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Near-death changed my life, and many of the lives around me.

living in gratitude©

living in gratitude©

For a long time, it was too painful to speak to some of those most affected by that life-changing event in Afghanistan.

But one thing helped me move beyond grief and loss: Celebration.

Before I left hospital, Hadi and I made a vow that we would not focus on all that we had lost, but would concentrate instead on all that we had gained. This helped both of us heal.

Each anniversary of the attack became a Celebrate Life! day.

Truly, we celebrate life every day by living in gratitude. Yet marking one day a year with an exclamation point helped us transform terror into pure joy.

This is no exaggeration: One year after an alleged al Qaeda fighter tried to kill us with an IED, I was able to walk again, unaided.

Two years later, we left “our” surgeons and rehabilitation specialists behind in Canada, and moved to California to return to school.

Each year brought new opportunities and another special reason to celebrate, from graduation (both of us) to new careers.

And every year, to remind us of how far we had come — and all that we had to live for — we celebrated life on the anniversary of the attack.

Some years, that meant travel; others, it meant private celebrations, from kayaking to romantic dinners.

We’ve had setbacks since March 4, 2002 — major setbacks.

Very little in our lives was left untouched by that attack, and sometimes, loss and mourning overshadowed all else.

Today, on the 11th anniversary, we’re celebrating everyone who helped save our lives in Afghanistan.

Bernard Weil, Chief Photographer/Multimedia

We don’t know the names or whereabouts of many of those involved in our rescue, but our gratitude list begins with Bernard Weil, the Toronto Star photographer who was in the front seat when the IED was tossed into our vehicle. (The homemade bomb passed over Hadi and landed beneath me.)

After I was hurt, Bernie helped flag the vehicle that scooped us all from the desert — a white van with Agence France-Presse photographers — and delivered me to a humanitarian clinic for emergency aid.

Bernie made the contacts that let my family know I was alive (they had been told I had died in the attack). He made the calls that jolted my then-employer, the Toronto Star, into action.

It took a long time to reconnect with Bernie, so today, we’re celebrating life, and remembering all that he did to save us from terror — and, for me, near-certain death.

Thank you, Bernie.

(Photo below shows Toronto Star photographer Bernard Weil in foreground on another assignment in Afghanistan. He’s with Star foreign correspondent Mitch Potter — now Washington bureau chief — and an Afghan associate. Photo used here with Bernie’s permission — and our gratitude.)