Risky Living: Tempting Death

Most of us try to avoid risks, but the risk of death for all of us is 100%!

Evel Knievel (Robert Craig Knievel), an American motorcycle daredevil and entertainer. Photo from http://cliffordsphotography.com/

This is a continuation of Risky Living: God Risk and Bad Risk. In that piece, I explored the difference between good risks and foolish risks. I was prompted to begin writing on the subject by a dream that I explained in the previous piece and the “lockdown” order covering most of the United States in April of 2020.

It is now April 2021. Much has happened, though much remains the same. This article I started a year ago has evolved. The path these thoughts have lead me down end in death, which is where the path of each of us will end. Before we get there, though, I will pick up again with the subject of my reckless youth.

I should have known at a young age that I had an affinity for recklessness. As a pre-teen, I loved the idea of somersaulting from a high dive, and I was even tempted into thinking I could jump extremely close to the edge of a concrete pool from a high dive without hitting the edge. Fortunately, I never attempted it, but no one who knew my thoughts or inclinations would be surprised at the series of unfortunate misadventures I experienced in high school.

I was no Evel Knievel, but I totaled two cars before I was 18. I climbed three water towers in the dark after nights of drinking. I don’t remember driving home after some of those nights of drinking. I once jumped from a dead tree overhanging a cliff into the dark waters of a quarry in rural Vermont. I was run over by the car I was riding in driven by a 15-year old with no license.

There is more, but the point isn’t to glorify anything that I did. The point isn’t to beat myself up for it either. I was seeking. Maybe I was seeking a little harder than other people. It may have started out as attempts to gain attention, fit in and be noticed, but it became much more than that.

I was trying to fill a void. I was fighting back against the apparent meaninglessness and purposeless of the world. I just didn’t know it, then.

I thought that gaining the attention and what I thought was the respect of my peers at the time would be fulfilling. I thought the thrill of overcoming fear would satisfy me. I thought that drugs and alcohol would fill up the emptiness in me and drown out the self-loathing.  None of the things accomplished those nebulous goals (or much of anything for that matter).

Evel Knievel took risky living to a whole new level, of course. My run-of-the-mill recklessness doesn’t hold a candle to Evel Knievel and the fame, fortune and international attention he gained by his precipitous endeavors (at significant cost to his own body). But, for what purpose? For what ultimate end?

I don’t presume to know what his answer might be if he was still alive to tell us. According to Wikipedia, Evel Knievel died in 2007 of pulmonary disease at the age of 69. He wanted a museum to be built in his name that would contain all of the memorabilia from his career, but that dream was never fulfilled. His memorabilia is scattered among transportation museums and private collections. In a generation or two, he will likely be just a footnote in history.

People put much stock in what they can do in this world. They spend lifetimes doing trying to achieve and accumulate things for themselves. People are willing to take risks, sometimes great risks, to attain their dreams, and most people aren’t as “successful” at achieving them as Evel Knievel.

In one interview late in his life, Evel Knievel told Maxim magazine:

“You can’t ask a guy like me why I performed. I really wanted to fly through the air. I was a daredevil, a performer. I loved the thrill, the money, the whole macho thing. All those things made me Evel Knievel. Sure, I was scared. You gotta be an ass not to be scared. But I beat the hell out of death….”

He didn’t “beat the hell out of death”, of course. Death took him, just like it will take you and me.

And, that’s the point of this piece on risky living. Death will take us all.

It turns out that life, itself, is risky business. It doesn’t matter how cautiously and carefully we live our lives, the risk of death for all of us is one hundred percent (100%)!

Many people (I think) are are not greatly tempted to do extremely risky things. Many have never totaled a car, climbed a water tower, jumped from a dead tree  or jumped a rocket-powered motorcycle over the Snake River Canyon. We all live with risks, nevertheless. Walking out front door in the morning is a risk!

Most of us take reasonable steps to avoid risk. Ironically, Evel Knievel sold insurance! He knew the risks of his choices, but most people take pains to avoid risks. We don’t drive 100 mph down the highway (very often at least). The older we get, the more risk averse we get.

Some of that simply comes from experience. We learn to avoid pain, especially as we live with the pain that lingers from our more adventurous days.

I know, now, that I could have died doing some of the things I did. Whatever it was in me that motivated me to do those things brought me to the precipice (or the real prospect) of death multiple times. Those experiences began to cause me to think about it.

As I got older (and a little wiser), I realized that I was missing something within me. I don’t think it requires risking death to come to that conclusion (and I am certain that many people who risk death more than me may never come to that conclusion). The experience of facing death, though, whether by design or by accident, beings us to that ultimate precipice.

In the next blog piece in this series, I will explore coming to the precipice that we face when we get to the edge of danger, the edge of the unknown. For all of us – whether we have jumped from cliffs or jumped over cliffs, or not – we will face one precipice that none of us can avoid: the precipice of death.

I have one aspect of risky living to explore. I will do that in the final edition of this series of writings where I will talk about jumping from the ultimate precipice.

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