A book I read a few years ago, entitled "Deep Survival," by Laurence Gonzales, offers a helpful perspective. In studying the question of who lives and who dies in extreme survival conditions, Gonzales found that survivors shared a sense that, in fact, they were not going to live. While they wanted to live, to go home again, and to be secure ­they recognized that they were so royally and absolutely FUBAR'ed that they would die, probably quickly and perhaps horribly.

Now, obviously those who actually died in these disasters could not be interviewed, but the behaviors and actions of those who lived and those who died were measurably different. The survivors recognized the ugly truth of their own imminent death quickly ­and this early recognition of reality ­however harsh and frightful and depressing it may have been ­was also at once incredibly liberating, in some ways exhilarating.

The survivors tended to reach this point of reality sooner than did the victims. They grieved for themselves, their hoped-for futures, their now impossible dreams. Then they rolled up their sleeves and got started on the hard, and very likely pointless, work of survival.

Rules were abandoned ­ what could be eaten, what could learned, what could be done, and what could be considered. Old ideas of personal capabilities and limitations were gradually discarded. Prayer became real and palpable rather than formalized and pious.

The idea of "living each day as if it were the last" is sometimes suggested to remind us to be loving and kind, yet it also hints at the value of self-indulgence, impulsivity and risk-taking. But when each day really might be your last ­the behavior of survivors seems to be far more practical, far more thoughtful for the future, far more truthful about what one really needs, and quietly courageous without flamboyant risk-seeking.

Recognition of reality is liberating.