The Value Of A Life

Cassie Fenoseff

Copyright 2002 by Cassie Fenoseff

This is an essay about the risks that a person takes 
with their life, and highlights how what is perceived 
as a risk varies greatly from person to person.

Photo of a skydiver freefalling against the clouds.

The instructor pushes me towards the door. As much as I want to, I can't move very fast on my knees. I can see the gaping hole in the plane where the door would normally be. The wind rushes past and I can feel it getting stronger as I near the door. Perched on the edge, I look down to see houses that look like specks and people that look even smaller. Suddenly, I am thrown from the plane to the freedom of the open air. I feel myself falling, faster and faster, as the ground rushes up to meet me, until the parachute opens and I am jerked upward. Slowly I drift back to earth, where I will stay until the next time that I can soar through the sky.

The wind whips through my jacket and I can feel its coldness even through the four layers. I swerve to the right as the trail curves unexpectedly. The snowmobile's headlight illuminates a narrow patch of trail in front of me. The skis dart to the left as I turn again. Bouncing along, hanging onto the handlebars, I lean into each curve in order to stay on. The loud hum of the engine drowns out everything else, as if I am the only person left on earth. Up a hill I climb, higher and higher until I crest the top, then slide down the other side as dense rows of trees rush past. Breathing hard, I stop once I reach a clearing and shut the machine off. The blackness engulfs me, and the only sound is my boots crunching through the snow.

A rush of water slams against me as I try to paddle when the guide orders. He claims that if you keep paddling, you won't go overboard. The raft heads for another rapid and we bounce along, almost being thrown out of the boat. Churning water is on all sides of us now as we traverse the narrow passage between two mountainous boulders. I continue to paddle and focus on the challenge. Water sprays up between the rocks and the raft in a frothy fountain, definitely not somewhere a person would want to get stuck. The raft spins and we head down the river sideways, the water taking us where it wants to and filling our boat, demonstrating its power.

Quickly I turn the wheel to the side and try to avoid the log in the trail. The truck's tires bite into the brush on the edge of the trail and start aiming for the ravine. Suddenly a river emerges from the woods, its water flowing over submerged rocks. I shift gears and slide down the bank. The water engulfs the tires, but still they press on. Slowly, foot-by-foot, we cross to the other side. The tires reach land and start drawing the truck up the other bank. Precariously we perch in our vertical position, losing a foot here, gaining a foot there. After a painstaking climb we reach the top of the bank and continue on into the woods. A muddy pit looms ahead, daring us to try to pass through it.

I descend deeper into the darkness, slowly watching the creatures change. The light strains to reach the depths but they don't seem to care. Clown fish, sea turtles, eels, shrimp- they either hide from me as I pass by or come closer to see who the intruder is. The vibrant blues, peaches, and greens of the coral astound me, as do its inhabitants. Swimming along, I can feel the current pushing me back towards shore, although I am oblivious to the waves dozens of feet above me. The world down here is quiet and serene, yet dangerous and intriguing at the same time. Breathing through my regulator, I turn around and slowly make my way back to the surface, careful not to ascend too fast. I'm glad I can enjoy these last few moments before I have to leave behind this amazing world under the water.

One foot in front of the other, step-by-step, inch-by-inch. The terrain becomes steeper as we leave the valley. Trees line the rustic trail, and the ground is covered with thick brush. I heave my backpack higher onto my back and trudge along. The endurance, the challenge, this is what it's all about. No bathroom, no bed, no microwave, no shower. In the wilderness you don't need any of those things. But you do need determination and willpower. The first mile turns into five, which turns into ten. Slowly the sun starts to drift down the horizon as the woods close in and the shadows become longer. My hiking boots weight a thousand pounds as I continue on, one step at a time, all the while surveying my surroundings. In the distance an animal howls, letting me know that I am never truly alone.

The ride operator said it was the fastest roller coaster in the world. The metal bars come down over my shoulders, locking me into what one woman calls a "death trap". We zip away from the platform and I listen to the clinking sound from the track as we make our way up the first incline. Suddenly it feels as if we are falling out of thin air, then we are upside down. Into a tunnel of darkness, then back out into the bright sunlight. Screams emanate from the passengers as they grip the bar tighter and tighter, as if that would save them. The roller coaster picks up speed again and the wind rushes through my hair and makes it hard to see. Another three loops, a quick turn, and we are back to where we started. Waiting passengers fill our seats as fast as we can stumble out of them.

My skis glide across the crisp snow as I pick up speed. Faster and faster I move down the mountain, turning to avoid obstacles. I pass the sign warning against danger on the other side, and focus on the bottom of the run. Snow flies up at me and the wind sears through my clothes. I twist and turn, the skis following my command. I listen to the cutting sound they make on the new-fallen snow and watch it sparkle in the sunlight. Through my goggles, the entire slope is rose-tinted, making everything looks surreal. I narrowly avoid falling and becoming a heap of limbs and equipment rolling down the steep hill. My skis dart to the left, then to the right, crisscrossing the cold mountainside. Within minutes I reach the bottom. I turn back around to look at the place where I have come from, up near the clouds.

The shark appears to be looking at me. It swims gracefully through the water below me, giving me a view of its body. Long and slender, it is as cunning and striking as any animal on land. I paddle over it, careful not to kick my feet like I was told. Another shark joins the first and they swim back and forth while the other creatures move out of their way. A stingray glides into view, followed by another, and then another. Their spongy brown bodies look like they are flying through the water, their tails trailing far behind them. Their body flaps up and down effortlessly, and the only sound is the swish of water. The sharks continue to search for whatever they are looking for as I watch them from afar, although still feeling like I am part of their world.

The bike tires threaten to slide out from under me until I get them under control again. A tree comes within inches of my arm and I move to avoid it. Mud flies off the front tire and up at me, covering me in its coolness. The trail narrows and I guide the bike between the forest on either side, watching for deer. What little sunlight has reached into the forest warms me while the trees whiz by. The only sound comes from my pedaling, and the tires on the dirt. The trail curves and I follow it, carefully missing the rocks in my path. Moving faster, I slide down a hill, the bike's tires moving as fast as I've ever seen them go. I grip the handlebars and lean into a turn, then back the other way. A snake scurries out of my way and I leave a cloud of dust in the trail behind me.

Some people ask me about the adventurous things that I've done. While most are intrigued, and some even participate in them themselves, many politely ask me if I'm crazy. How can you risk your life like that, they say. You young people think you're immortal, but you're not, they tell me. Others confess that they wish they had the guts to try it themselves. But it's not about guts, and it's not about risking your life. It's about the challenge, about seeing what you can accomplish, about testing your physical and mental limits. Besides, it's fun. What better way to spend the day than gliding down a mountainside or swimming with tropical fish?

People say that the thrill isn't worth risking your life or being seriously injured. They say that life is too valuable to waste. To me, I'm not wasting my life at all. I'm living it to its fullest, and experiencing everything this world has to offer, because you only get one chance. To me, not experiencing these things would be the bigger risk. I value my life enough to actually live it.

Cassie Fenoseff works full time as an automotive engineer and part time as a freelance writer. She writes both nonfiction and fiction, and recently completed a romantic suspense novel. She lives in Michigan with her husband.  

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