This one’s important.
Try and stay with me.
It might save your life one day.
A while ago, I learned an old friend had taken up BASE jumping.
Facebook pictures lauded his first jump off the 148m Perrine Bridge in Idaho. The photos showed the picturesque gorge and its impossible-looking suspension bridge.
A group was gathered at the bridge, eagerly looking on as my friend, pilot chute in hand, stared nervously into the space beyond the bridge.
There’s another shot of him mid-flight. It’s taken from above and he looks frighteningly close to the ground with nothing but ripstop nylon to save him.
Then another shot of him safely on the ground – triumphant, immortal again.
Facebook adores this stuff. It loves life. Not eating breakfast life. Or paying-a-power-bill life. But the highlight reels.
So it showers him with praise. He was ‘living for the moment’ and ‘seizing the day’.
There was a time when I would’ve added my cliche to the comment box too. I would have felt the sting of envy that is Facebook’s currency, and I would have imagined myself on the bridge.
Instead, I fretted.
We were close once, and I worried for the friend I knew from long ago.
I thought about his family.
His non-Facebook life.
Then, that same week, another old friend died BASE jumping.
I remember seeing his pictures too, long ago when he told me about his first jump. He said his hands were shaking, and his legs tingling as he approached the exit point. He had a lump in his throat that made it hard for him to count, “three, two, one, see ya later”, before he jumped.
Every time I saw him after that day, he talked about nothing but BASE.
And then he was dead. Those same cliches appeared on Facebook.
It seemed trite compensation for the 50-year hole where the rest of his life would have been. Again, I couldn’t bring myself to leave a message.
Why am I telling you this? I guess, because I want to say that now, finally, I think ‘living on the edge’ is 90% bullshit.
It’s not the key to happiness or a higher spiritual plane or a life less ordinary.
It’s pleasure-seeking. A sugar hit.
There’s no higher calling in it, just adrenaline.
You can’t claim to have lived a life to the fullest when you missed half of it because you died at the bottom of a cliff when you were young.
These are things I have no right to say to friends. They would rightly call me a hypocrite, because I’ve been on that bridge too.
My stomach muscles tighten at the memory.
I remember the sleepless night before the lonely walk to the middle of the bridge. I can feel the cold of the steel rail as I climbed over. I remember trying to quieten my frantic mind. Then my vision narrowing to a pinpoint. Then letting go.
That was a long time ago. When I thought I wasn’t wagering much. And that I could never lose.
I only ever thought about the jump, not the prospect of the sudden stop at the end.
Not long after those jumps, several BASE jumpers I knew ‘went in’ (a skydiver term for a fatal jump). I thought hard about whether to keep jumping.
Then I met your mother. I never gave BASE another thought.
The years since those jumps have been the best of my life. I have a beautiful, adventurous wife and two bright, energetic kids that are teaching me to be a better person (I never told you that, did I?).
I don’t live life ‘on the edge’, and my Facebook photos are more likely to warm your heart than spike your adrenaline. But they’re real and we’re happy even between the highlights.
Soon, you will take over all the decision-making in your life.
My advice to you, is not that you should avoid risk or adventure or dangerous experiences.
But should you find yourself on one of life’s bridges ‘living for the moment’, that you remember that you don’t own all those moments. They are not yours to wager on a thrill or an impulse.
We, your parents, own many of your early moments. It was we who raised you, loved and nurtured you, gave up part of our lives to bring you yours. To throw your life away in one moment is to throw away those moments, our moments, too.
Think also of the moments to come. Those of your future self, your future partner, your future children. These too do not belong solely to you. To give up these moments lightly, is to steal from those you’ll come to love and that will depend on you.
The stakes are high.
The decision is yours.
Sometimes, it will be worth it and I know you’ll be brave enough to take the risk.
Other times the price will be too high, and I hope you’ll fearlessly guard your future moments and walk away.
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