Monday, December 05, 2005

Death

We all think we're going to live forever.

We can't accept, or don't want to accept, that someday we won't be around anymore.

"Hey, that may happen to other people, but it won't happen to me."

Death.

That moment when we change from "is" to "was".

From "does" to "did".

The moment from after which we are spoken about in the past tense.

That moment waits for us all, and it is what we do with our time until that moment that shows our worth.

Every second we have is a gift. Whether you believe in the one-chance-and-it's-over theory of life, or the there's-another-trip-around-the-wheel-waiting theory, this life, this one we are living right now, only comes once. Live the hell out of it.

Because it will be over before you know it.

My first encounter with death that I can remember is when my Grandpa Kidd passed away.

I think it was 1983 or '84. My family was living in Pocatello, and my Grandpa and Grandma Kidd were living in Ashton, Idaho. Dad got a phone call one night, and I remember seeing him break down and start crying. He tried his best to explain to my sister and I what had happened, but it didn't make any sense. I was six years old, maybe seven, but it just didn't register that my Grandpa was dead.

Since then I've lost friends, relatives, pets, coworkers, former students...It never gets any easier, does it?

In my own experience, I think I've come close to dying three times.
  1. During my exchange at Shimane University, I caught a nasty fever. I was in a cold apartment in the middle of winter, frying and chilled at the same time. No thermometer, nobody around to help me out, no nothing. The room was spinning, and I remember thinking, "I didn't come all the way over to Japan just to die in a cold miserable apartment!" I finally got a hold of a friend, and told him I needed to go to the hospital. It was Sunday, and he said that there weren't any open, and I told him, "I'm NOT DYING over here! Get me to an emergency room!" So he did. I felt bad for yelling at him, but I was freaking out a bit. When I got to the emergency room, a nurse took my temperature, and it was 103.5. Yeah. Not so good. But the doc gave me some pills that fixed me up, and I came out of it rather unscathed.
  2. Back in 2002, I went down to Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku to climb the tallest mountain in western Japan, Mt. Ishizuchi. At 1982 meters (6503 feet) above sea level, it may not be that high up, but it's steep. Originally closed to women, Mt. Ishizuchi is still considered to be a holy mountain. Ishizuchi means "stone hammer". Looking at the mountain, I could see where one might get that idea.
    There is a festival held the first three days of July to commemorate the official "opening" of the mountain for pilgrims to climb. I'd heard about the festival, so I did a bit of research, contacted a priest who worked at the shrine connected with the mountain, and made plans to climb during the festival. I went with a guy I'd met climbing Mt. Mitoku in Tottori when I was training for the Ishizuchi climb. He'd tried to climb once before, but had mangled his knee in a fall. I should have learned my lesson there, but NOOOOOOOOOOO...
    So we went, participated in some of the festival activities (Japanese text...sorry. But the pics are from the festival) on June 30th, spent the night at the pilgrimage house on the mountain, then got up the next morning and headed out with the procession. One of my goals for the climb was to climb the chains (scroll down) on the mountain. These chains are known as "inochi-gake" chains, chains you wager your life on when you climb. I figured, since I was going to all the trouble to go down to Shikoku and climb Mt. Ishizuchi in the first place, why go half-assed? The only problem was I was hauling a lot of camping baggage, the rock face was wet from rain the day before, and my boots didn't fit into the spaces in the chains. So, I was pulling myself up the trial chain with my feet planted on the rock face. I was relying on my arms, and I've never been known for my upper-body strength. This was bound to end badly.
    About halfway up the 74-meter (243-foot) chain, my feet slipped. Somehow, I lock both hands around a loop in the chain. I'm dangling 120 feet above the ground, which is straight below me, with my gradually weakening arms the only thing between me and a plummet to my death. Not the best place to have an epiphany, yet that's where it happened. "Wow," I thought. "If my hands slip off here, I will die." There I was, facing my mortality hanging on a chain 120 feet straight up from the ground on a mountain in Shikoku. I realized that my life could end in a single instant, not just in a gradual weakening from sickness. And I was amazingly calm about it all. Part of me must have accepted the possibility that it all could end right there.
    Anyway, the fact that I'm typing this now means that I made it up the chain safely. Somehow, I mustered up the strength to reach a very small ledge and take a break. After that, I didn't climb any more of the chains. If I ever go back, I'm climbing with rubber-soled tabi (shoe-socks). At least then, my feet will fit in the spaces in the chain.
  3. I mentioned this before, when I talked about Johnny Cash, but here it is again.
    In fall of 2003, I did something really stupid. I ate raw liver.
    Why? Some of my friends were eating it, and they hacked on me, teasing me, saying, "Hey, White Boy! No way you can eat this! You're too weak!"
    Like a foolish Marty McFly, I felt I had to defend my honor. Besides, I'd eaten it once before and it hadn't been that bad.
    Never again.
    I caught an intestinal infection from it. Fever of 104, nausea, d*******, and dehydration. Bad news. The room was spinning again. I called my boss up, and she took me to the emergency room, where they put me on an IV and set me up in an Intensive Care Unit room for a night. After that first night, where I wavered on the border of this world and the next, I must have decided to come back to this side. They moved me into a regular hospital room, where I spent the next two nights.
    I can joke around a bit about it now, but it was probably a life-or-death situation that first night. Not so good, not so good at all. I was wavering between consciousness and unconsciousness the whole time. Not good.

Then I tell my parents about these various happenings, and they tell me that I have to go back to the States right away. I was smart with Mt. Ishizuchi, though. I showed them pictures and told them the story about half a year after it happened.

You never know when your number is up.

You never know when it's your time.

Each moment is a blessing.

Make the most of it.

That is only way you can show those who have gone on before that you honor them.

Live each single, solitary second to its fullest.

When your time comes, it's too late for regrets.

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