4.26 A Matter of Life and/or Death
Alright, let's get to this because as the title implies, we don't have a lot of time. There's no place for crying, whining or goddamn excuses. Did you ever have a life or death experience but was so hung up and distracted in your own denial of the fact that some day you're going to die that you didn't realize or have any understanding that perhaps it was all a bit closer than you care to admit? Okay, then. I'm flying back from Dallas and enjoying a movie called The Place Beyond the Pines on my personal entertainment screen embedded into the seat in front of me. The movie's length was three hours, exactly the duration of the flight. No time could be wasted, come on, enough with the safety videos, I need to see Ryan Gosling play a guy who performs motorcycle stunts in a carnival and starts robbing banks, making his escape on same motorcycle. VERY different from the movie Drive where he plays a guy who performs stunts in Hollywood movies and moonlights as a getaway driver. Different because in The Place Beyond the Pines he has blond hair, lots of jailhouse tattoos and stands around a lot staring intensely while he smokes.
Halfway through the trip, the pilot comes on the speaker: "You may have noticed that I've turned on the seatbelt sign. I don't want anyone to be alarmed, we'll probably be okay." Now, I must interject here and say that this was exactly what he said. Verbatim. I don't know about you but I don't want the word 'probably' to be used by the pilot of the plane when I'm a passenger. Learn to be more like politicians and lie to us. He went on: "We've been informed by the Dallas airport that there was evidence of rubber on the runway after take off. We might have a faulty tire. I've asked that emergency crews meet us when we land in Toronto and I didn't want you to be alarmed."
People poked their heads up, looking around in confusion more so than fear. If there was turbulence or dangerous sounding noises, we could identify and focus our fear. But we couldn't see the tires, and from all accounts, when we all finished investigating, the plane seemed in fine working order. I went back to Ryan Gosling.
As we approached Toronto, my attention split between the movie and what was happening outside. There was death happening in the movie but I didn't take this as some sort of sign. But then again, maybe I've seen too many movies. Maybe we did have a faulty wheel. Maybe this faulty wheel lacking rubber would cause sparks, the sparks flying up towards the fuel, the sparks igniting the fuel causing an explosion that would instantly kill off half the passengers, breaking the plane in half, the two halves sliding along the concrete flipping upside down, the seat belts holding us in place. That calm after an accident when you have a moment to think and the thought is the worst is yet to come. I undo my seat belt, help screaming and bloody survivors out because my seat was next to the emergency exit and it was my responsibility. We'd get out of the plane with the help of the rescue team and stumble to the ground just as the rest of the plane exploded. Figures in this scenario that I'm a hero. Screw off, it's my made up hypothetical situation. We landed safely and as we approached the runway and I saw the rescue vehicles waiting, this fiery almost-death and other actual fiery deaths did cross my mind. That could've been the end. How did I feel about that? I felt nothing, which to me, said we were never in any danger, like I could control the fate of the plane with my mind. Denial.
The plane rolled to a stop. No sparks The rescue team walked all around the plane. I watched them inspect the wheels carefully and they gave a thumb's up to the pilot. He relayed the good news: "Ladies and gentlemen, we have been given the thumb's up that our wheels are in fine working order. The rubber left on the runway was not ours." Wouldn't that mean that there's another plane out there flying around with one less tire? We taxied to the terminal and I went back to the climax of the movie, staring at the screen but not paying attention.
Instead, I was thinking about last summer when I went to visit my grandmother's grave. I understand that on the plane we were really in minimal danger, but still, the mind wanders. And my mind wandered to a cemetery. Seemed fitting. Hadn't been to her grave since I was a kid, found out where it was and drove out to St. Catherine's near Niagara Falls. Backstory: I've been working on a novel - working on it for way too goddamn long - and the image of my grandmother popped into my head at some point. I wrote her into the story, not her specifically, just the image of her. She kept elbowing her way into the book more and more until she was finally one of the main characters. So, I'd been thinking about her a lot and figured I'd pay my respects.
On my way, I realized I should bring some flowers. Stopped in a grocery store and found some for reduced sale, I figured she wouldn't mind. Cheap bastard that I am. It's the thought that counts, right? I found the cemetery, found the grave and there she was, well, there was the grave. It's one of those small slabs that are right in the ground and I pulled the weeds and long grass around it and cleared off the dirt from the top. Dug a little divot and put the flowers in, but they wouldn't stay. I didn't want to dig too deep.
I'm there and I really have seen too many movies. Isn't something profound and important and insightful supposed to happen in these situations? Or is death just a mundane thing - one moment we're alive and the next we're not. Some people find comfort in believing that we go to a better place, well, that is if you're a good person, and if you're bad, look out. If heaven and hell are constructs, one to illicit fear and the other an attempt to inspire goodness, why aren't we, generally speaking, more content in knowing where you stand in regards to how you've lived your life? If you don't believe in these elements, and we just die and that's it, isn't that depressing? Look, I ain't saying one is better than the other and people can believe in what they want, I can only speak for my reality. And if I was to tell the truth, I can't separate the idea of an afterlife and the life we have now. I figured the older I got, the wiser I'd get, but this just doesn't seem to be the case. I seem to be knowing even less, letting go of certain perceived truths and trying just to be happy with not knowing. In the end, at the end, after the end, how do we really know what happens? And for me, actually, this isn't depressing, it's somewhat liberating - but liberating just for me, might be total shit for someone else - because if I'm not living by certain codes or morals that will get me into heaven and avoid hell, well, I'm just trying to be a good person and determining for myself how to live moment to moment. Trust me, this has come through much thoughtful investigations. It's just what I think and it's nothing I impart on others, just my feeling. Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow. Whatever gives you hope that helps you get out of bed in the morning.
I'll tell you something, something that's between you and me. Something that's a bit embarrassing, that if someone else told me this, maybe I'd think it was a bit lame, kind of self-helpy in that gross kind of way. For the past while, whenever I was heading out somewhere or meeting up with someone, I started saying this mantra in my head, a simple idea, but one that has grown quite powerful. All I say to myself is, "Be open." Je-sus, even just writing this down feels awkward and silly. But it seems to work for me, it speaks to just seeing what the hell could happen, because you just never know. I hope by voicing this, it doesn't lose what it's given me. I don't know why I decided to bring this up, maybe because its helped curb certain fears of the unknown, helped distinguish what is in my control and what is out of my control.
So, I'm standing there at my grandmother's grave expecting something to happen. It doesn't. I wait. My gaze drifts up to the next row of graves. The one directly above my grandmothers is of a child, the year of death matching my grandfather, who passed away first. The name on the tombstone reads, "Jeffrey Paul --------". I did a double take. As you may or may not know, my full name is Jeffrey Paul Dore. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I felt something on my shoulder and I looked back and saw nothing.
Look, I don't know what this means and I still don't. Could just be a coincidence. Could be something else. As we pulled into the gate at the Toronto airport and the emergency crews finally left us, I remembered standing at my grandmother's grave trying to make sense of some things. It's part of when this all happened, when I started to change my life, and although I do not believe it was some kind of profound or insightful experience that happened in one moment, I do think something creaked open that day, a dore was opened in my mind, and I came to slowly realize I had to get my shit together, I had to get in the goddamn game. It makes me wonder if certain things do happen right at the right time and for the right reasons, but also, they could not happen any other way. Fate? Random? I don't know, and that's okay. What I do know is that I missed the end of The Place Beyond the Pines.