Afraid to Live

It’s no secret I’m currently on the vacation of a lifetime. I flew into Toronto almost 2 weeks ago, spent a few days in Ontario, then flew from Toronto to Calgary, drove from Calgary up to Jasper and spent a few days in Canmore (and Banff), and I’m currently taking the train from Jasper to Kamloops, where I’ll meet my sister. We’ll then spend a day at Harrison Springs, before driving on to Vancouver. I’ll spend a week there before heading to Hawaii for a week on a family vacation (with my parents, sister and brother-in-law).

I visited the Columbia Icefields, and whilst walking down to their sky walk, I overheard a couple of Australian guys behind me chatting. One of them said “if you’re afraid to die, then you’re afraid to live.” “What absolute bollocks!”, was my initial reaction. They were the kind of people who do extreme sports. The ones who go open water swimming with sharks, more than likely in shark alley off the cost of South Africa – or climb Everest without oxygen. I mean, obviously I’m stereotyping, and I don’t know these guys. I just overheard a snapshot of their conversation, and it irritated me.

But after I enjoyed my day out and I was back in my room, snuggled up in an oversized nightshirt, and pyjama bottoms with moose on (yes, that’s a relevant point to this story) in bed – I started really thinking about that statement.

What do I not do because I’m afraid of dying? I won’t swim out into open water in the sea or oceans, because I’m afraid of sharks. I won’t wander off the tracks in Canada because I’m afraid of grizzly bears. I won’t climb mountains, mostly because I’m hideously unfit, but I’m also scared of not coming back (especially after seeing Everest). I won’t travel alone to countries that I know aren’t safe for women travelling alone. I won’t ice skate, I’m afraid of someone skating over my fingers, and falling over on the hard, icy surface. I won’t go cave diving, for fear of being trapped underground forever more (or the more irrational fear – being killed by cave dwelling monsters ie The Descent). I won’t go near salt water in Australia, because I’m afraid of salt-water crocodiles.

On the other hand, what do I have on my bucket list that others won’t do? I want to visit the Chernobyl site. I want to jump from a plane with a parachute strapped to my back. I want to canoe/kayak on white water rapids. I want to learn to ski (although I have a healthy fear of breaking bones that means I won’t be running before I can walk).

I think the reality is, that I have faced a moment of death in the accident I was involved in. I almost died taking a delivery at work. That’s not living dangerously; that’s just a day to day task.

A few days ago, back in Ontario I visited Niagara Falls. They had details about the death defying stunts that were performed there many, many years ago. These stunts are now illegal and anyone seeking to do anything on this water needs permission from both the US and Canadian governments.

There used to be barrel stunts over Niagara Falls. “Why are you bringing this up here?” you ask. Good question. I needed to set the scene before I brought up one particular gentleman, Bobby Leach. He was a British circus performer and decided to perform the stunt. He emerged battered and bruised, but in one piece – he was certainly not afraid of dying. So how did he die? He slipped on an orange peel 15 years later and died from medical complications following that.

I guess my point is, we never know what day is going to be our last, and pushing boundaries is kind of human beings thing. I wouldn’t be sat here on this train traversing the Rockies on my MacBook Pro listening to Taylor Swift, after flying to Canada on a Boeing 737 if people didn’t push boundaries. I would be sitting in a cave etching my thoughts onto a stone tablet, whilst listening to my tribe being attacked by wild animals. That’s probably massively incorrect, but hey, Google doesn’t work on this train.

There’s some merit to that adrenaline junky behind me. I mean, afterall, we’d both been standing on a glacier less than an hour before that moment. On closer inspection, I take more risks than I thought in the moment. This relationship we as humans have with death is fascinating to me, and I’ve been reading and listening to audiobooks about forensic pathology/anthropology/psychology because the human condition really is interesting. In the (little) research I’ve done so far, I think having a healthy respect of death is a positive thing. As a Christian, I don’t believe death is the end. In the great words of Dustin Hoffman in “Hook” – death is life’s next great adventure.

Does that mean I’m suggesting you go looking for death? Hell no. I still won’t swim out into the open ocean, I won’t go cave diving and I’m not going anywhere near a pair of ice skates any time soon. Some of it is due to a healthy respect of wild animals personal space (ie sharks, grizzly bears, salties etc), but other things aren’t so rational.

I’m a huge arachnophobe. You won’t catch me spending time with anything with 8 legs. It’s not a rational fear. When I think it through, especially in the UK, there is nothing these spiders can do to me (I’ve done my research – some UK spiders bite, but won’t do me any harm) but that doesn’t stop me from choosing a few choice expletives when I spot one in my bedroom, and cowering in fear.

I even got rid of my last vacuum cleaner because I vacuumed up a spider which didn’t die on its way in and took up residence in the hoover. I refused to open it, so chose instead to buy a new vacuum cleaner on Prime Day on Amazon. That’s just a small glimpse into the level of arachnophobe I am. Nothing anyone can say to me at any time to try and placate me about spiders will make me want to change my mind. I’m scared of them, and that’s that. 

My second point here, is don’t let someone bully you into something because you’re scared of it. So many times, I’ve seen people say “Oh go on, what’s the harm?!” to someone who knows they don’t want to do something. I just want to say stand your ground. If you’re not happy doing something you don’t want to do, don’t do it. It’s easier said than done, I know. But it’s also okay to be a life self-preserving.

Don’t be reckless for the sake of being reckless. Do things that scare you because you want to do something different or new; you want to feel the rush of adrenaline doing something reckless. Something that will add to your life experiences, not just put you inches closer to death for a few minutes.

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