No matter how you look at this popular lyric, it rings true and speaks volumes. Whether you consider all the unhealthy little bad habits we pick up along the way and then battle for the rest of our lives or the big near-death experiences that are life changing, this little phrase provides an apt description.
Be it a strong coffee and a Camel straight cigarette, or a beer and Bud breakfast on a desert camping trip, these highs are hard to beat! I both envy and pity those that have never shared such experiences. Why do you think all the stuff that is so bad for us is so addictive? And most of these things that make us feel better literally do kill us. Probably the only moderation that allowed me to survive the addictive ways of my drug ridden youth was the simple practice of “never pay for it, never turn it down.”
When we get into the adrenaline rushes of near-death experiences, this phrase takes on a different and even stronger significance. Nothing makes us feel more alive than almost dying. Along these same lines, few things feel better than relief from discomfort. Old cowpokes joke that they buy their boots too small because taking them off at night is the only relief they ever get, and they want to get the most from it.
While most folks don’t go out of their way to suffer, there’s a lot of truth to this notion. Who remembers any details about the pleasant, uneventful camping trip where the weather was perfect and everything went according to plan? We all remember forever the times that a bear tore up the whole camp, or when the storm slammed the boat up against the rocks and threatened to drown everyone, or even the simple discomfort of limping back to the trailhead with cold, wet, sore feet and inadequate clothing in the driving sleet. These are the experiences we remember and come to cherish.
About 50 years ago as a young wrangler for a guest ranch, I quickly learned that the closer our trail ride came to total disaster, but without any serious consequences, the livelier was the chatter around the bar at the lodge that evening and the better the tips. The wild lightning storms above timberline, encounters with hornets causing horses to take off bucking and running through the woods, or even the mere discomfort of the saddle and unfavorable weather bringing people to the point of tears by the time we get back to the lodge.
People hate and love being forced out of their comfort zones. We all want to be part of a good story. Life is, after all, mostly a collection of recollections, a book of stories that should be anything but boring.
Everything that kills us makes us feel alive. This also seems to be particularly true of survivors of cancer, heart attacks or other life-threatening conditions. Survivors of such life-threatening conditions generally seem to experience something along the lines of a new lease on life. Such people seem to come away with a whole new appreciation of life. Their priorities change to focus on the truly important aspects of living while avoiding all the petty little hassles that can consume so much time and energy. It’s like the other lyric; “Live like you were dying.”
The concept of “Significant Emotional Events” might explain much of this phenomenon. Hitler was probably the best known for promoting the notion of “give me a boy until the age of six and I will own him for life.” This is probably true for the most part in the sense that our personalities in general are largely established at a relatively young age, after which time any major changes in character are brought about only by significant emotional events. These constitute events associated with so much fear, pain, trauma and/or revelation that they cause permanent changes in our personalities including the ways we feel, act and view things.
Throughout history, people have endeavored to make life safer, easier and more secure. Those that wrestled wooly mammoths for a living probably didn’t need to pursue any additional adventure and excitement. Significant emotional, life changing events probably occurred on a very regular basis. We have since succeeded in making life sufficiently safe and secure, for at least some of us, that there is now a trend toward seeking out danger and adventure. People are becoming more active in pursuing life changing experiences. Such pursuits come in many different forms from Outward Bound types of intense outdoor experiences and dangerously extreme activities to drug induced spiritual states such as Ayahuasca ceremonies.
Most folks agree that change and personal growth are important to healthy lifestyles. If significant emotional events are indeed the primary force of change in our lives, this would indicate that very active, high risk and maybe even a little self-abusive lifestyles would be the healthiest lifestyles. It’s as though one must be willing to risk life in order to fully live it. We must lose our fear of death to fully enjoy our lives.
Who knows? Death might be the best part of living. Might feel better than removing ill-fitting boots.
While totally illogical, it is so true; Everything that kills me makes me feel alive. It seems like those who are the most afraid of dying generally have the least to live for. Such people tend to be so concerned about their well being that they are unable to enjoy many of life’s adventures. They’re so busy protecting their lives that they fail to live them. And realizing that they haven’t really lived yet only serves to increase their fear of death – nobody wants to die without really having lived. For such folks it might be a good time to go hunt a wooly mammoth with sticks and rocks. Maybe tease a saber-toothed tiger along the way. Or at least go on a whitewater raft trip or other activity that offers good thrills with minimal risks. But it must involve at least some risk. Otherwise, you’re only going through the motions without really living it.
Since this column seems to be driven by lyrics, who better to close with than Garth Brooks: “Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire.”
Jim and Kathy Duke will be spending the rest of the summer trying to navigate the persistent snowfields and avalanche debris along the Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango with their horse, donkey, mule and two dogs.