I bought a bookmark in 1984 that still hangs on my bulletin board. It says success is failure turned inside out and that one should stick to the fight when hardest hit. It’s extremely corny but I still take the time to read it every now and then. I thought of that bookmark when I heard about Evel Knievel’s recent death. This guy must have the record for sticking to the fight. What fascinates me is that it was hisuniquefight; he seemed to live in a different world.
Some people believed Evel was just plain stupid. I’m sure that thought went through my mother’s head on the fateful day my brother and I decided to stand up on our bicycle banana seats while riding as fast as our five and six-year-old legs could get us going. For a brief fairy tale, hands-in-the-air moment I was on top of the world, like Evel flying across the Snake River Canyon. But like the big guy, I fell and ended up with a huge concrete-induced scrape on my left cheek. There was blood and puss and gravel, a gigantic bandage on my tiny face, and a million tears. But in the end it made for the most spectacular show-and-tell story of the year. In the 70’s, puss was big in kindergarten. I’m lucky I don’t have a nasty scar.
There’s an Irish proverb that says it’s better to be a coward for a minute than dead the rest of your life. A lot of people live like that and in one big way, it makes sense; they seem to be doing fine. On the other hand, Evel refused to be cowardice but he still died; we all do eventually. In my novel,Aberrations, Angel Duet says she’d rather die on the spot today than still standing on it tomorrow. She realized that nothing could be worse than failing to muster the courage to move forward, toward the top of her world, whatever that was going to be. In his quest to be on top of his world, Evel suffered nearly 40 broken bones. According toNewsweekhe didn’t like being called a hero. He was simply good at riding a motorcycle and a smart businessman. But I subscribe to the theory that all the different worlds we live in allow for an eclectic variety of heroes. The top of Evel’s world may not have been that of my mother's, but he kept trying to get there as long as he could and that’s pretty heroic to me.
My teenage daughter thinks it’s a bit odd that I occasionally read the obituaries while drinking my morning coffee. I do it because it reminds me that life is fleeting and I’d best not waste it. I wonder what those people did with their time, how they lived and how they died. Was either painful? Was either pleasant and why? There’s a rare disease that causes a congenital insensitivity to pain. It brings complete unresponsiveness even to injuries that cause severe pain in healthy people. On some days we’d all like to have that affliction, either for our bodies or hearts. But if you study the outcomes for those individuals, you’ll realize that pain is good. Our ability to experience it gives us safety, pleasure, decisiveness, and joy. Life is a trade off.
We’ve all heardeverything in moderationbut I wonder if sometimes it’s healthy to stretch toward that pinnacle of joy, even at the risk of falling over the edge, to move forward. I want the view from the top and if I fall off every now and then, I think I can recover. I’ve done it before. Maybe broken bones mend easier over time. Does a broken heart? Not sure but I won’t suppress my life, afraid to find out.
If you’re one who thought Evel was stupid for enduring 40 broken bones, you may think I’m stupid, too. I don’t care. Falling off the top of the world sucks but oh the things you see from there. I don't want to cause trouble for anyone but it’s hard to resist wanting to share that sunset view. I read that Evel was satisfied at the end of his life, 40 broken bones and all. When the sun goes down for me, I hope to carry my broken bones in a bag across the finish line and through the pearly gates. I won’t call itbaggage. I’ll call ittreasure.