Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Matters of life and death

I'm reading this book right now called Deep Survival: Who lives, who dies, and why. It's a well researched book analyzing how people survived (or didn't) in cataclysmic situations.

Who survives is not always the strongest person. It's usually not the person you think it will be. I guess the one thing survivors all have in common is that instead of complaining, blaming, or being a victim, the ones to survive are those who make this new world their home. Lost at sea, they refuse to feel lost. This becomes their world, and they adapt to it. When rescue comes, it catches them off guard.

This dovetails with the philosopher who said, "Man has the capacity to adapt to anything. And that is perhaps the best way to describe him."

Of course I can just see the supercilious eyebrow raise on that philosopher. It's not a compliment, necessarily. Look how adapted we are to this war.

So many of us live and act in fear. And yet it's always the most fearful ones, the safe ones, the ones who refuse to fly or drive or step outside the house who trip in their kitchen and impale themselves on the Ginsu knife.

As Laurence Gonzales writes in Deep Survival:

(Survivors) accept that to succumb is always a possibility and ultimately their fate. They know safety is an illusion and being obsessed with safety is a sickness. They have a frank relationship with risk, which is the essence of life.

So why is risk such a four letter word? I travel to places like Nicaragua, South America and Burning Man specifically so that I can dance on the roof if I want to. Or climb tall unstable structures without a net. I want to risk my life. Bring it on!

I wouldn't like to be stuck in the situations found in the book, but I appreciate the attitude of these survivors. Enduring an extremely dire situation, they would find moments to gaze around with wonder. To laugh at themselves, even cry out with joy at being alive. As the author puts it:

Survival is a celebration of choosing life over death. We know we're going to die. But survival is saying: perhaps not today. In that sense, survivors don't defeat death, they come to terms with it.

This might explain how I outlive my hangovers.


Jack said...

I just read your piece in Out magazine and I just had to say that I LOVED it!

Jesse Archer said...

Thanks, Jack!