Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Persistence of Time

I think about death a lot. Not in a dreading, fearful kind of way (although once in a while), but more of a pensive type of thing. I wonder about all the people who believe in the christian god and all the people who believe nothing, and everyone in between. I wonder which group is right, and what might happen to the group that's wrong (I suppose the answer to that question depends on who is right/wrong). And all I ever garner from these thoughts is "I really don't know."

Maybe getting older manifests itself differently for different people. Maybe there's not always an easily-identifiable template of psychology that one can quantify. Perhaps that's what  a "mid-life crisis" truly represents, that unique state-of-mind induced within each individual as they reach a certain point in life. In my particular case, I'm 41 years old and have no desire to buy a sports car, date a woman half my age, or go base jumping. I don't think I'll ever be the classic, stereotypical mid-life case because I've never been a stereotypical personality. Instead of a Porsche or a 22-year-old, I just think a lot more about the end. I wonder what it's going to be like. I wonder if I'm even in the ball park. I wonder if I'm wrong about the end, if I'll be right about god or whatever conscious being awaits. But maybe mostly, I think about the fact that regardless of all my thinking, death is inevitable. There's a strange comfort in knowing I can't mess that up.

The reason I'm writing about death is because there's been so much of it lately in the chasing world. Creeping infections, suicide, traffic accidents, tornadoes themselves, and terminal illnesses. As it does every day across the planet, death has arrived in many forms and shaken the chasing community. And it seems that as the years pass, its visits become more frequent. Even people who are still alive are being ravaged by diseases that systematically kill the spark of personality and character, as the memory steadily fades to the point of oblivion. To use a cliche, life hangs by such a tiny thread.

Another thing reaching middle age has done for me is make me realize there are likely fewer days ahead than behind. That thought does two things to me. The first, obviously, is that it somewhat alarms me to think that I'm on the downside of life. Just the thought that I've probably lived over half my life is rather unsettling when I'm in that certain state-of-mind. But mostly what it does to me is make me even more determined to see as many tornadoes as possible. I don't slowly lose my lust for chasing as I get older, replacing it with the need for financial and social stability. Oh, I desire those things as well, but they are below my passion and fire to be out there on the Plains, driving a long stretch of open road, craning skyward, all the while my mind racing with the possibilities of what wonderment I might be fortunate enough to witness later that day.

Getting older for me is basically like time is a person, who's always with me, always reminding me that I'm running out of it. This makes me want to keep doing what I've been doing almost all of my adult life. I've never felt pressure (true pressure) to be successful at chasing tornadoes, but I do feel it when I think about the fact that time is running out. I've seen fellow chasers taken away far too soon, some even before they've reached their prime. Along with the initial shock and sorrow this brings, it's also another example how anyone could be next, including me. This thought lights a fire in me to keep this thing going. I don't make a living from it, I don't get respect for it, and it doesn't really provide much tangible evidence to show what I've done with my life. But it's the thing I love, it's what I do, and for me, it really is my identity. Not as in "Shane the chaser" but "Shane the guy who did what he loved and didn't worry about what the rest of the world thought about it."  It's not about chasing, it's about finding a chance at happiness and grabbing it with both hands and to hell with everything else.

I hate hearing about chasers I knew or knew of who die. I know everybody dies, but I always think "they had so much more in front of them." And they did. I think about the legacies these folks left behind and how they were cut short. I think about my own legacy and the burning passion inside me to keep building it. Each moment when time runs out for another, serves as a poignant reminder that time is always right beside me, but at any moment when I turn to face it, it could be gone.

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