May 10, 2009
My father is about to go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon . For two weeks he will be untraceable - out of contact and totally unreachable. It will be, as he puts it, the adventure of a lifetime. I will be on my own little adventure. It's called two weeks without sleep. One person's adventure is another person's insomnia.
What if something were to happen to him? How would I hear about it? There's no wi-fi signal, no mobile, no way at all for me to know if he's still breathing. While he's busy planning what to pack, I'm busy wondering how they can airlift someone out of the Canyon if there's an emergency. He will be camping out on the cold earth - he could get a crick in his neck, a brown recluse spider in his ear, a rattlesnake in his pocket, or swept away on a storm surge if the river breaks its banks. There's the possibility of heatstroke during the day and frostbite at night. Not to mention being on the river in a raft for hours on end - bobbing up and down. It sounds very bumpy.
"What if you have a heart attack? I asked. "Then what?"
He told me the guides know how to handle it. Really? Are they cardiologists?
Then he said: "It's never happened before." But I knew he was just saying that. How does he know it's never happened before? It's not as though they list the number of people who have passed away while paddling.
He admitted he doesn't know for sure, but promised if something were to happen to him he'd make sure I was notified. Very considerate. Then he told me to focus on something else. So I did. What if something were to happen to me?
This scenario is far more likely. Without him being on e mail - how would I get a message to him? Finally he supplied me with a phone number on the condition I only use it in extreme emergencies. Define extreme, I said. He responded: "If someone dies."
What if I don't die but I almost die - does that count? "It will have to wait," he said, "I'm sure you'll survive." Let's say he comes off the river and discovers I'm in a coma. Is he willing to take that chance? He is.
All of which got me thinking. Isn't it selfish if someone decides to go on a potentially dangerous and risky adventure when there are loved ones left behind to worry?
A few years ago I knew someone whose husband decided to go on a trek in Nepal. She said he had to choose. If he decided to go on the trip he would be coming back to an empty house. He didn't to go on the trip. Then, six months later he died in a helicopter.
Some people might say she knew who he was before she married him. But when it's a parent, it's different. I didn't choose for my father to be such a hopeful optimist with an adventurous streak. I don't think he considers the burden. People who live life to its fullest are off in their own cheerful world - but for the rest of us, every day that goes by without a phone call from a stranger asking if we're sitting down is a good day.
When I told my British friend Simon that I was worried about my father I expected him to respond with something reassuring along the lines of, "I'm sure he'll be fine." Instead he said, "Well I can't think of a better way to go."
I can think of a better way to go. How about near a telephone?