I am not one of the risk-takers who push the envelope of death and danger by doing things like skydiving or mountain climbing. In reality, I'm quite conservative and don't take chances. At least, that is my view of me. However, many of my loved ones see me as a daredevil and as one who takes needless chances. They point to the trip to Tibet and South Asia last summer. Some in my family feared that I would get myself arrested in Tibet by the Chinese authorities. I am definitely opposed to Chinese occupation and treatment of the land and the people of Tibet. My family reminded me that I was not a well-known writer with a cache of notoriety that would protect me from simply disappearing and never being heard from again. I agree with the lack of famous columnist cache thing, but I didn't see much risk of going to Tibet and went anyway. I returned without incident a couple of weeks before 9/11.
Actually, I was more concerned with getting sick over there from lord knows what mysterious plague or malady. However, even there, I was cautious. I researched all the possible diseases in that part of the world and took the prophylactic treatment for all eventualities. I could have written the book on diseases of South Asia. Here again, all went well.
In the aftermath of 9/11, I am in the final stages of planning for a trip to Chile and French Polynesia. My family and friends, who worried before about the trip to South Asia, now think that I'm crazy to fly when most other Americans aren't flying. I tell them that no one is going to crash a plane into the Aku-Aku statues on Easter Island or blow up a grass hut on the beaches of Bora Bora.
Then there is the scuba diving issue. My wife never liked the idea in the first place. Snorkeling was her speed and more particularly her depth. My suggestion of really getting our feet wet still hasn't been fully assimilated into her more timid psyche. Just last week when we did our first open water dive, I heard her articulate her concern again. We were practicing underwater emergency procedures. After removing our BCD vest (breathing control device) underwater and mastering our emergency ascent procedure, she had had it. "Why can't we just swim around and enjoy scuba diving and not all this emergency stuff?"
Instead of replying with the logical statement about being prepared, I merely reflected upon her statement. The two things that frighten me the most are falling from a great height (anything in excess of six feet) or not being able to breath (as in an underwater emergency). As I dove again to the bottom of the lake to remove my vest, I questioned myself about why I was doing this overseas trip. It hit me that I was putting myself in the very predicaments that I most abhorred. Was it intentional or just chance? As I wrestled the vest off, I wrestled with why I fly and dive which exposes me to my two greatest fears. As I ascended, I thought that it would be ironic that those fears would be realized by our airplane crashing into the Pacific Ocean-the worst of both fears all wrapped up into one horrific experience. To make my nightmare complete, I would be rescued by some natives from a nearby island where I picked up a strange and incurable disease like dinghy fever.
As I completed the dive training exercises, I still wasn't sure that my adventuresome quests weren't a subconscious attempt on my part to face my fears-even if done in what I consider a conservative perspective. Perhaps I realized something that skydivers and mountain climbers have always known: face fear and you can conquer it or flee from fear and it conquers you. Maybe my realization while on the bottom of a lake has something to say to us as we collectively face the world filled with very real fears since 9/11.
Don't you think that black makes me look thin?