You never forget that twist of fate in life. That moment of Zen when you realize that nothing is what it seems and everything you thought made sense turns upside down.
I’m not exactly a rocket scientist. I’m no big philosopher or something like that. I leave that to those brainiac types. Me? I’m a daredevil. All I ever wanted to do was take it to the extreme.
My life is a journey in accidental discovery. I discovered my calling at the age of eight. I had been playing catch with my brothers and sisters. I forget if it had been me or one of them, but the important thing was that somehow the ball had somehow ended up stuck near the top of the tree.
The smart thing would have been to call my folks. Of course I never said I was bright. Maybe it was my own idea, or maybe I was coaxed by my brothers and sisters but somehow I decided that I would be the one that would be the hero and rescue the ball. So without much more then my own determine I scaled the tree. But to be honest, part of me had always wanted to climb it.
I always had my eye on it. It had taunted me when I first moved in there. I had always wondered just what it was like on top. I just never had a good reason to go up. But now I had my chance to find out. At first I was scared as I took my first step. But as one step became too and as I inched higher and higher up the tree I had this incredible sense of wonder fill me. It was like I discovered nirvana. The rush that filled me was incredible. Here I was climbing this tree and feeling as though I was meant for this. This joy filled me to my being as I climbed up this tree’s heights.
I found the ball about two thirds of the way up. I must have been thirty, forty feet in the air. But I had stopped caring about the ball at this point. I had to know. I had to find out exactly what was on top. And so I ignored the ball and kept climbing.
I could talk about the bumps and bruises and near slips scaling it, but what mattered was that I made it. That was all I cared about. I finally got the chance to see the sky for the first time. I had never thought of how small the house or the world I knew really was until I was up there. I saw everything appear smaller. The only thing that seemed vaster was the world itself. I could see my whole neighborhood from up there. At that moment my world had changed. I saw a brief glimpse of how small we were, and how big the world was. It was a moment of revelation.
Then I realized like the Wile E. Coyote how high I was in the air and how far the ground was. It dawned in my eight year old brain that I didn’t know how to get down from the tree. So of course I did what all of us do naturally when we realize we have no idea what we’re doing. I panicked. I slipped on the branch I was standing on and I lost my balance. Before I knew what happened, I felt the hard unforgiving surface that was the ground. I heard the unnatural snap of bones breaking. Yet in spite of that, my biggest disappointment was that I never did get that ball out of the tree.
My parents were furious. They had been scared to death. My dad wanted to know why I was so foolish to climb that tree and break my arm for a baseball of all things. I apologized to him for being so stupid. I ended up having this conversation many times over the years. Because I never thought of how stupid it was. I thought about that feeling I had when I was climbing the tree. And as I healed I schemed other ways to try and recapture it.
I tried other things, other stunts that might restore that feeling. Some of them did better then others. Skateboarding never did it for me. But biking and climbing always did. I jumped off rooftops. I blew stuff up. I tried every crazy thing you could imagine. Sometimes I broke bones. I almost always acquired new scars and bruises all over. And I had to always explain to my parents just what kind of craziness was going in my mind at the time. But I always thought those few fleeting moments of bliss were worth it. I loved the rush.
Yet nothing could capture that feeling quite like I had when I was eight years old. No matter what I tried and no matter what I did the feeling eluded me. It took me a long time to realize why I couldn’t recapture it, but it hit me one day.
I had done this before. And I could always feel that same moment with each crazy idea I had. The problem was that I had been there and done that. This was nothing new to me. When I had been eight the moment had been one of discovery and what I was trying to do was recapture it. I had to find another path. I couldn’t just do the same thing over and over again.
I tried more dangerous stunts. I freefell at forty five thousand feet, I tried bike jumping down a mountain. Closer and closer I approached the edge of oblivion, each time feeling more alive; each time grasping towards the frontier. I had an answer; I knew it was right there. I just had to take that extra step. But what was it?
I discovered the first hints of my answer by accident. I died.
I messed up a stunt. I was going to snowboard down a mountain. I had already launched my board and was barreling down at a good pace when something went wrong. Maybe it was a patch of ice, maybe it was a wrong turn. I don’t know. All I know is that I lost control and I was going to crash and burn as I barreled down the mountain.
As I fell I heard my spine snap. I felt numb as I skidded as I halted on top of jagged edges of rocks of the cliff. For a moment I remembered all the times my father and mother said I was crazy. I remember all the bumps and bruises. I remembered all my failures to find what I was looking for. I felt the frostbite eat away at my fingers and toes. I remember the helplessness. Most of all I remembered thinking that just maybe my father was right. Maybe I had been wasting my time doing crazy stunts.
That was my last thought before I died. Just like that my candle was snuffed out.
Yet I still am thinking about this all and writing it down. I can already hear the words out of your mouth. That’s impossible. You only imagined all this happening. But I kid you not, I died and rose from the dead.
The freezing cold and numbness of my body woke me up. To my amazement I found myself able to stand. But I still remembered the pain and emptiness I felt a moment ago was gone. So was the despair. What had just happened to me?
I should be dead. That thought kept ringing in my head over and over as I walked and gazed down the mountain. Yet the overwhelming truth was that I was alive. I felt different somehow. I felt younger, fresher in some way. It wasn’t until I got off the mountain that I realized that all my scars were gone as well. Every single pain or scar or age line I ever had was disappearing rapidly. I had been changed somehow.
When I came down from the mountain I realized that the world was different. The calm buzz and friendly atmosphere that had existed in city had faded. There was an anguish there that didn’t exist. I could feel it.
When I went back into my cabin I noticed. There were tears in everyone’s eyes. There wasn’t a person in the room that didn’t have sad eyes or rosy cheeks. A great tragedy had occurred.
All the children were dead. Every one of them under the age of seven had burned up with a fever. At the same time scars and old wounds had started to heal, each and every child slowly burned from the inside. I am told most never felt a thing. It’s a small comfort I suppose. At least they never suffered. We had suffered in their place.
There was emptiness in all of us because of it. None of us would ever have kids again. We had lost that privilege. Maybe it was God or karma or some kind of cosmic balance. I don’t know the cause of how all this happened. Some say that this was a punishment. Watching all those parents become childless made me realize that we’d be hard pressed to find something as cruel as that.
I don’t think there was a single soul that didn’t have tears for a long while. All of us were in a time of mourning and wonder. Even though I didn’t have kids, the death of all those children made me question things I never thought about before.
Now that I couldn’t have them, I wondered if I would have wanted them. Would I have wanted kids someday? Yeah, I probably would have. It’d have been cool to have a kid trying to climb a tree like I did. Someone to tell me how crazy I was to do the stupid stuff I had done. It’d have been nice to have someone to watch grow up with.
Had I made the right choice? Had I chosen the right life? Should I have settled down and had kids when I had the chance?
The next few years were called the time of miracles. All over the world healings we’ve never have thought possible occurred all over the globe. Diseases were cured left right and centre. Not just the big ones either. AIDs, cancer, ebola, you name your big bad disease and it just died. We had somehow become immune to all diseases. Lost limbs grew back. People that were born with missing parts and limbs suddenly found themselves with them. Even some hopeless psychological cases had suddenly found themselves all cured. Every chemical imbalance, every flaw we had in every human being had just disappeared.
People were going to church and praising God or Allah or whatever they believed in. It was considered a happy time for must of us.
Not all of us though. I wasn’t happy. Stunts suddenly didn’t seem so dangerous. What was the point of dirt biking down the mountain when you knew you would still be alive with it all? Part of the fun of these stunts was the sheer risk. Broken bones healed themselves. And no matter what stunt you performed, there wasn’t enough risk. You were guaranteed to walk away. It was just too perfect.
I didn’t see the point anymore. So I did what all of us did when we realized our dreams were out of reach. That the answers we sought were denied us. I joined the rat race. I got a job.
I was a janitor. I woke up at four in the morning and reported to work. I cleaned bathrooms; I washed the floors of restaurants. I didn’t care though. What difference does it make what you do when all you had to worry about was the rest of your life?
I blinked back into existence. My boss wriggled his nose as though he smelled cheese. His suit was grey and boring, and his breath stank of cigarettes. He had the air of self importance. I really didn’t give a shit.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I want you to quit staring into outer space every five minutes and do your job! I pay you good money to clean these floors! What’s so funny?” I couldn’t help but laugh at that. Eight dollars and twenty five cents wasn’t good pay no matter how you looked at it. But hey, maybe one day I’ll believe it.
“Nothing. Everything.” I didn’t know what was wrong to tell you the truth.
“Well are you going to clean those floors or not?”
“Sure.” What else did I have to do? I dipped the mop into the bucket and slowly tried to clean the crud off the floor. All I wanted was piece and quiet. If I couldn’t have happiness I could at least have peace.
Something was bothering me though. I thought I had it. I wished I had it. I seemed so close to something. Yet I couldn’t figure out what. What did the tree and the cliff have in common? There was something to it. No matter how hard I tried to forget, I just couldn’t shake it.
What was the connection?
“That’s it! I’ve had enough!”
“I’m sick and tired of your daydreaming! Get to work! You’re not going to come up with some new invention sitting on your ass! I’m paying you good money!”
I sighed. Today was going to be one of those days. Yet something he said gave me a glimpse of something.
“What did you say again?”
“Can’t you not speak English? You’re not going to make any new and bright discoveries standing on your ass daydreaming! Now get to work! If I catch your ass standing there instead of working again, you’re fired! Is that clear?”
I sighed and complied. Isn’t that what we always do? I continued to clean the aisles in the restaurant. I felt a trace of disgust when I glanced into the washroom. Someone had taken great liberties to decorate this bathroom in all sorts of creative ways. Lipstick tampons and various other wastes filled the place. And they say men are bad at messing up bathrooms. I shuddered and got to work.
I realized though that my idiot boss was right. I wasn’t going to discover anything standing on my ass thinking about it. But what was I looking for? What kind of revelation was I…That’s it! That’s what I’ve been missing!
Why had I done all that I did? Why did I do such crazy things like snowboard down the mountain? What was I looking for? It was the discovery I lived for. The journey to feeling new highs I’ve never felt before. I thought that increasing the danger would increase the highs. But I knew now that wasn’t what made my stunts so meaningful.
The tree was my moment of nirvana. Not so much because of the danger, but because it had opened my eyes to a new world. That’s what I really wanted to do! Explore new worlds, experience new highs!
I knew my calling. I understood it now. I smiled. I could finally tell this asshole that I was quitting. I knew now what I wanted to do.
“Alright! That’s it!” And what great coincidence, the little mouse had been watching me. Sometimes I love coincidence.
He looked ready to bellow those two words, but I took away his joy at the last minute.
“I quit.” I said.
“What?” My manager couldn’t believe it. He had expected me to cower. They all do for some reason. But I had had enough. I walked right out of the store and didn’t look back.
It took a few days but I found myself staring at the ground from the top of the mountain. It was here in the freezing cold that death had been denied me. And it was here I would try and find it again.
A daredevil tries to beat the odds. We risk our lives to experience the thrill of being alive. We tried to defy the odds and overcome death one more day. But that had been taken away. No one dies anymore.
So I was going to try and find it. Death still had to exist somewhere. Plants and animals still died. Diseases and viruses were wiped out on a daily basis. Only we humans were unkillable. I was going to test that truth to the limits.
I took off on a running start. I had no parachute, no tether. I didn’t need it. I was going down, straight down to the bottom. My heart raced and all the muscles in my body tightened and contorted as I leapt into the air. Gravity took control of the rest of the ride. I barreled in the empty air at terminal velocity.
I loved every second of it. My heart raced faster and faster as I drew closer to the ground. This was the feeling I was looking for. Hopefully this time I’d find my answer. As the world went black I could have sworn I saw…something. What it was I don’t know.
I don’t know how long I was dead for, but I opened my eyes without a scratch at the bottom. It didn’t work. I hadn’t found the way to death’s door.
This time. There would be other times and other attempts. I saw a hint of it just before I hit the bottom and I know that one day I will find death’s door again. I would overcome the odds and find it no matter what. And when I do, I’ll see what happens next.
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