north of me, and truly looked majestic.  It’s sharp rock outcroppings turned a reddish orange as rays of sunlight penetrated more and more of my field of view.  Shadows began to extend from the base of the rock outcroppings into a barren red sand desert to my west and south.  The picturesque concentric circles of sand dunes etched into the terrain by the wind were a stark contrast to the jagged rocks to my north.  My gaze drifted back to the east, and followed the luscious vineyards in the mountain valley surrounding me.  I tilted my head back and looked at the sky, which now presented a gorgeous array of purple, blue, red and orange.  The brushstrokes of vibrant color were glittered with the fading stars of the night sky.  I smiled as I was struck by the immense beauty of this land that was so marred by violence and evil.  I awoke again that morning a few hours later.  A searing hot pain shot across my face.  My battered left eye looked down at my crumpled body, lying on my side in the fetal position, on a bed of the vegetation I had been admiring earlier.  The rest of my already limited field of view was further shrouded by a thick cloud of grey smoke and dust.  Instead of my alarm clock, all I could hear was a dull and constant ringing, like the solid tone of a heart monitor in an ER that has just gone flat.  For a moment that seemed to stitch forever, I just laid there, with no intention of doing anything else.  My mind was blank, like the surface of a pool with absolutely no disturbance.  The first thought to ripple across the top of the water was the fact that my arms and legs were still intact.  In that moment, this fact alone convinced me that I had not survived the blast.  In all prior experiences with such blasts, I had not known anyone to come away with all four limbs.  I was surely waiting to transition to whatever comes next.  My thoughts drifted to all of those whom I have loved, and lost.  I thought of my Dad, my grandpa, my grandma, and my Uncle John.  I thought of Tyler and Tara, and for a moment  I was thrilled at the thought that I might get to see them again soon.  I thought of my mom, and became saddened at the image of her alone crying as she learned of my death.  She would hug my sister, and my two brothers as they all mourned to the sound and erratic rhythm of their collective sobs.  I knew in time they would reconcile my death, and move on.  They knew I would want that.  I hoped they would take comfort in the fact that I had died doing what I loved, with a brotherhood that few get to experience.  I hoped that they would know that I died happy, fulfilled, and content.  I had loved my family, I had loved a woman, and I had loved my country.  I had worked hard, and had enjoyed life to the fullest.  I had great experiences, and some awful ones, but if you strung them all together, I believed they added up to a full life. As I laid there waiting for my Dad, or my grandpa to come and show me the way, I became irritated at how long I had been stuck in this strange purgatory.  Neither alive or dead, I just laid there for seconds which seemed to stretch on for eternities.  Before long, I grew tired of waiting.  Again I looked down at my battered body, and began to wonder if I was wrong, and I had in fact actually survived.  I attempted to wiggle my fingers, and groaned as lightning shot up my right arm.  Surely pain of that magnitude wouldn’t exist in purgatory!  I must have survived!  I was still alive!  As I came to this new realization, I became aware of the shouting from my teammates.  They were looking for me, and couldn’t find me amongst the thick cloud of smoke and dust.  I shouted to them, and in a moment I felt strong hands grab the shoulder straps of my gear, and jerk me back to life.  I could have died on September 7th, 2011.  All things considered, I should have died.  I had been standing next to a 40 lb explosion, the blast of which hit me directly in the face ( think about that next time you use the phrase “things really blew up in my face…”)  I had thought about it, and had accepted my death.  My life had “flashed before my eyes” and I was proud and content with what I had seen.  But I didn’t die.  I am still alive.    I can’t speak for all who have had a near-death experience, but for me this experience was incredibly liberating.  People frequently ask what it is that has allowed me to accept my blindness and move on, and every time I smile and think about the first time in a long time that I woke up without my Dad’s alarm clock.  I awoke for the first time where I truly understood what it means to be alive.  Today is my alive day.  Today is the day.  Two years ago, I woke up thinking I was dead.  I was then offered a second chance.  I was offered a second chance to tell my mom I love her, to buy dinner for a friend, or to buy a drink for a stranger.  I was offered a second chance to thank those who have helped me along the way, and to apologize to those I have hurt.  I was offered a second chance to enjoy a fine meal, and to feel the joy of a puppy licking my face.  The world is so beautiful in so many ways, and I now have the second chance to enjoy it as much as possible.  I tell this story in an attempt to offer you the same chance.  You don’t have to get blown up to enjoy the world the way I do.  All you have to do is make a choice.  Make the choice to enjoy each moment.  Enjoy each meal, each kiss, each sunset, each drink.  It’s that easy.  I hope when you wake up tomorrow, you will take the time to realize that you are truly lucky to be alive!  Happy Alive Day!

35 responses to Alive Day

  1. 

    Happy Alive Day brother!

  2. 

    Beautiful! . Awakening!!

  3. 

    Thank you for your service. You attended the Academy with my Nephew. You are an inspiration. You are a hero. I can not type anymore thru my tears. Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. 

    Wonderful story! Thank you for making me realize everything that I have to be grateful for and appreciate very day that I wake up.

  5. 

    Thank you Brad for your service, happy alive day to you too! Go Navy~

  6. 

    We are so blessed to have you Alive! Treasuring each moment…Thank you Brad!

  7. 

    Thank you for your sharing of your experience. I try each day to find the good in people and experiences. You realized the choices, for real. Thank you for your service as well.

  8. 

    You are a classmate of my Son, Tom…I was in San Diego awhile back at an EOD wounded warriors marathon with him and met a few of your friends and loved ones and they all had so many wonderful things to say about you…after reading this, I understand why you are so admired and loved. May God continue to show his grace upon you.

  9. 

    From an EOD wife, mother of a Firstie who will follow closely in his father’s footsteps, your message is so inspirational. Blessings to you on this day, and for many years to come!

  10. 

    I couldn’t agree more. My alive day is probably the most important day in my life. It’s shaped who I am and why I do what I do. Keep fighting brother. Go Navy!

  11. 

    Brad, I worked in the NICU with your Mom when you were injured. I remember prayong for her, for you, and your family. I remember crying for the young man I didn’t know; following the updates on your progress and proud of what you’ve accomplished. Thanks to you and your Mom for sharing such strength and courage!!!

  12. 

    Get busy living or get busy dying! Good to see you celebrating life!

  13. 

    Hooyah – good words and happy that you shared the story. Swim hard, fast and keep smiling! Drink a cup of coffee this early morning also, getting ready for a long bike ride, thanks for the inspiration. vince

  14. 

    You are an inspiration, Brad. So encouraging to read of your great attitude and thankful heart. Saw you win a gold medal for team USA on the one year anniversary of your accident with a tear in my eye. You are a survivor and you are here for a purpose! You are blessed.

  15. 

    This is Beautiful. Thank you. For all of us who understand (& have had similar experiences).

  16. 

    Happy Alive Day and thank you, so very much, for your service! My Brother in Law commands an EOD unit and I am so proud of him and all our troops!
    Thank you for the “wake up call” and for the perspective change on this world and all it’s delights!
    You are a true hero and a true inspiration! Thank you and God Bless you.

  17. 

    I don’t know you but your article this morning made a so-so Sunday that much brighter. Keep going man – enjoy that second chance as much as we should all enjoy our first.

  18. 

    So beautiful – thank you for sharing!

  19. 

    What an inspiration you are to us all. I worked with your Mom when you were first starting at the Naval Academy and since I had lived in Annapolis gave her tips on the city. My husband later joined the Navy and when I heard of your accident I was devastated. I have good navy friends in the EOD community and as I have watched you thrive (not just survive) this accident I have learned so much about you and your “brothers”. Thank you for continually reminding us of what is truly important!!

  20. 

    Thank you for your service and for sharing your compelling story. Godspeed.

  21. 

    An incredible man. I met Brad for the first time at the Special Operations Command sponsored Coalition conference in Tampa in May 2011. I am the Navy’s Program Mgr for TSGLI. I had read all of his file multiple times as I do for so many of our gravely wounded warriors was struck by how far he had progressed in this recovery as this was only months before that meeting. His claim for his injuries was simple and quick. To my surprise that day he spoke to the Coalition audience was awe inspiring… Walking with his Mom onto the stage and his strong voice recalling these events and his recovery, but more importantly, his desire to continue supporting his brothers in arm still battling for freedom!

  22. 

    You are an incredible man. I met you for the first time at the Special Operations Command sponsored Coalition conference in Tampa in May 2011. I am the Navy’s Program Manger for TSGLI and I had read all of you file multiple times as I do for so many of our gravely wounded warriors only months before that meeting. You claim for injuries was simple and quick. To my surprise that day you spoke to the Coalition audience was awe inspiring… Walking with your Mom onto the stage and you strong voice recalling these events and your recovery, but more importantly, your desire to continue supporting your SOF/EOD brothers in arms still battling for freedom!

  23. 

    Your story reflects a lot of my sons …he was a swimmer all his life. Thinking he may have a chance to swim at Navy his prayers got answered by way of the water polo team…he is still at USNA no longer in the water however enduring the days until service select comes for him and fellow Mids. One best friend I might add hoping EOD…I thank you for sharing this message with all of us. You inspire us to accept the future what ever it may be by seeing so much of the beauty in every day. Thank you!

  24. 
    Lucy And Frank Minutillo September 9, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Thank you for your service and sharing ths incredible story. True awakening for all of us that get to enjoy this beautiful country and freedom because of all the tireless service men and women. God bless you!

  25. 

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and inspiring others to look on the bright side of life, no matter the circumstances. Your optimism is amazing. I saw you in person for the first time at the Navy and Marine Corps Memorial Stadium during a home football game (GO NAVY! 2015!!) when you were on the field. I will never forget the smile you had on your face when the stadium erupted in cheers of “USA! USA! USA!” You are truly my hero and your attitude towards life has inspired us all at USNA to be better people and enjoy each day we have to live on God’s green earth. Thank you for all that you do, and keep being awesome! Hooyah!

  26. 

    Awesome………….that’s all I’ve got. Just awesome. You made my day better.

    Miss you buddy. I am man enough to say that I just want to give you a hug.

  27. 

    Brad, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service to this country and your sacrifice. God’s plan for you is so magnificent and it has been an absolute pleasure to see you handle it with such grace. I pray that you will continue to follow God’s plan in your life and that you enjoy all the happiness and blessings He gives you. You make this Navy grad so proud (even if there hasn’t been a real plebe summer at USNA since the mighty class of Aught One). Go Navy!

  28. 

    Awesome, thanks for your service and sharing your story. Happy Alive Day to you as well.

  29. 

    Reblogged this on They call me Betty and commented:
    God bless this man! Happy Alive Day!

  30. 

    Sometime noiselessly a giant comes along and we learn anew the meaning of life…

  31. 

    I love this post. Very well written. Isn’t it amazing how something like this can change our lives? Funny how losing our site gave us both a better vision then many. God bless!

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