Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel poised on his Harley-Davidson. (Photo by Ralph Crane//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
It’s been a busy month for fear. Political mudslinging. Multiple active shootings. Ebola. The kind of ‘What next?’ fear that makes you want to stay home; turn off the TV and bury your head in a pillow. But what would that accomplish?
When I was a kid I thought my two younger brothers were stupid. Don’t misunderstand me. I adored those two. They were the most fun people I knew.
But they were constantly getting into trouble. I couldn’t understand why they did the same things over and over, knowing they would get into trouble. How many times would they be punished before they realized our parents were serious when they said ‘No’? How many times would they climb out the window before they remembered they always got caught? What were they thinking?
I didn’t know the answer until I was much older. And then I was the one who felt stupid.
My brothers weren’t thinking at all. They were living. The risk of punishment was worth the giant gain of doing the things they wanted to do.
When my brothers were in middle school, Evel Knievel came to the rodeo grounds near our house.
Robert Craig (Evel) Knievel was many things. But he was famous for being a daredevil. In the 1970s this motorcycle-jumping stuntman launched himself to unbelievable heights and influence. Knievel was as famous for his crashes as his successes and still holds the Guinness Book of World Records entry (at 433) for the most bones broken in a lifetime. Every boy alive wanted to be like him.
My parents were not yet fans of Evel. And it was a school night. So the brothers were not allowed to go. My oldest brother bargained and pleaded with my mother all day, hoping to wear her down. To win her over to his side. Of course it did not work.
My youngest brother said nothing. He went about his day and that afternoon quietly crawled out his bedroom window and rode his bike to the rodeo grounds.
By the time my parents figured out what had happened, my little brother was walking through the front door. He was grinning from ear to ear.
The list of punishments my mother issued him could not remove the smile from his face (although she seemed to add another to the list each time she saw him). He had seen Evel Knievel. And no punishment he endured could ever take that away.
As a parent myself now, I do not advocate disobedience (or taking risks with the health and safety of ourselves and others), But I applaud my brothers for following their hearts. After all, taking small consequences while chasing dreams is part of the learning process.
For all the times those two got in trouble, they learned some awesome stunts on their bikes and skateboards. They learned to surf and to shoot snakes (Not at the same time, that I’m aware of.). And one of them saw Evel Knievel.
Life is a string of frightening, boring, tiring, thrilling and wearing-on-our-nerves frustrating days. But it is life. And the purpose of life is living.
My 80-year-old Uncle Gene tells me he reads the obituaries every morning to see if he is still alive. I laugh every time he tells me this.
At his age, life has thrown him things that seem insurmountable to most of us. But he gets up every day, determined to live it.
Do you have a method for keeping you going when the world seems out of control? I’d love to hear it.