Every year, on September 5, Americans undertake their own pilgrimages – but these pilgrimages are not dedicated to gods or goddesses. No, these are pilgrimages to propitiate the all-american gods of vacationing, meat, and beer, though not necessarily in that order.
The details of the pilgrimages are the same. Waking up at ungodly hours to start for the trip, bleary-eyed baths, pre-departure checks on the gas range, heavy traffic on the highway all headed in the same direction, waiting in line at gas-station restrooms, checking in at the hotel and dragging your baggage through the carpeted corridors. I must admit that these details are considerably more simplified in America – no cold baths at 5:00 a.m. with a red plastic mug, no restrooms at all to wait for, no irumudis to bear on your head, and no litanies to repeat at the moment of departure.
We went on our own pilgrimage to Arkansas this year, which is pretty much the closest place to Kansas with any resemblance of natural beauty. And beautiful it was – tall semi-alpine trees all along the roads, low undulating hills covered with greenery, lakes and rivers all along the highway.
The highlight of the trip was our kayaking trip on the Caddo river. It was a glorious, exciting and tiring four hours of constant paddling. Almost at the end of the kayak trip, I spied a rope hanging above a dark pool of water. There was a branch of a tree that overhung the river and small wooden steps led to the top of the branch. You had to climb up the steps, grab hold of the rope, swing over the river, and jump. The catch was, you had to swing in a semi-circular arc, to land in water. If you swung straight, you had a large rock waiting to smash your bones below your feet.
I crossed the spot, changed my mind, paddled upstream to reach the spot again and dug my canoe in at the bank. I watched a brave boy swing and drop and come up gasping. It seemed exhilarating. But I changed my mind.
Later that week, I heard about a guy from my college drowning in Texas while doing a similar jump. The parallels were unmistakable. The incident raised a plea from Raapi, who enjoined us to remember our limits and responsibilities before trying anything for just ephemeral excitement.
But it is ephemeral excitement that has brought us into this world. It is ephemeral excitement that makes me feel alive, in my mind-numbing daily routine of melancholy and drudgery. One’s chanes of dying in a road accident are probably higher than dying in a freak drowning accident. Does this mean we should never drive again? Life is much more fun, when there are peaks and valleys, than when it is a straight, flat journey, much alike Kansas.
So RIP, PJ, for your zest for life. The rest of you, do something crazy. Your limits are defined only by people who have done it before and survived. Your responsibility is only to yourself.