Monday, August 9, 2010

Death Ahead, Detour Next Right

I should be dead right now.

This isn’t a suicide note. I’m rather happy to be alive at this moment.

In 2001, I was scheduled to provide an upgrade to a customer of mine in the World Trade Center during the week of September 11th. Some piece of high tech security software that allows banks to wire funds internationally. The upgrade got cancelled the week before it was to take place. My wife was planning on going to New York with me. Since our plans had changed, we decided to take a mini-vacation. I was already planning on being out of town that week.

I’m not saying this puts me in a similar place of those who escaped, who descended and gotten out. I have no way of knowing how those people felt or feel today. I do however feel a kinship to those who for some odd reason or another had some circumstance that kept them away from work that day.

It was a rather surreal experience. We were vacationing in Spring Green, WI, touring the House on the Rock. That place is surreal enough. Add to that emerging in their gift shop, and sensing something was wrong, people were speaking in hushed voices to one another; hearing in the restaurant that the World Trade Center was hit by planes, the Pentagon hit as well. We had a moment of disbelief – that kind of feeling that someone’s trying to play on your gullibility and pull one over on you. As the day went on, the reality of the situation sunk in.

Fast forward to five years ago, it was our tenth wedding anniversary. We celebrated the success of our marriage by vacationing in the Bahamas, on the island of Eleuthera. On our third week there, Hurricane Katrina went over us. The sliding glass doors of the house we rented bowed inwards by the force of the winds. We put towels down to soak up the water that came rushing in like a running hose. We didn’t have the means, or know the first thing about closing the shutters on the house to protect it. It survived, as we did as well.

Go back to my high school years. I’m hiking at the Mines of Spain, in Dubuque, IA. I’m at the mouth of Catfish Creek and am in an exploring mood, being new to the neighborhood. I decide rock climbing would be pretty cool to learn, and climb the bluff up to Julian Dubuque’s Grave (JD’s Grave to the locals). I start up the side of the hill, climbing as I’ve done so many times to the bluffs in the backyard of my parents’ house, and the earlier bluffs of the same creek in another Dubuque neighborhood. I’m feeling good about myself. The ascent goes nearly vertical as I’m near the top of the 100 foot drop. The dirt covered limestone begins to give way under my feet and I grab for small trees and bushes. I see their roots exposed as the dirt loosens and begins to drop. My other hand grabs another as my head and inner ears tell me I’m dropping myself. The balancing act and weight distribution between the two trees hold and I pull myself up over the lip at the top. I’ve made it. I never repeat the experience again. I may have been stupid, but I’m not that stupid.

It’s December, 2001 and I’m flying into New Delhi. Just mere hours earlier terrorists have bombed the Parliament. We land and I’m in the hotel with my wife. The next day we learn their first target was Indira Gandhi International Airport, the one I flew into hours ago. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been in the airport during the incident, had they not diverted from their first target, myself being diverted to another airport within India.

I can’t count the number of near misses I’ve had with death. I know there are others, some I can’t remember, some I didn’t know happened. A lot of us have a brush or two with death. Sometimes our own stupidity brings us close, other times it’s mere circumstance.

I don’t fret over these experiences; I just try to learn from them. I was flying the week after 9/11. It was very pleasant, no lines, no waiting. I don’t let these things bother me; why should I? I try to live my life without regret. I try and enjoy and embrace life. That kind of fear is not usually part of my makeup or my being.

I’m sure that’s done me justice skiing down the bowls or through the trees of a Colorado mountain in the middle of winter. It’s added speed to my Alpine racing down a hill. It propels me forward atop my horse Jetta as she shows me how to jump poles in our riding arena. I’m older, a bit less reckless, a bit more cautious than my earlier years, but I still try for the gusto.

This leads me to some interesting places. I’m a religious person and a spiritual one, but I’m in no hurry to see what’s next or meet my maker. I’m not plunging headlong with reckless abandonment towards death. Instead, I choose to live fully.

People probably imagine that living out in the country on a hobby farm is slow without much going on. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is always something going on, there’s always something needing attention. But I am constantly aware of my surroundings. I can sense the weather. I know if we’re having a wet year, a dry year or a year that’s just right (this year). I feel how hot and cold it is, the humidity. I feel it getting warmer year by year.

I sense if my horses are happy or perturbed, whether there is someone that needs attention, or just looking for a little more affection. I see barn swallows with their nests full of young, striped chipmunks (3 or 5 striped Himalayan variety or 3 or 5 striped Hennepin County variety). I hear coyotes yip, turkeys make some god awful gobbling noise (I jumped the first time I heard it); pheasants strut across the road like road runners, hawks and bald eagles hunt, looking for food.

Life is going on all around me. It’s magnificent.

No one really knows how much time they’ve got. I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, I just try to appreciate the time I have. It’s not always easy. It gets hard to remember in the day to day.

We all have a right to live: people, animals, plants, trees, fish and coral. Life isn’t always easy, but that’s life.

Out here in the frozen tundra of the northern Midwest, we see snow. Not a little snow that closes down a city, a lot of snow, so much we never close. We’d be shut down for the winter. Snow, slush and ice can be a dangerous condition when mixed together, but we cope, we go on and live our lives.

Life is harsh sometimes. I falter and make mistakes, but my brushes with death stay with me, like an old friend, reminding me why this is all so precious. Death tells me to enjoy it while I’ve got it. To try and do better, be better and make the world a better place. It reminds me how delicate survival is.

I should be dead right now, but I’m not. I’m living and having a great time doing it. Remember how thin that balance can be sometimes; that near miss in your past that was there as a friendly reminder to live and go on living. Remember it with joy. It’s not borrowed time, it’s the time we’ve got.

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