by Sally (unbrave girl)
I think about death a lot – like, all-the-freaking-time a lot. I think about death as much as most people think about fun, happy, pleasurable things. (Like petting puppies! I was talking about puppies! What did you think I was talking about, sicko?)
Specifically, I think about my death. Usually my death is the result of some little-known, undiagnosed disease. Of course, there were symptoms – a twitchy eyeball, a persistent cough, a sense of pending doom. Who was to know that all these were signs that I was coming down with a nasty bout of death?
Sometimes, I imagine my death as the result of a household accident – falling down the stairs, setting myself on fire with the gas range, choking on my dinner of dark chocolate and red wine. (Antioxidants, people. I need my antioxidants to keep the death away!)
When I do, in fact, venture outside of my apartment, I’m faced with even more ways I could possibly bite the dust. I could get run over by a bus or attacked by a rapid dog. I could topple into an open gutter or eat some bad food. Or I could eat some good food and some bad dessert. Or I could eat some good food and some good dessert and just end up dying anyway. (Because life is like that, you know – all ironic and stuff.)
Given the amount of time I spend worrying about my pending demise, I used to think I’d be prepared to react accordingly when death did come knocking on my door. I’d be calm and dignified. I wouldn’t whimper or cry. I would be prepared. Yep, I would be the Boy Scout of Death.
“Hello, Death,” I would say, “I’ve been expecting you. Care for a spot of tea?” (I’m always British in these scenarios, just so you know.)
Due to my preoccupation with death, I don’t tend to take a great many risks. I don’t sky dive or bungee jump. I try to stay away from open water and open sewer grates. I don’t pet stray dogs or talk to strangers. I don’t even cross the street all that much, if I can help it.
Given my cautious nature, I have only had a few near death experiences.
How have I reacted when faced with the very real possibility of my death?
Mind you, this wasn’t some nervous titter. This was hysterical, wheezy, knee-slapping, tears-in-my-eyes, peeing-in-my-pants kind of laughter.
This has happened three times in my life.
One time an eight-foot-tall brick wall collapsed in my wake as I was walking down a dark street in my neighborhood in Brazil. If I had been walking a touch slower or the wall had collapsed a moment sooner, I would have been crushed. I was laughing so hard while recounting the story to my baffled roommate that she thought I was joking – until she saw the wall.
Another time, I was in a speeding taxi in Philadelphia that merged onto the highway too quickly. This caused the car that was in the merging lane to skid, flip over and burst into flames a mere three feet from where I was sitting. I tried screaming at the taxi cab driver to stop. But it’s hard to scream when your mouth is busy laughing.
The first time I almost-died, though, was definitely the scariest. (And by “the scariest” I mean “filled with hysterical, inappropriate laughter.”)
While living in Japan twelve years ago, I went on a hike with some friends up a mountain in Nagano – a really, really tall mountain. We had been hiking for a couple hours, when halfway up the mountain (the really, really tall one), one of my friends and I decided to turn around and head back down. The climb had become uncomfortably steep, and after scrambling up a couple large boulders, the two of us had had enough.
On the way down, my friend, who was walking in front of me, suddenly disappeared from view. When I ran over to find out what had happened to her, I quickly discovered that she had slipped on some grass and was sliding down the side of the mountain.
How did I discover this?
Because I promptly did the exact same thing.
Did I mention this was a really, really tall mountain? With lots of big craggy, scary boulders? Oh yeah, and there were trees! Lots of them.
I’m not sure how long we slid down that mountain – it seemed like forever. We miraculously missed all the boulders and trees, and when we finally stopped sliding we were practically at the bottom. (That would be the bottom of the really, really tall mountain that we had already climbed halfway up, remember?)
We staggered shaky-kneed to an open field where we flopped down on the grass and stared up at the sky.
“I thought we were going to die,” my friend said.
“Me too,” I said.
“Then why were you laughing like that?” my friend asked.
I didn’t know what to say. After all, how do you respond when you find out that death gives you the giggles?
“Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis.” — Jack Handey
Writer’s Bio: Sally is a writer, teacher, performer, photographer, traveler, eater of many things and wearer of many hats (not just pink mini-top hats with feathers). She’s also a big huge scaredy cat. Follow her at unbravegirl.com or via Twitter.
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.