I’ve been wrestling with this question for many years ever since my brother died in a sky-diving accident leaving a wife and young daughter behind, and our parents with just one surviving child – me. At the time, I was just starting to get more serious about my own sea kayaking activities, but I had a husband and young son to consider, as well.
On another blog of mine, “Paddler’s Book Club”, I am reviewing the book, “Crossing the Ditch” by James Castrission about his successful attempt to kayak across the Tasman sea with partner, Justin Jones. As part of my research for that blog, I read the book, “Solo” by Vicki McAuley in which she chronicles her husband’s tragically unsuccessful attempt to kayak across that same body of water. When he died, Andrew McAuley left behind his wife and 3-year-old son, Finlay. Both of these books about epic adventures to do multi-week crossings of a dangerous body of water certainly bring up the question of what exactly is “acceptable risk”.
It would be easy to dismiss Andrew McAuley’s actions in undertaking this challenge as being selfish and irresponsible given the pain that it has obviously inflicted on his grieving wife and the loss to his son. Castrission and Jones, as well, had parents and siblings who were tormented by the strain of not knowing if their sons/brothers would return from their quest. However, we all take a certain level of risk in our daily lives, some more than others. Vicki McAuley brings up the point, near the end of her book, that we don’t seem to have any problem with parents taking on the role of police officer or fire fighter – careers which carry a high degree of risk. While some would argue that police and fire fighters are taking on this risk for the good of society, there are those who would claim that adventurer’s like James Castrission, Justin Jones, and Andrew McAuley also serve a common good acting as an inspiration to reach farther and higher than we might otherwise.
I’m not sure if I totally agree with that argument, although I’m not sure that I totally disagree with it either. As I said, it’s something I’ve been wrestling with for almost twenty years. I certainly don’t believe that we can live our lives in total safety. Life does not come with that kind of guarantee. Nor do I want to live my life in a constant fear of the risks I take every day when I walk down the stairs or drive in my car.
So where do we draw that line that we call “acceptable risk”?
P.S. On a related note, I would like to point out that in this day and age of social networking and the internet, the things we say can have a profoundly positive or negative effect on others. As I was reading the book, “Solo”, I was surprised to come across the names “Derrick Mayoleth”, “Kayak Quixotica”, and “Silbs”. Derrick is a fellow kayaker and the designer of this website as well as writing the blog, “Kayak Quixotica”. His posts about Andrew McAuley in 2006 and 2007 were read by Andrew’s wife, Vicki, along with a response to one of the posts written by my very good friend, Dick “Silbs” Silberman. In a very dark time, following the death of her husband, these encouraging words, written on the internet, were a comfort of sorts to Vicki McAuley. Dick had no idea that his response had been included in the book until I told him earlier this week. Sadly, not everyone was as thoughtful of Ms. McAuley’s feelings when commenting on the tragedy in other forums.
Regardless of how you feel about this issue, I would encourage you to consider your words carefully whenever you comment about any subject on the internet. These are real people that we are talking about, with real families and real feelings. Our world would be much nicer if we all tried to “treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.”