STUPID THOUGHTS ABOUT DYING
It was a misty, rainy day in Lillehammer, Norway.
I had walked uphill – because everything in Lillehammer is uphill, even when you’re going
downhill – to the edge of the city to visit the Olympic History Museum. It’s a
beautiful facility, and the stuff inside is seriously cool; the most
comprehensive museum of its type, with a special secondary museum devoted
solely to the winter Olympics that took place there in 1994. But when I
finished my tour of the place, I was faced with a decision to make: go on to
the next place… or keep going uphill.
You see, further uphill… well, further up a large
hill/mini-mountain called Lysgardsbakken, is the ski jump. I’m quite fond of
the ski jump. Watching crazy people ski down a ridiculous slope and fly a
couple of hundred feet through the air is cool. I’d be terrified to do it
myself, but I admire the hell out of those that do it. They have nothing but
guts. No parachute, no air bags. Anyway, needless to say, I chose to continue
uphill, no matter what my screaming calves had to say about it.
The Lysgardsbakken isn’t too
steep. Just steep enough. And when it’s drizzling, the sun is playing hide and
seek, and there’s literally not a soul anywhere within visual range… in
hindsight, I’ve had better ideas. But up I went.
I wandered around the place for a while. To say that it was
astonishing would be underselling it. Like everything else in Norway, it was
beautiful beyond words. I could look out over city, across Lake Mjosa,
and to the large rolling hills on the opposite side of the water. Breathtaking.
Simply breathtaking. I stood for a few minutes just taking in the air, tasting
how clean it felt to my lungs, feeling my pulse slow. It was as peaceful a
moment as I’ve had in my entire life.
So of course, I proceeded to ruin it.
For whatever reason, the most likely being that I’m a jerk,
a thought came unbidden to me: if I fall down and break something while trying
to get off this thing, I’m screwed. No one is nearby, no one can hear me. I
could lay here for a long time.
It got worse. I suddenly freaked out that I was going to
have a stroke and collapse. Would I fall into the high weeds? How long would it
take to find my body? My cell phone didn’t work there! Would a stray reindeer
eat my corpse before the authorities could find it and send it back to the
States? OH MY GOD, I’M GOING TO DIE ALONE ON A MOUNTAIN IN NORWAY!
So much for my pulse slowing down. Idiot.
Now, we all have a death fear or two. My primary one is
drowning. I have real issues with the idea of drowning, and if I could avoid
that, I’ll go to my grave happier. Plane crash comes in second, though my real
paranoia kicks in when I think about being in a plane that crashes in water. If
you’re also afraid of drowning… you’re welcome. I’m just sharing a nightmare
If asked how I would prefer to die, I would always answer
“heroically” because I am a giant nerd. But given a second option, I’d pick “in
bed having sex… with someone else’s wife.” I realize that’s unfair to both her
and him, but it doubles my chances of something interesting. Orgasmic heart
attack or shot by angry husband. You could do worse. Drowning, for instance.
The key is, of course, to control your fears. You can’t let
them rule you, and you can’t let them ruin your day. Was it possible that I
could have stroked out on the Lysgardsbakken? Sure. But I could do that while
trying to help one of my students write a research paper. So I got hold of
myself and pulled it back together. After all, I was standing in one of the
most pristine and lovely places in the world, and it was totally unspoiled by
the sounds of man or machine. Opportunities like that come along very rarely.
Besides, as I made my way back to the museum, I had plenty
of other things to worry about. Like that six hour plane trip across the Atlantic I still had ahead of me.