Russian Roulette with a Made in China Cap Gun

I’ve heard the phrase “we’re not promised tomorrow” enough throughout my lifetime that it’s become a cliché. And what else can I really do to truly “live my life” and “make the most of it”? My issue is that I’m too aware of how short and precious life is.

During the summer of 1998, right before my senior year of high school, I spent a few weeks at a music camp in which us kids stayed overnight in the dorms of the college at Snead State in Gadsden, AL. I wasn’t the kind of kid who looked for trouble when not supervised. So instead of sneaking out at night, one of the things us teenage boys did in that dorm was play Russian Roulette, with a toy cap gun that was made in China.

Because, what else would we do?

In other words, the seven of us staying in that hall gathered in one room around a toy gun that we loaded with its accompanying ammunition, the equivalent of Snap and Pops. It had a barrel just like a real gun and we would only place one “bullet” in at a time. Meaning that there was only a one-in-six chance that the toy gun would make a big “POP!” when the trigger was pulled.

We all took a turn, passing the toy gun to the next guy after we pressed it to our own temple and pulled the trigger. If it was just a “blank”, we stayed in the game. If it went off, we were out.

It was a very entertaining game. Actually addicting.

But at the same time, it made us nervous. Our hearts would speed up in the anticipation. All over a popping sound from a toy gun bought at a gas station.

Just a dumb game we played that summer. But for me, it brought some reality to the fact of how true that analogy is in every day life. I do everything possible to eat and drink healthy, to exercise regularly, and to reduce stress. Preventing disease and cancer is a lifestyle to me.

Yet, as people who smoke cigarettes and who regularly eat fast food and who don’t make an effort to exercise daily all tell me, “we all gotta go sometime”.

There are still car accidents. There are still those random deaths like an unexpected brain aneurisms, and I don’t even know that that is.

I am completely over-aware that every morning I wake up, it’s a game of Russian roulette. Maybe not a one-in-six chance of life ending. Maybe more like one-in-a-half-a-million.

But to me, I’m only alive another day because God let it happen. So really, it’s not a matter of any chances. Not one-in-an-anything.

And that truth is one of the most sobering, frightful, and yet grace-filled thoughts I can think of.

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 2

It’s a fact. There has never been another year in history (2009) when this many well-known people have died, namely middle aged celebrities, Michael Jackson being the foremost.  I keep thinking of the lyrics to that Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “oh, oh that smell- the smell of death surrounds you”. For a culture that seems to have some roots still grounded in the mindset of a 19 year-old kid (convinced they’re invincible and not really seeming to grasp that they actually will get old one day if and only if they live that long), we are now being forced to consciously think about it: There is a 100% chance of death for all of us. Life is a trap- no one gets out alive.

Not only does that require us to evaluate our lives, but it forces us to make at least one conscious attempt to nail down our view of the After Life. Because despite what we allow ourselves to safely believe, there can only be one absolute truth about life after death. Not everyone can be right. That’s the security, necessary exclusiveness, and hope that a faith brings.

Just like the way the male baldness gene randomly shows up in some men by age 20, while for others it leaves them alone for quite a while, the same “hot potato” concept goes for death. If everything goes as expected, we will live into our 70’s. But there are many variables that just can’t be controlled. There’s a redneck cup koozie I’ve seen before at gas stations that says in neon rainbow colors on a forest green background: “Eat right, exercise, don’t smoke… Die anyway!”

Being that I work in the transportation industry, someone a few weeks ago was trying to make a point to me about a particular safety issue regarding an 18 wheeler truck and in an effort that I feel crossed the line because it brought my personal life into a work environment, I was asked this question in front of others as a fear tactic: “How would you feel if a big rig ran into you and killed you?”

I pretended to listen and pay attention to what the person continued to say after that, knowing it didn’t matter anyway because I knew I was right and I later proved it through course of action instead of words. But ultimately on the inside I was doing my best to keep from saying out loud, “How would I feel if I died? I probably wouldn’t feel anything. I would be dead, you moron.”

Admittedly, that lame attempt to prove a wrong point to me actually has caused me to truly give thought to “dying before my time”. I am solid in my beliefs about my eternal destination. But the ultimate sadness of death is knowing that the 50 remaining years I have planned out in my head, with my wife and my family and my friends, are at this point just that- plans.

Either I get those years with the people I love or I don’t. And I have no control over that. Therefore, it makes me over-aware that each passing year I live is nothing but God’s grace. He allows me to continue to share life with these people. That is the reason I am still alive.

I used to have this way of thinking that if I didn’t talk out loud about my fears, they wouldn’t come true. But now I’m talking. Knowing that it’s not up to fate or something I can jinx; it’s up to God choosing to keep me around.

The downside of being happy about my life is knowing that it’s not guaranteed another second. Like the previously mentioned “hot potato” concept, in a sense we are forced to play Russian Roulette every day we wake up. So far so good. We’re all still alive. But the thought of missing out on life, which is the people in it, which are the meaning of life- deeply saddens me.

So this helps to explain why I am constantly called “Grandpa” when I drive, often going under the speed limit and never taking my eyes off the road. And it better explains why I am so focused on healthy eating and exercise. It’s why I won’t jump off into water I can’t see the bottom of. It’s why I never say good-bye to my wife without letting her know I love her.

People are the meaning of life. And in a related yet also almost opposite perspective, the real reason death is so scary is the fact is that it removes us from the people we love and the lifetime we’ve shared with them. Death takes us away from the meaning of life. We’re not afraid of dying, we afraid of losing life. That moment when everything we’ve ever known becomes like an old series of blurry dreams, and we wake up to the ultimate First Day in a New Place.

“I am invincible as long as I’m alive.” -John Mayer (“No Such Thing”)

“And if I go before I’m old, oh brother of mine please don’t forget me if I go… When I was young I didn’t think about it, now I just can’t get it off my mind.”
-Dave Matthews Band (“Bartender”)