Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Race Report and "What if I Died Today?"

First, a crazy little race report. Yesterday, I tried my hand at a duathlon. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a triathlon in which the swim has been replaced by a run. So you run-bike-run.

The race was pretty small. Of the 50 or so participants, there were only one guy with really flashy time trial bike. There were two distances, out of which mine (the sprint) turned out to be more of a fun run. Only a few people warmed up and people gave me the “Jeez, Focker, it’s only a game"-look, when I started doing strides.

Anyway, the race was so small that they had decided not to place volunteers on the bike course, which worried me before the start. I had a hunch that I would be the fastest runner, and this turned out to be very true. After the 4K run, I had almost a 5-minute lead to the next person on the short course (this turned out to be a woman, actually). Then, I had to time trial into the unmarked, unknown course into normal Danish Sunday traffic, with cars, bikes and pedestrians everywhere. I knew immediately that I would get lost, and I did. A guy, who I thought was from the organizing club, passed me in a car and told me to turn left at some point, which, unfortunately, turned out to be wrong. Anyway, I got off course, biked around for a bit and then found my way back to the transition and ran the final leg.

I felt ok the whole time, and doing a competitive duathlon one day might be fun. The organizers were pretty nice about the whole thing. No one could figure out why I had been shown down the wrong road.

Oh well. Which leads me to the question of “what if I died today?”

It’s 9-11. I’m waiting to board a plane to London for a hematology meeting. 9-11 and a flight from Copenhagen to London, both cities high on the terror target list.

Let me just say, though, that it annoys me to look up and see BBC and CNN broadcast 9-11 accounts and speeches all day long. When 50 Pakistani or Afghan civilians are killed by errant missiles, we shrug our shoulders and move on. And this happens almost daily. Of the hundreds of thousands of family members of those killed by Western missiles during this war on terror, no one got a second's public grieving on CNN. No grieving husband or son gets to slowly publicize their memories of the death of their loved one. It’s hypocritical, to say the least, to pretend all these hundreds of thousands (by some accounts, millions) of lives matter less than the ones lost on 9-11.

With that off my chest, just what would happen if I died today? I would be gone, which wouldn’t matter to me (me being gone and all), but a good number of people would be affected.

What would their 9-11 speeches in 2021 be about? Probably tangible stuff, like what I said in a final call or text message from inside the crashing plane. But drama aside, how would they fare without me?

Andreas, at 8, is so estranged from me that it wouldn’t matter tremendously to him. I aim to change that dramatically in the next few years, starting just a few months from now, but if I died now, he would feel nothing more than a symbolic loss of a faraway father figure. In the last three years, I have seen one single sign of sadness from him during all those goodbyes. And I say don't say this jokingly: that one time may be because he learned at the same time that he wasn't getting pizza for dinner! But I hope it was me leaving, not the pizza. I wonder what he would tell his kids 30 years from now about the father who left him for no particular reason, and then died on 9-11-11. In fact, even if I don't die today, I wonder what he will say about me!

El Guapo, at 7 weeks, would grow up without a dad, of course. He would hear more about me than Andreas, and , through that, would end up at least somewhat influenced by me.

What would Christian remember? This morning, he begged me to take him along to London. We played outside in the sun, with a very palpable sense on his part that I was leaving. When I told him it was time to go inside, he pointed at everything at said, “but we haven’t tried the sandbox... or the playhouse... or the other sandbox!”. If I die, he will remember this morning like John Wheelwright remembers the day his mother gets hit with the baseball in A Prayer for Owen Meany. I imagine them talking about me at family dinners, after a while only remembering the extremes of me, like the crazy things I said or did. Christian would look at pictures and be amazed that I was yet so young when I died (he would remember me as an ancient father, of course, as all kids do).

Natali would suffer most, I think. She would receive the news and cry inconsolable, as she has so many times over the last three years, saying her histrionic goodbyes. But over time, she would settle into normal Wisconsin life, her bi-cultural edges wearing off, her unique personality disappearing behind reruns of Glee and How I Met Your Mother. She is the one I worry the most about; the one I feel the need to protect the most.

And the Girl? It’s a difficult question. She is more of an island than the kids. I would miss her more if she died, than vice versa. Her life’s trajectory has been pulled so much off course by meeting me that if I died, leaving her with two little kids, she may even end up resenting me. Sometimes, I sense that her idea of me is more important than the actual me, our lives a homeopathic version of what it would be like with me dead. Again, it hard to imagine exactly what would happen. She is not nostalgic, as I am, and I worry her memories of me would be kept alive mostly to please the kids.

Addendum: I lived!


Danni said...

You are Mr. Doom and Gloom. I think that's what interests me most about your blog.

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SteveQ said...

Reading your blog after your wife's reminds me of Lisa Simpson portraying Ophelia:

My own thoughts on 9/11 aren't (and weren't) very popular.

PiccolaPineCone said...

Holy crap. What a post! I don't think I have ever read a string of ideas that I a) feel so strongly with and b) have always felt somehwat isolated in that I believe I am a minority in doing so.
I went from laughing out loud at the Focker comment to nodding vigorously in agreement with your assessment of the imbalance and hypocrisy of news coverage - makes me think of Tina Fey's book in which she states: "I was a cable new star, like a shark or a missing white child!" Hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Darfur, hundreds of thousands on the brink of starvation in East Afrida which barely get a passing nod but a white child goes missing in Canada and the US and it's all the headliens all the time. I mean yes, it's tragic... but there's no sense of proportion.
Then your acknowledgement that it wouldn't matter to you if you died. That is something that people just DON'T GET... I think. People don't realize that the tragedy of death is NOT for the person who died... to them it matters absolutely not (granted this is my opinion as a devout atheist).
Then the stuff about your family. So moving.
Always, ALWAYS appreciate a John Irving reference, especially an Owen Meany one.

Fast Bastard said...

Thanks for the comments. I do like gloomy nostalgia, no doubt about it.