Last Sunday, Chicago was witness to two world records set by tightrope walker Nik Wallenda for his inclined walk across the Chicago River and the blindfolded one between the Marina Towers buildings. I had mixed feelings about this one when I first heard about this act – sure, its inspiring if he makes it alright but what if we hear about his fall instead?
We played it cool and thought it best if we sneaked peeks at the website where the walk was being broadcasted but halfway through the walk we were hooked. The online broadcast had a ten second delay but we could hear the cheers from the streets getting louder and louder (we live less than a block away from the Marina Towers buildings). The possibility that this man might successfully walk two blocks on a tightrope over 500 feet in the sky with no safety harness was real and only seconds away from us. When we realized that we were going to be able to catch a glimpse of him from our balcony PK stormed out just in time to see him finish his blindfolded act. We watched in awe as he triumphantly waved out to the crowds.
After the euphoria died down and our heartbeats were back to normal, I went over to CNN.com to check out news coverage of the event. There, on the top of the page, was the news that Brittany Maynard had ended her life through physician-assisted suicide earlier in the day.
Brittany Maynard, a California native, found out at age 29 that she was terminally ill with brain cancer and had about six months to live. Instead of letting her cancer take her on a wild ride of pain and suffering that her family would need to witness she decided to opt for physician assisted suicide so that she would die on her own terms. Until the day she died, she continued living life as fully as possible, traveling to Yellowstone, Alaska and the Grand Canyon and urged people to “pause to appreciate life and give thanks” in her last message.
I couldn’t help but recognize that whether we want to admit it or not, we’re all walking on a tight rope. We’re all just as vulnerable as Brittany and much closer to death than we would care to think we are. I cannot imagine what it must have taken for her to face death this way and for her family to support her in this decision. Regardless of what we feel about euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, it is stupid not to acknowledge how difficult it must be for someone who is dying to come to terms with his or her death. I cannot claim to understand or judge her decision to end her life. It is a personal one and seemingly, an excruciating one. What she got me thinking about was how important it was to recognize our mortality and give thanks for the smaller joys in our lives. Her obituary has a quote that struck me hard – “One day your life will flash before your eyes, make sure it’s worth watching”.
It’s amply clear to me now why it matters that a seemingly deranged assignment of a tightrope walk is important to watch, applaud and learn from. We’re all going through our lives, hoping to find our purpose and have that story that we are proud of when it is time for us to move on from this life. Many times the only thing that is in our way preventing us from having that story is our fear. Fear of not being enough, fear of what someone thinks of us, fear of failing, fear of being hurt or uncomfortable and the list goes on. In this world where we nurse our fears and cling to them, it is important we give praise to the people who do their best to conquer their fears doing things they are passionate about, however stupid or risky it might seem to us. It gives the rest of us hope that we too will be able to make that journey so that when time comes we can have an obituary that is worthy of us.
The term ‘death defying’ is thrown about so easily but the truth is that one cannot defy death when it comes by, knocking on our door. What we can all attempt to do is defy fear.