what’ll kill ya

by tobias crabtree

want to find your priorities? easy, take things away and you’ll know what you want the most.

take air for example. i know, i know, you really wanna get a raise…or you want that house, or that grade, or that girl, or that car; name it, i know there’s things you want. but here’s a little something for ya, let’s just pretend you  can have anything you want, but you don’t get air along with it. that’s right, no air. so you can’t breathe. do you want to understand desire? here’s something that’ll help you get what i’m saying. it was shown to me, personally, in training some years ago. don’t worry, i volunteered, but it was, nevertheless, brutal:

go to a swimming pool. get your heart to pounding real hard. maybe do some kind of exercise, it doesn’t matter how you do it. get that heart going and make it work till it’s slamming behind your ears.

now, dive into the water. take as big a breath as you want but dive in and dive down deep. go to the bottom of the deepest part of the pool and find a pair of boots. now, put them on. are they tied? tie them.  oh, you wanna go up and get a little breath? cool, but first go get that 25 pound weight, yeah that thing, now swim on up to the surface and wait for instructions.

right now you want some air. i guarantee you want some air. so have it. another little guarantee i got for ya. what you get, won’t be enough, you will want more, i know you will.  you can’t have more. give the weight to your buddy and go get another one. go now. right now! if you don’t go, someone stronger than you will make you go. oh yeah, and while you’re down there, put on that long sleeved shirt. so now you’re putting a shirt on at the deep end of the pool. and you are finding another weight and your lungs are doing this strange thing. it’s like burning, i guess, but it’s also a kind of seizure. it helps a little to swallow, not much, but a little. when you start to pass out, you’ll see shooting lines that are like a kind of black and white. i’m not sure which, but i think they might be particles from atoms. i think they might be what we are made of.

if you pass out, and no one is watching you. you will die. it’s simple: no air will kill you.

there’s other stuff that we can’t live without. there’s water. how long have you ever gone without? it doesn’t matter if you are tough or not tough. it doesn’t matter if you train real hard to know how to endure without it. no matter what, no matter who you are, you cannot live without sweet, wonderful, life-giving water. i know some who think it’s good to deprive yourself of water. i don’t think it’s good, nor do i like to do it…but i have.  once i went way too long without water. i dreamed of it for two days. it superseded all my other priorities. i was with my friend christian and we were on a poorly executed, poorly planned climb in a giant park in patagonia. we were wild eyed and wild hearted and foolish. i was having some weird reaction to eating a piece of fruit (the last of our food) and the roof of my mouth was swollen down to my tongue. i felt fear. when we came down to the non-vertical world, we stumbled to a glacier-fed stream and i drank and got sick and drank and got sick. only water, that’s all i could think about. sweet sweet water.

all i’m saying is that we don’t need what we think we need. what we call “needs” are probably mostly “wants”.  what we want is, more than likely, ridiculous  when compared to what we really need. here you go, list off the things that concern you.  i’ll bet, if you’re honest, the majority are things like phone reception, lines at the supermarket, comments someone made about the outfit you’re wearing, you forgot to get half and half for your coffee.  and if you take it a step farther, more seriously, it’s stuff like,” oh man, can we pay this bill?”, or, “what do you mean, you need some space?”, or, “did you get the results back from the doctor’s office?”

it’s good to keep things in perspective. one of the guys that used to drag me down to the bottom of the pool lost his leg in an auto-crash that also took the life of his best friend. oh, there’s other tragedies as well. my dear brother, christian, went home to the bronx after our adventure in patagonia and jumped into his job as a fire fighter. two weeks later, after pointing dozens of  people to safety, down the stairwells of tower two, the world trade center fell with him still on the eighty-something floor. damn him if he didn’t turn to dust on me. one day, he was talking about our next adventure and the next he was but a fleeting image in my stumbling, trembling, not-so-stable mind. how could the world pull this shit on me? where’s the air i’m trying to breathe here? and when i’m sitting in central park, even these many years later, i cry more out of my own godamn selfishness because i feel like i’m forgetting what he looked like and i beg the stars down outa the sky so i might catch a real glimpse of him again. i ain’t looking for “fair” here, i ain’t even looking for happiness. i grovel for peace, man. how about a little bit of that?

what we need and what we get are two different things, that’s for sure. i just broke the last hundred dollar bill that i owned.  i turned it into gas that’s in the rig i’m sleeping in. tomorrow, i’ll drive south and find work that will turn into more money. the government will churn and blah blah blah about what we need to do for the betterment of blah blah blah. the poor will fight for a little tiny bit. the middle class will fight for a tiny bit as well.  the rich will dance around and forget what it means to need to breathe. the earth will turn and the tides will rise. hummingbirds will swoop on the sparrows who are too close to their nests. chicory will bloom in blues and yellows. somewhere, in a deep-mountain river, a giant boulder will roll over just one turn in a thousand years, one turn and thunder up through the roots of the trees. this’ll happen. all the good and all the bad of it.

that, an’ whatever else will happen.  like my buddy christian always said, “well, damn.”