When 9/11 happened, I was scared. For me, my children, my family. I felt that that could have happened anywhere, at any time, to anyone. It could have been me. When I hear about mass shootings in public places—nightclubs, movie theaters, churches and synagogues, malls—I get scared, because I go to all those places. It could happen to me. Without warning, without cause. Just random disasters.
When the submersible Titan went missing, I wasn’t scared. When I learned it had imploded, I was sad, but not scared. Because I would never have been there. When I hear about dead bodies along the way to the summit of Mt. Everest, I assure myself that I would never have been there. I was just a kid when Apollo 13 happened, but I would never have been there. On the ground in Afghanistan. In the helicopter with Kobe Bryant. On a boat with Captain Quint. There are high-risk ventures that I have no reason to fear, because I fear them enough to avoid them altogether.
There are much tamer things that I fear. Flying. Ski lifts. The woods at night. Rollercoasters. Snakes. So there’s no chance I would ever be a passenger in a submersible going two and a half miles into dark, cold ocean water. Does that mean that those who happily do and experience such things are brave? To some extent; braver than me, anyway. But there are also thrill-seekers, people who genuinely feed off the adrenaline rush of risky behavior. They climb mountains at impossible angles. They drive super-fast cars. They jump out of airplanes. They go white-water rafting in fast-moving rivers with rocks on all sides. These people either don’t fear death or feel it’s worth the risk of living on the edge. Who knows what drove Evel Knievel to do his crazy stunts. Or the Jackass people, for that matter.
Count me among the very risk-averse. It might be a comparatively boring life, but it’s a sustainable life. You can only cheat death so many times. I would rather keep my feet on the ground and know they will still be on the ground tomorrow, than to venture into something where the odds of my survival are even part of the conversation. I have a low-risk job, low-risk hobbies, and that suits me fine. We need people to accept risk; we need those first responders who run towards danger, and I appreciate them greatly. We need soldiers and sailors to go halfway around the world and put their lives on the line whether there’s a good reason for it or not. We need those people, but I can’t be one of them.
The five people aboard Titan didn’t plan to die. At least not on this trip. (News reports say that the 19-year-old victim who perished with his father was terrified at the prospect of the voyage and only went along as a favor to his dad.) No, they planned to tell of their visit to the ocean floor, about seeing the wreck of the Titanic. Instead they share that legendary craft’s burial ground. And here I am, with less fascinating stories to tell but alive to tell them. That doesn’t mean I’ll live forever, but hopefully it means the whole world won’t watch me die.