Monday, July 11, 2011

Staying Alive to Enjoy it

Do you have a healthy respect for death?

Or would it just get in the way of your fun?

This past weekend near Buffalo, New York, a legless war veteran fell out of an upside-down 70-mph roller coaster and died. He intentionally boarded the 200-foot-high amusement park ride with his family, even though he could not have avoided realizing that the safety bar - which secures the legs of passengers - and seatbelt couldn't possibly hold him, even with prosthetic legs.

Last Thursday, a fan diving for a foul ball fell head-first to his death here at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Video of his fall (since removed from most websites) shows the fan reaching out over a railing and away from his seat in a gesture his biological gyroscope should have told him was unsustainable. But the foul ball was being tossed by his six-year-old son's favorite player, so of course, the extra effort necessary to reach the ball was going to be worth it.

Reality can be cruel.

Color me hopelessly pessimistic if you like, but I simply don't understand risking your life for pleasure.

Risking your life to save somebody else's? Admirable.

Risking your life to have fun?  Possible proof of Darwinian natural selection at work.

It's one of the prices affluent societies like ours pays for a lifestyle based on gratification. We don't think bad stuff will happen to us, but we expect good stuff will. So when it comes to risking natural laws for the sake of fun - particularly when it comes to the laws of physics - participants in risky fun generally assume the odds of invincibility will work in their favor.

After all, you snooze, you lose.

Riding the roller coaster, New York's prosthetically-equipped war veteran was trying to join his loved ones on what many people would consider to be a normal family outing. His family said he hated to miss out on what others were doing because of his injuries. Reports even suggest that the amusement park staff didn't want to either embarrass or disappoint the guy, so they let him go ahead and board the ride, despite the risks.

Texas' fireman at the ballpark has been praised as being a devoted father trying to secure a treasured keepsake for his only son, just perhaps too eagerly. A guy who always went the extra mile, and would do anything for his boy.

Incidentally, the railing he fell over is higher than all international stadium standards specify, and the roller coaster in New York checked out mechanically and structurally. At least neither family has mentioned anything about filing any lawsuits - yet.

It's worth noting that another fan injured himself falling over a railing - attempting to catch a foul ball - at the Texas Rangers' ballpark last year, and he was a firefighter as well. Fortunately, even though he fell farther than last Thursday's fan, he survived, albeit with some chronic health issues.

Not that I have a problem with people having fun. But is "fun" more important than life?

Is risking being labeled a dweeb - the prospect of which is likely what motivates some gusto-seekers - worse than risking death or serious injury? An Iraq War veteran and small-town firefighter both enjoy a certain prestige (and rightfully so, I might add) as members of our society's heroic class; war heroes and first responders who generally put their life on the line for relatively low pay. How much leeway does society give them to dance along the borderline of logic when it comes to pushing the boundaries of risky behavior?

It's not outside the realm of possibility that these types of people could tend to develop an inflated, unrealistic estimation of their skills, coupled with an equally marginalized appreciation of danger. The greater the thrill and social credentials that come from defying death, the lesser one's ability to maintain a respect for those things that can cause death.

Living your life to the fullest is one thing. Staying alive to do it is another. But the fireman left one child behind, and the Iraq veteran left two. Is it too politically incorrect of me to point out that their bad choices have handicapped each family's ability to derive "fun" out of the future?

It couldn't have been worth it.

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