You never forget a near-death experience, and over my years I've had quite a few.

As investors, I believe we are wise never to lose sight of just how close we came during 2008 to some seriously horrific scenarios that could have proven quite fatal to our entire financial system.

In a moment, I will ask you to invest four minutes and 22 seconds of your life, in order that you may give serious and timely consideration to the possibility that right here -- right now -- the world may be far closer than most people imagine to seeing the European debt crisis spiral completely out of control.

But first, let's take a moment to recall just how close the United States and the U.K. came to suffering similar fates such a short time ago.

A pair of near-death experiences
As former Rep. Paul Kanjorski asserted in this astonishing appearance on C-SPAN in 2009, had the U.S. Treasury not taken bold action to stem an "electronic run on the banks" that gripped U.S. money markets on the morning of Sept. 18, 2008, then we could have seen "the end of our economic system and our political system as we know it." Kanjorski added: "If [the Treasury] had not done that, their estimation was that by 2 o'clock that afternoon, $5.5 trillion would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapsed the entire economy of the United States, and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed."

I remember my jaw dropping to the floor when I first encountered that watershed admission, and I know I was not alone.

The United Kingdom faced its moment of truth a few weeks later, on Oct. 10, 2008. According to then-Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury Lord Myners, the U.K. banking system came within three hours of complete collapse, as the nation experienced its own major bank run. Talk about a trial by fire; Lord Myners had only been appointed to the post the week before!

So both the United States and Britain reportedly came within a few hours of experiencing complete meltdowns of their respective financial systems that would have triggered dire economic scenarios for the world at large. I find it humbling to recognize the underlying frailty of it all, and three years later I find little reassurance that a repeat performance has been taken off the table.

The eurozone as a giant powder keg
Lord Myners appeared on British television last week, and lamented: "I wish I could give a more cheerful complexion, but we're on the verge of a perfect storm."

That's a sobering appraisal, to be sure, but I really wish to draw your attention to statements made on that same BBC program by economist Dr. Robert Shapiro. Shapiro served as undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs under President Bill Clinton (from 1997 to 2001), and has been an economic advisor to multiple presidential campaigns ... including that of Barack Obama. He presently serves as an advisor to the International Monetary Fund.

In the interest of keeping our eyes wide open as we observe the European crisis unfolding, please take a few moments to hear what Shapiro had to say in the following video clip:

Fool contributor Christopher Barker can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He tweets. He owns shares of AuRico Gold, Central Fund of Canada, Coeur d'Alene Mines, Goldcorp, Great Panther Silver, and Primero Mining. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.