A year ago today I almost kicked the bucket . . . bought the farm . . . bit the dust. Choose whichever lingo you fancy. While riding a motorcycle on an Interstate highway in rush hour traffic I did some serious business with the rear end of a FedEx truck. The encounter left my bike totaled in the ditch and me unconscious on the highway. Injuries: concussion, back sprain, right thumb metacarpal in pieces. It could have been much worse. Like, curtains.
Numerous times I have been a step or two, a minute or two, away from death. All of us have, whether by choice or accident.
Thirteen months in an active combat zone was a daily realization that this one could be my last.
Back in the 90s I was alone in one of Canada’s national parks having an intimate conversation with a grizzly bear some thirty yards away. I looked at the surrounding mountains and thought: beats a hospital room.
In my alpine mountaineering years, I more than once placed myself in situations where a slip could have easily been fatal. It was always a mix of respectful fear and life-giving exhilaration.
I have jumped out of airplanes both military and civilian. I did so with parachutes packed by someone else. They could have done something wrong. I could have done something wrong. There is always those few moments of thoughtful musing before one feels the jerk and sees the beautiful canopy above.
Each of the situations described above was the result of choice. I did not have to ride a motorcycle or go to war or hike alone in the Kluane or climb dangerous mountains or jump out of airplanes. They were all choices that involve risk, but measured risks I was willing to take.
We all take death-defying risks, many without conscious thought of the hazards.
- We drive down a two-lane highway at 60 mph with oncoming traffic passing mere feet away, and unthinkingly trust that the other driver will stay on his side of the center lane.
- People fly in airplanes, some every day, and count on the mechanics having done a good job and all the parts of the plane holding together.
- We let doctors anesthetize us and cut into our bodies with confidence that we’ll wake up the better for it.
Many more examples could be added. The point is this: risks are an inherent part of life, from our first breath to our last. That being the case, we need to treat life with care for the precious thing it is. Risks need to be measured and prudent choices made. Yours will be different from mine. Mistakes will be made, sometimes leading to the grand finale.
Therefore . . .
Therefore . . . be at peace . . . with life and death. Achieving that blessed state will, again, happen for different people in different ways. But the quest is the thing. Finding that peaceful equilibrium is the goal. It can be attained. I and many others attest to such.
Riding motorcycles, hiking Kluane National Park, climbing snowbound peaks, floating gently toward earth underneath a parachute . . . yes, I’d do any or all of them again . . . and I’m glad I survived to savor the memories of how much they added to my life. Being an old codger now means making my choices ever more carefully as I daily give thanks for the wonderful gift of life.