Monday, December 3, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 101: You Will Die

I was in a situation recently, maybe it was in Indonesia or maybe it was in Milwaukee or both, when I was totally relaxed in a situation where another was not. It must have been in a vehicle. Then I thought about some of the more hair raising situations in my life and how I handled them really well. Examples such as sitting in the back seat as we went the wrong way down a one way street, being really far away from my last piece of rock climbing protection, driving down an unknown road in the dark, immediately after a 40 foot rock climbing fall, at a checkpoint with armed soldiers, and those are just the ones big enough to stand out in a minute of thinking. While I do stress myself out more often that I would like, when push really comes to shove in terms of physical safety I do not struggle nearly as much as most. Thus, in four parts I will try to give some advice on how not to freak out. A good example is the 6600 meters video from Pakistan, I cheered (at 3:10) how, "hardcore" it looked as the wind and snow blew while I was sitting there. I watch it now and think, ‘that was not the most safe place to be.’ That being said, it wasn't that dangerous at the time. I would not even call that day a close call. By the way, the mountain sitting on my right, that is K2 the second highest mountain in the world.

First the question, what things make people freak out? Things that make people scared. A stranger who follows you down a dark alley, riding along as the driver drives 90 mph while texting, a remote checkpoint with guards carrying assault rifles, are all examples where in your head you might be freaking out. Unfortunately, panic leads to poor decisions, like a passenger yanking the wheel as you fly along at 90 mph or doing something impulsive or aggressive at a checkpoint. That brings us to lesson 101: You Will Die.

Today, now, if you have not already, realize and really understand that you will die. It may be in 80 years or it may be sooner. You will die. At some point your presence on Earth will no longer exist. One day you will be alive, the next you will be dead. There is approximately a 1 in 365 chance that today is the pre-anniversary of your death. Same for tomorrow or yesterday or any day of the year. There is a 2% chance that this week will have the pre-anniversay of your death. 

When death happens your car, your house, your smart phone, lunch yesterday, your wine collection, and all of the other physical stuff is lost to you. That’s it. You saved for two years to buy that car and then paid payments on it for five years? Great, but now you’re dead so it doesn’t matter.

You will die. In the face of death everything else falls away. This, I feel, is a good attitude to bring to life all the time. I do not have cable or a game system for that reason. When I die, even though I enjoy playing video games, I do not want to think, ‘man, I really rocked level 17 in...’ Obviously I still waste a lot of time watching reruns or pursuing activities that lead to nothing positive, but I think that gets a little better every year, and I do think about contributing instead of continuously consuming.

Once you realize that you will die, you realize that one of the few measurable ways to consider death is based on the time you have left. How much time you have is a mystery. You could die crossing the street today or in 80 years in a rest home after a prolonged battle with all sorts of ailments. The idea is that you do not have control over when you die, assuming you would like to see how much life you can live. You don’t control how long you live. You can influence how long you live by exercising, eating well, not smoking, and otherwise living a healthy lifestyle. But ultimately you do not control when you die. Even people that try to commit suicide often get it wrong.

Once you realize that you do not have control over when you die, the world opens up. You do not have to fear death, or at least if you a Christian you don’t have to. Death will happen sooner or later when it is right, not when it is convenient for you. Why let the fear of death control you?

To recap, the first lesson, you will die and you do not have control over when it will happen. The education and understanding from this step occurs today, before you close this window.

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