When I was a little boy, I saw the Acapulco Cliff divers on Wide World of Sports. I was so fascinated by the lovely arcs that ended with a splash beneath the towering rocks that I climbed onto the roof of my grandparents house in Seattle. The house was built on a hill, and the house below us had a swimming pool. I dove off the edge of the roof, arcing gracefully toward the water surrounded by man-made stone.
I didn’t make it. I spent a couple of months in Children’s Hospital in Seattle, and my next conscious memory was being pushed in a wheelchair down the halls with my head still wrapped in a turban like dressing. I scared my parents half to death, worried that their genius son was going to be a brain-damaged cripple.
I got better.
When I was 15, I developed a cholesteatoma that ate through my skull. If you read the old medical textbooks, the symptoms for cholesteatoma included a distinctive silvery drainage from the ear, sudden hearing loss, headache, and death. It’s the condition suspected of killing Oscar Wilde, and it was nearly the death of me. I got lucky, and merely lost the hearing in my left ear after they scraped out the mushy remnants of my ossicles.
I got better.
When I was in college, I was at a party drinking with my friends. One of them began playfully wrestling with me, and when he leaped into the air I grabbed him by the belt and threw him across the room. Unfortunately, he curled up into a ball to cushion the landing, and in bringing his knees up he shattered my nose. Spurting blood across the clean white snow covering the campus of the Oregon Institute of Technology, I entered the emergency room where a classically trained surgeon numbed my nose with cocaine and performed a external reduction of my fracture. That introduction of stimulants made me aware of the reason why my father loved them-along with alcohol, opiates, and any other substance he could shoot, snort, ingest, or rub into his belly button. I was too poor to be able to afford such recreations, but the craving lasted long after my nose healed.
I got better.
Life is filled with brushes with mortality. Some of us have more of those brushes than others. Some of us actively seek those brushes out, with “sports” that push the envelope where physics meet biology. Some of us have these brushes thrust upon us, interrupting the lives we were trying to create for ourselves. These brushes influence who we are, but they are not who we are. We are the integrated sum of all the events of our lives, pleasant and painful, good and evil, life-affirming and life ending.
Nobody gets out of here alive. Cancer and cardiomyopathy and car accidents can all consume that delicate flame of life, snuffing it out. What I have found over the years is that the survivors are the people who get on with their lives rather than meditating upon their mortality.
So dum vivimus vivamus, my friends. Rest up, heal up, and get back in the fight. It’s hard, it hurts, but it’s the only game in town. And no one gets out of here alive.