Monday, June 16, 2008

On Risk

This morning, I received a note from my virtual friend Shannon, who is rapidly becoming an advance set of eyes and ears of this blog because she reads everything she can find on the subject of the PBR and very kindly keeps me clued into what is going on. Shannon reports that someone in the administration of the PBR posted a note on a bull riding board about Paulo, indicating that the surgery went well and he is, in Adriano Moraes’ words, “Good to go.” That is a huge relief to me, and I thank Shannon for spreading the word so quickly.

Naturally, all this has made me think quite a bit about the fundamental dangers of bull riding, and the men who gladly take that danger on.
Paulo’s potentially career-ending injury, plus the fact that Ross Coleman fell on his head in Orlando too and won’t compete in Dallas this weekend, have brought home to me yet again that these guys are playing with fire every time they climb into the chute.

Yet I do not believe that risk-taking is necessarily always foolhardy. I don't agree that mountain climbers who get stuck on a mountain in a blizzard should also get stuck with the bill for getting them down off the mountain, assuming they do make it down. I'm not about to go out and climb a frozen waterfall next weekend, or snowboard down a hill I can only reach by being dropped out of a helicopter, or swim five miles in the ocean or even run a marathon, but I do see the need sometimes to quit sitting in front of my computer trying to fix other people's broken prose and go outside to do something different.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book review in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle of Forget Me Not: A Memoir by Jennifer Lowe-Anker, which has a foreword by Jon Krakauer. Some of you likely will recognize Krakauer’s name—he has written such seminal books as Into Thin Air, about the disastrous 1996 climbing season on Mount Everest, Into the Wild, on Christopher Johnson McCandless’ ill-starred attempt to live off the land in Alaska in 1992, and Under the Banner of Heaven, an examination of present-day polygamy in Mormon communities that seems especially apropos given the goings-on in Texas of late. Jennifer Lowe-Anker is the widow of mountaineer Alex Lowe, almost universally considered one of the greatest practitioners of his craft of his generation, who died in an avalanche on Shishapangma in the Himalayas in 1999. Jennifer Lowe was left a young widow with three boys to raise on her own.

I full intend to read this book, not the least because the reviewer remarked extensively about how Alex Lowe’s obsession with climbing mountains affected his wife and family. Although Jennifer Lowe missed him desperately, and sometimes resented his protracted absences, she ultimately realized that he simply could not have done any differently. Apparently there are individuals who thrive on thrills and adrenaline, and without those stimulants, they are prone to depression and more obvious and available self-destructive behaviors. Those of us who can’t make any sense out of their need to scale an ice wall or cross a lava field might do well to hold our tongues and thank our lucky stars that we are not similarly burdened. Just because we don’t want to do it ourselves does not automatically mean that nothing good can come of it. At least if these folks are up on mountains, or on the backs of bulls or saddle broncs, they aren’t shutting down the local bars and driving home drunk in the middle of the night, through the streets of our cozy little towns and big cities. Whether they learn anything of value from their exploits is ultimately up to them—as it is to all of us, in all our experiences.

At some point, Alex Lowe taped to the wall of his office a quotation from Helen Keller’s book The Open Door that spoke to him: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” In the end, life is risk—nobody gets out alive, and hunkering down in our little hidey-holes won’t change that. And we need to accept as well the fact that sometimes no amount of preparation is going to change the outcome. Blizzards blow in unexpectedly, bull ropes break. Better, I think, to take it as it comes, to be disappointed, but not discouraged, when things don’t work out the way we’d planned.

Better by a long shot to take the view of a local resident whose obituary I read in the paper last Friday morning. I’m sorry I never got to meet him because he sounds like he was a lot of fun. According to his friends, he died fully subscribing to the theory that “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, ‘Holy shit, what a ride!’”

My friend Jay, whom I think I have succeeded in addicting to the PBR without his even having seen a televised event yet, was corresponding with me over the weekend of the Orlando event about Paulo’s wreck, thoughtfully kept on continuous loop for us on the PBR website. “Bull riders, and especially professional bull riders, are obviously, and perhaps certifiably, insane,” he remarked. “For some reason, I’m suddenly reminded of Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker. And the carnage at Normandy, during WWII. Ancient Greek and Roman myths also come to mind, wherein the good guy fights the bad guy . . . or the gods themselves, all on his own. It’s truly an amazing, fantastic, dangerous, fascinating spectacle.” Indeed, there is something primal, archetypal, about the sight of a cowboy trying to stay on the back of an animal that will do anything to get him off, and then may stomp the liver and lights out of him, as Barn Cat says, “Just for fun.” It’s why we keep coming back for more, because we hope, weirdly and impossibly, every time, that we’ll see them fail, and that we’ll see them succeed. If they fail, then they’re no better at it than we would be, right? If they succeed, we can tip our hats in sincere admiration.

“I’m yearning for a properly prepared souffle au fromage, accompanied by a glass of truly fine champagne, this morning,” Jay continued, “but I’ll accept bacon and eggs, with a glass of milk, thankfully. (Which is my way of saying, ‘If you’re ALIVE, bull riders and other cowboys, you’re ahead of the game.’) Or, I’m reminded of the old pilot’s saying, ‘Any landing you can walk away from is a GOOD landing.’” Certainly any time a bull rider can get up and stagger to the fence, it’s been a good landing. Regardless of whether he rode that time, he’s lived to ride another day. There’s always the next go-round.


shannon said...

"This morning, I received a note from my virtual friend Shannon, who is rapidly becoming an advance set of eyes and ears of this blog because she reads everything she can find on the subject of the PBR"

When I get hooked on something, I go all out. Some people would say I need a life :) But, you're welcome. This is one I was definitely happy to report.

A very deep and thought provoking blog today. I had to consider it before I wrote a response. And even now, I'm afraid I'll end up babbling.

I didn't want to watch the rerun of Des Moines this weekend because I knew that Kasey got hurt there. I decided to turn it on anyway and just turn the channel when he came on. Of course, since it had already started, I flipped to the channel just as he was landing on his head. This time, I cried. I think Paulo's accident is hitting me on a very deep level--deeper than I expected. This season we've seen Kasey break his neck, Ross Coleman come very close and Paulo breaking his twice. Not to mention other broken bones and a severe facial injury. It's been a rough season to watch.

I can't say that I've never taken risks, but they've been more about life changes such as moving cross country on a whim because I needed a new start. Maybe it's the combination of being a mother, my age and the nurturing aspect of my zodiac sign (cancer) that has me aching so much. It's hard for me to understand the extreme life taking risks.

So, why do I watch? Good question. There's a part of me that enjoys the thrill and wishes that I had that kind of nerve.

What I do find interesting, though, is the number of riders that have stated that they absolutely, without question, do not want their kids to ride bulls.

Sorry if this sounds like a bunch of musings. I can't quite find a way to sum up my response. Funny, for as wordy as am, many times, I have a hard time finding the right words for what I'm thinking.

Anonymous said...

It's Wednesday, and I'm trying to get some pictures and thoughts together to make a card to send to Paulo.

I "hear" what both Stockyard Queen and Shannon are saying. I got chills when I read a posters excited thread on another board,"Get Ready Dallas, Justin McBride is Coming Back!"

We've had discussions on several forums lately about riders and riding styles and cowboy hats vs. helmets. The opinion of one is that the smaller rider gets injured more often.

With the great anticipation of Justin's return I find myself shivering in this 100 degree heat. His song says, "Just Hold On," and I hope he will. Justin isn't one of my favorites, but I don't want to see anyone break their neck, especially at their hopefully triumphant return to the sport.

Anonymous said...

[i]It’s why we keep coming back for more, because we hope, weirdly and impossibly, every time, that we’ll see them fail, and that we’ll see them succeed. If they fail, then they’re no better at it than we would be, right? If they succeed, we can tip our hats in sincere admiration.[/i]
Definetly agreed. I'm going to possibly commit a horrible sin here and make an analogy to Indiana Jones (yes, I saw the movie quite a few times and quite liked it. That's not the point though.) I read someplace that the reason people like the character of Indiana Jones so much is because he's Mr. Average Joe. He's not a millionare playboy with a basement full of super hi-tech gadgets. He's not a Kryptonian, or an Amazon princess, or someone who's been altered by some science experiment gone wrong. He's a tenured Professor of Archaeology at Marshall College. (A nerd in other words. ;) )We get the feeling that with just a little more luck and a little more bravery, we could very well be him. Same goes for bullriders. They're not supermen. They're farm boys and cowboys-Average Joes, like so many of us. That might be why some of us get so attached to our favorites. When they do well, so do we. And when they get hurt, we feel their pain.