Angles of Perception

 

We all know that we don’t all see the world in the same way. We know it, but do we truly get it? Do we truly understand how deep the rabbit hole goes?

On July 17th 2009, David John Thomson committed suicide near the base of Castle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. I’d met Dave a couple of times, but I wouldn’t say I knew him at all. Just enough to say “Hi” though Margo had know Dave for well over a decade as a climber. His unrelenting drive in the sports he pursued earned him his nickname “Everyday Dave”. Although he’d have never told you so, in the climbing community Dave was regarded as the “Father of Modern Mixed Climbing in the Canadian Rockies”. Smart, unassuming and with the purest of intent; Dave simply got stuff done. It was with that intent that Dave took his own life.

A few months prior, Dave, a roofer, had stopped into work briefly on his way to the ski hill. It was his day off. One slip while descending a ladder; one fraction of a second later as he landed on his back on the fence below sentenced Dave to life in a wheelchair…

When Margo and I got the news of Dave’s death, I can’t say we were surprised. Shocked; yes. Surprised; no. Dave had let friends know in no uncertain terms that he was seriously considering his options. He stated matter of factly that he’d give life in a wheelchair a shot, and make a decision from there on whether to stick around, or not…

Following his accident Margo and I had several conversations on whether Dave would make it or not. In a sense, and I told him this in a note written in a copy of my book I gave him, with his determination and drive, he could push outdoor adventuring for the disabled to a place few could ever dream of taking it. Dave had spent months alone on solo kayaking trips in some of the most remote places on the planet. There is no reason he could not have continued to do that. On the other hand, he was undeniably the absolute last person that would ever ask anyone for help, and we both knew this would be the single biggest factor if he decided to check out.

Well, check out he has, which of course leaves those of us remaining with lots of questions. For me personally, it raises something I don’t think about often: What people think when they see me. Did Dave, every time he saw me; pity me to the point that within himself he could say “if that were me I’d kill myself”? Do other people think that when they see me? The irony is; although I can’t bring up a specific memory, I am positive at some point I felt the same way before my accident when confronted by somebody disabled in some way. I’m sure most of us have felt that way; that we’d rather be dead than have to live like that…

Why is that? Is it because we don’t believe we’d have the strength to carry on? Is it because when faced with such a scenario, all we can see is the loss. All we can see is all of those things we’d no longer be able to do? Are we scared how others may judge us, as we ourselves judge? Please don’t get me wrong here; I’m not saying that the path to a better life lies within tragedy, or that we should all rush out and maim ourselves to achieve enlightenment. What I am saying though is there are huge lessons to learned through hardship and struggle, and for some of us, a tragedy may be what’s required for us to step up to the plate and lead fuller lives.

Dave didn’t like many people. He was a purist and thought most people were weak. He lived in a cave for god’s sake, for 3 years! In the Canadian Rockies! Summer and Winter… He was closed off to most people, even those closest to him. This could have been an incredible opportunity to grow. To become more. Hell, it could have been an opportunity to really show people how weak they are; a paraplegic out solo kayaking around the Queen Charlotte Islands, circumnavigating Tasmania; Antarctica…

More than anything I saw Dave’s decision as a lost opportunity to live larger. To send a “F*#* You!” to the universe. “You think taking my mobility away is going to stop me? I’ve got news for you!” At the same time I have to stand by his decision. On one hand I think it’s the bravest possible thing any human can do; to willingly take your own life. Seems ironic to me that the ultimate freedom we have; to choose between whether we live or die, is illegal in most countries… On the other hand, part of me sees his decision as a huge cop out. Here you are, handed your ultimate challenge; the chance to learn so much about yourself it defies description, and you choose to opt out. To pass. But that’s my perception. I don’t have the right to overlay that onto Dave’s experience; that’s the beauty and the enigma of perception; there are so many ways to see, each of us having our own angle of perception. Sometimes our angles align; sometimes they don’t. In the end, I have to accept that Dave made the right decision; for him. And that’s all that really matters.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not left questioning: Should I have reached out to Dave? Was signing a book for him enough? After all; how many people are there in the climbing community who have gone on to lead full lives after paralysis or amputation? Granted, not many, but Dave knew me. I could have steered him in any direction he wanted to go… I know a paraplegic woman who has skied across Greenland. Who have climbed El Capitan. Who have ice climbed. I don’t just know about them or of them; I know them…

I, more than anyone he knew, knew where he was at. I knew what he was facing; I’ve been there. And I knew he could come out the other side bigger, better than before…
What could I have done to help him see, really see, that the world could still work for him; that despite all of the crap, and the bullshit and pettiness; and sometimes sheer madness and horror of the world; that’s it’s a miracle we’re all here to experience it at all; and that there’s beauty in just being…

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