As an extra opportunity for fun and male bonding, best man, Josh, sent an email saying he and Matt had set up a helicopter tour of New York City on the morning of Matt’s wedding. The six men walking down the aisle, Matt, Josh, Matt’s brother Jake, Richard, [Alyssa’s father], Andrew [Alyssa’s brother], and myself were to fly over the city from Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to the Washington Bridge and back to see the sights from above.
At first I wasn’t particularly worried. I still have to wear a post-op sling virtually all the time and figured I’d get the kibosh from my physical therapist. Who, to my surprise and chagrin, said as long as I’d be strapped in it would be fine.
Fine for her perhaps. Not so fine for me.
See, my idea of high risk recreation has to do with driving my car without getting plowed by cell phone talking drivers in three-story SUVs. Or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk because the street has cars, trolleys, buses and trucks.
This lack of lust for HRR (High Risk Recreation) had been confirmed when I was a teenager and my girlfriend and I rode the Steeplechase rollercoaster at Coney Island. I survived, but just barely made it to the men’s room in time to upchuck. When she asked whether we could ride it again, I seriously considered breaking up right then and there. But it was her car and I needed the ride back to Jersey.
This fear of fast was reinforced about thirty years ago when I tried a white water rafting trip in Maine. I was fine right up to the moment they passed out a loss of life and injury waiver, explaining that we’d better pay attention to the raft leader or we’d be tossed out like popcorn kernels from a hot open kettle. My stomach knotted, throat tightened, and writing hand began to shake. Still I signed, grabbed a paddle, and struggled onto the raft (which did have narrow sides upon which to perch) along with Sue and two other friends.
It began seductively well. Floating down a river on a warm, sunny afternoon, the shoreline lined with beautiful trees, lulled me into a false sense of security. My breathing normalized, I paddled along with the rest of the passengers, and listened carefully to our guide as he calmly told us what to do.
Which abruptly ended when he suddenly shouted “whitewater ahead!” At that moment every instruction that had been given flew out of my mind and all I could do was hope I wasn’t gonna be that popped-out kernel. The raft began to toss up and down and all the while the guide shouted instructions that my fear refused to hear. I just hung onto my paddle and side until the rocking and rolling was over.
Once the river calmed, the guide looked back at his crew and said with a wide grin, “That was a small one. Wait ’til we hit something decent. Hope you’re enjoying this.”
Enjoy? Hadn’t thought that word existed once we hit the white. But before I had a chance to beg him to take me to the shore, he shouted again, adding “this is a big one so listen up or we’ll roll over.”
That did it. No more side sitting for me. I crawled onto the bottom of the raft and tried my best to grab onto its rubber floor. Not easy, but I managed to hold something (I think it was my friend’s foot). I stayed hunkered down there for the entire rest of the trip.
When you cross the finish line, they take pictures you can buy. Somewhere in our collection is one with the top of my head just over the side and Sue calmly leaning forward on the very front tip of the raft.
At least I hadn’t tossed my cookies.
That experience led me to wonder about people who live for HRR. Last week I read about four people dying in an aborted attempt to reach Mt. Everest’s summit. Saturday I read an article that described a record breaking, successful climb of that same mountain by a seventy-three year old woman. Go figger. I sure can’t. I couldn’t even read Into Thin Air. Hell, I still keep my eyes on my feet when I walk up stairs. Different strokes.
Even though Mt. Everest is one hell of a spit from a guided helicopter tour, you couldn’t tell it by my inability to speak as we approached the take-off point. And I really hoped that nobody in our party saw my good hand shake (they let me wear my sling) when they strapped a flotation device around my waist before we boarded.
But once inside I immediately felt my anxiety dissipate. I had expected five-point restraints with our backs up against the chopper’s sides, but instead found plush leather seats with normal car seatbelts (though we had to wear earphones with a speaker in order to talk to each other). I had also expected to be buffeted about by the wind but nada. No whitewater rafting here. Even when the pilot banked, it was smooth and comfortable. And the magnificence of the city was overwhelming. Seeing New York’s skyline from above was stunning–even the new Yankee Stadium looked sweet–and I’m from Boston.
When we touched down, I actually felt sad. Wished it had lasted much, much longer. I woulda even been happy to fly over New Jersey.
But our tour was finished and, as we lined up to march between the lines back into the tour building, I was struck by the truth that we really only have one life to live and, where good judgment is necessary, it should never be dictated by fear.
“At the heart of the matter is a battle between wish and fear. Fear generally proves stronger than a wish, but it leaves a taste of disappointment on the tongue.” George Packer
(A special thanks to Sherri Frank Mazzotta who stepped up last week while I stepped away. Very much appreciated.)