After trekking to Mt. Everest base camp last year, Erin Ryan wrote: “Nothing makes a person feel more alive than doing something dangerous-to-stupid and not suffering any consequences.” Ryan’s stroll to base camp and back didn’t meet the “more alive” qualification, but it provoked reflections on the mindset that beckons some to go for the summit. Close to 300 people have died trying to summit Everest, 1977 the only year with no recorded deaths.
Doing dangerous-to-stupid things without factoring in the risk of suffering serious consequences is dangerously stupid. The degree of risk, the type of possible consequences, and one’s personal risk tolerance all come into play. Evel Knievel took ridiculous motorcycle risks and broke nearly every bone in his body. Somnath Mhatre died kissing a cobra that “kissed” him back. Bill Vukovich won the Indianapolis 500 Formula One race in 1953 and 1954 and was killed in a spectacular chain-reaction crash there in 1955. Risks and consequences . . . they go together.
Twelve years ago today our 38-yr-old daughter fell to her death climbing Mount Sir Donald in British Columbia. We climbed together often, which included some edge-of-your-seat risk taking, but I was not with her on Sir Donald. (Ironic: Donald is my first name.) This mountain has not seen a lot of fatalities, and our daughter was an accomplished alpine mountaineer. Circumstance-based decisions are always made when climbing. Of course one chooses the option considered best at the time, but the problem is that if it’s the wrong one, the mountain is not at all forgiving.
Our daughter was experienced, mentally prepared, and weighed the risks. But a mistake(s) was made and the result was catastrophic. Should she have not taken the risk? To be sure, I wish she hadn’t on that day on that mountain. But climbing was an endeavor that thrilled her and provided a sense of accomplishment and well-being. I sometimes think: she could have died in a car accident on the way to Seattle. Since I am an inherent risk-taker (taking only carefully measured ones, I tell myself), I cannot blame Jeniffer for what happened. But I have wished a thousand times that she had chosen to do something else on that August day
Everyone wants to “feel more alive.” What produces that is, to use the time-worn phrase, different strokes for different folks. My thoughts on this day-of-days are: give thanks for the gift of life, find and do what makes you feel alive, weighing the risks carefully, and cherish the memories of those loved ones who we wish were still with us.