Friday, April 1, 2016

The Unthinkable

          Not long ago I walked by a cemetery and saw an old woman standing in front of a grave.  She wasn't crying or saying anything outloud, just standing quietly, looking down at whoever was buried there.  It could've been anyone, her lover, her son, her own mother.  Death doesn't discriminate; you don't have to be old to die.  I wonder what she was silently saying to this person in the ground.  It might've been nothing, maybe she was just staring into the unknown, wondering.

          Death is a mystery.  Life is a mystery, too, although at times we think we've got it figured out and then death happens and life gets flipped upside-down.  I like to think it's all an illusion, smoke and mirrors, some combination of misinformation and misperception that makes us forget death is part of life, and out of death comes new life.  The metaphors are all around us: the birth and death of the day, the changing seasons, the brief and beautiful cycle of plants blooming each Spring.  For some reason, a lot of people have trouble seeing this cycle in terms of human life.  To many, death seems like an abrupt apathetic end to a beautiful performance that only happens once.
          Yesterday I was walking in the woods with a friend.  It was one of the windiest days I had seen in a while.  We were walking towards the edge of a lake when we came across this man and his dog standing next to a fallen tree in the middle of the path.  His dog was was picking up smaller branches and running around all excited.  The man was pretty excited, too.  He said the tree had fallen less than two minutes before we showed up.  He heard a tremendous crack in the midst of a strong gust of wind.  He looked up to see where the noise came from and was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the falling tree just in time for him and his dog to move out of the way.  When my friend and I arrived the smell of fresh pine hung in the air.  The tree looked like it had exploded, there were pine needles and splinters all over the path.  My friend and I could've stumbled upon this man crushed underneath the massive tree amongst all the debris but, today was not his day to die (or his dog's).  Tragedy was avoided and the man's near-death experience became a funny story for all of us and his dog was quite happy to play with all the broken branches from the fallen tree.
          Plenty of people are worried about me going on this trip – very excited but, also worried.  For my mom, it's almost like I'm going off to war.  She had me get a set of dog tags with my identity and emergency contact information on them. She even suggested I write up something so my money and possessions can be divvied up if the unthinkable happens; for lack of a better term, my last will and testament.  I joked with her and said I'd leave it all to our dog just like that Jimmy Buffet song but, she didn't laugh as hard as me.  I'm not poking fun at you, mom (I know you're reading this), it's just funny to think of walking across America as going into war.  Really, anything can happen at anytime, though.  You can get crushed by a tree on a windy day or you could slip on a banana peel and break your neck.  These shouldn't be reasons to be afraid, they should be reasons to embrace each day in this lifetime.

          I suppose I'm putting myself in a vulnerable situation, attempting to walk 3,300 miles with 35 pounds on my back like some slow-moving turtle.  But, there's a fine line between being excessively foolish and overly cautious and I think going for a walk is literally walking this line.  The adventure is worth the risk to me.  If America turns out to be a warzone and I end up getting killed in action then so it goes.  I sure hope I don't die out there but, that's something that's just out of my control.  If I die, I will die trying to live.


  1. Oh my gosh, Dan ... so OK ... kind of choked up for so many reasons. One is that my best friend from High School died on Dec 16th from Stage 4 cancer. I can hear Jenni applauding what you wrote here, Dan. It is true and moving - so so so moving. We get one life. Just one. So please keep writing and please do not stop living the way you live and thank you for sharing it with me and also - hey, could you also please just stay alive? Diane

  2. So sorry to hear about your friend, Diane. I will keep writing and living as best I can for you and Jenni's sake :)