I saw a girl die today. I don't know what her name was. I don't know what her life was like. I don't know what her favorite hobbies were or what she liked to do on lazy Sundays. All I know is she was 19 years old and her death is sad. I don't think I will ever get the image of the ski patroller pumping her chest out of my head. So on my drive home from the mountains today I really started thinking. Thinking about life and skiing and death. And the question that I keep asking myself is "Is it worth it"?
The first thought that comes to mind is some sort of statistical rationalization. An analysis that compares the probability of dying while skiing to the probability of dying in an automobile accident or a lightning strike. The reality is the probability of dying while skiing is quite low. 1 person dies for every 1.4 million ski days, 1.6 people die for every 10,000 drivers. It's not too bad when I look at it that way. I'm more likely to die from something else. But then I catch myself, because those numbers don't do this situation justice. There's no way statistics can sweep away the sadness and pain that family and friends feel when someone tragically dies in their youth.
My second instinct is to fall back on the phrase "at least she died doing something she loved". And that provides some solace for me. It's true, I would rather die in a ski accident than by getting hit by a bus. My sister once saw a woman get hit by a taxi cab in New York City. I can't imagine going out that way. You're hurrying down the street trying to get somewhere you think is important, thinking about the million things you have to do, surrounded by people you don't know and who don't care about you, on a noisy, smelly, crowded New York City street and then BAM you're dead. Life ended, hopes and dreams gone. So would it be better to die skiing? Yes. But better does not mean good. Better does not mean tolerable. Better does not allow grieving parents to sleep at night.
My next inclination is that perhaps there's some greater meaning in the event. Perhaps this one death will prevent more future deaths. If it was the fault of a helmet, or an avalanche, or a misplaced sign, perhaps someone somewhere will learn something from the incident and a life will be saved. Perhaps even two or three. And that math seems to work. But how can it possibly be worth the one? One we might have known and loved?
All my questions seem to lead to more questions or hollow sounding answers that are perforated with holes. So all that I'm left with is this...perhaps skiing in some small, almost insignificant way makes the world, no scratch that the universe, a better place. My friend Chris who studies Buddhism once told me that " perhaps all the world really needs from you is to be happy". So could that be it? Could it be as simple as following our passion just because it makes us happy? I don't know, but I'm willing to chance it...