Dicing with death.
All I remember as I swirled and whirled around and around gasping for air whilst being mercilessly pulled under the water, was that I really loved my life, and I didn’t want to die just yet, and especially not on my 30th birthday. In fact, I’d quite like another 70 years ideally and to get my telegram from the future King. I could see the African sky up above, and I cursed myself for my cavalier approach to the wild Zambesi river. Nature, I scolded myself, should never be messed with. It is stronger than I am. What on earth was I thinking??
My husband, meanwhile, along with our white-water rafting guide, was frantically trying to paddle the boat upstream against the rapids, in an attempt to rescue me from the relentless whirlpool that was doing its best to drag me under. What I didn’t know, was that they were also trying to get to me before the crocodile eyeing me up on the bank did.
As I was hauled up into the boat spluttering and panting, my husband unsurprisingly asked me to next time reconsider my desire to swim in a crocodile infested river full of rapids and whirlpools and suggested that perhaps this hadn’t been one of the best decisions I had made.
This wasn’t the first time I had pleaded with a higher power to not let me die. Only a year previously, I remember the very same thoughts racing through my mind as I found myself flying over the top of a car whilst my bicycle stayed on the ground in a crumpled mound after it had hit me head on. The momentum saw me propelled over the bonnet and roof and promptly land inelegantly in a heap at the rear of the car and in front of another one, which fortunately had the wherewithal to stop before driving over the top of me and finishing me off.
Several years prior to that, I had found myself in the middle of a busy shipping lane in Santander, Spain, swimming for dear life so that a rather large tanker didn’t plough over the top of me and rip me to shreds with it’s propellors. And after having managed to avoid it, (goodness knows how), having to do the same dice with death with a large passenger ferry that was headed in my direction. And then another ship and another, all the while trying not to panic and drown. All because of a spontaneous and ridiculous dare with a stranger to swim a mile and a half across the shipping lane to get to a beach shack on the other side of the peninsula for a beer.
There are plenty of other stories I can relay where I almost didn’t make it, from narrowly evading being eaten by a hippo, almost being crushed by an elephant and just avoiding breaking my neck whilst falling down a black ski run on my first ever day of skiing (although I reckon the many shots I had drunk beforehand probably saved me from that fate).
Chasing a feeling.
As I reflect back on these near-death experiences, and marvel at the fact that I am still alive, I have been wondering what drove me to dice so closely with death.
And I think I know the answer. And there is an irony in it.
I realised that by almost dying I felt more alive.
I was chasing a feeling.
I wanted to feel fully alive. I wanted the buzz, the thrill, the kick, the joy that comes with the adrenaline rush of cheating death. A heightened sense of life.
The only way I knew how to get the sensation of feeling fully alive when I was younger was to almost die. Or, in other words, to do something that was risky and that could potentially lead to my death. Choosing to jump out of the white-water rafting boat on the Zambesi against the advice of the guide, choosing to cycle to work in rush hour traffic from one side of London to the other in the 90’s (when there wasn’t the safety in numbers like there are now) and put my life in strangers’ hands on a daily basis - battling white van men and buses and lorries and cars as I weaved in and out of the traffic. And choosing to leave my friends on the beach to swim across a dangerous shipping lane in my bikini for a dare. All these choices were about craving the adrenaline rush of feeling fully alive, that only comes after dicing with death.
Or does it?
I’ve always thought that was the case, but maybe it isn’t.
All we are all doing day in day out, is chasing a feeling.
Whether we want to feel alive, or serene, or courageous, or vibrant, or connection or love, or joy, or compassion, or any one of the hundreds of feelings we have the gift of feeling as human beings.
I was chasing the sensation of feeling fully alive. The buzz. The thrill. The kick. The joy.
I don't have to risk my life to feel fully alive.
Nowadays, my life is way more tranquil and calm. There is less opportunity for adventure. Children, a mortgage, responsibilities and lockdown all seem to get in the way. As well as the truth that as soon as I became a mum, I suddenly didn’t want to risk my life for a thrill anymore. My children needed me alive. I was no good to them dead.
Eighteen years on from giving up my recklessness, I have realised that there is another way to feeling fully alive without risking my life in the process.
And to my surprise, it comes from the simple things.
Walking in nature; having deep, intimate and meaningful conversations with the people I love; skinny dipping in cold water; making a new friend; sitting around a campfire in the dark with people I hold dear; deep belly laughing with friends; doing the work I love; reading an inspirational book; feeling the sun on my face; hugging my children.
These are the things that really make me feel fully alive.
So, it is good to know that I don’t have to risk my life to have that feeling. And that makes my husband very happy.
However, I would quite like to try wingsuit flying if anyone wants to join me…..?