Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life and Death

Last weekend there was no Chamorro Village night market on Wednesday, the reason being because a terrible accident had taken place there. A man driving on Marine Drive left the road and jumped the curb driving directly into tents and vendors where the Sagan Dinana' used to be on the Chief Kepuha side of the Chamorro Village. The car didn't hit anyone, but smashed into equipment and tables, sending them flying which struck several people who were barbecuing. The car eventually was stopped when it ran into a concrete structure, the bathroom, breaking a waterfountain.

The medical examiner stated that the driver died from the injuries from the crash, and could find no evidence of any prior trauma or damage, such as a heart attack which could have caused him to careen off the road the way he did.

When I arrived at the Chamorro Village in order to open my grandfather's blacksmith shop, the police had put up yellow tape and had brought in a tow truck to take the car away. Dozens of people were gathering around to watch. The driver had already been taken away and so had one of the men barbecuing, who was taken to the hospital. The mangled car was still there, in fact it was only about twenty feet away from my grandfather's shop. There was debris everywhere, not just from the car, but BBQ pits overturned and broken. Tents smashed and torn. Tables flipped and tossed around. A vendor nearby saw me and noticed that I was earlier than usual today, but still later than the sign on grandpa's door says we are supposed to open. She came over to me, and both laughed and shook her head. "You are early today, but good thing you weren't on time or he might have hit you!"

The week before this while driving to work I had passed a car which had smashed into a power pole in front of the Mangilao Catholic Church. The crash looked horrible, but I didn't know what exactly had happened or if the driver was ok. I learned from a student who had seen the crash early that morning that the driver did not survive.

The past few weeks and months seem have to been filled with accidents and deaths dealing with i chalan yan i kareta siha and i tasi. The roads and cars and the ocean.

One of the strange things about life is how we organize tragedies in order to provide a sense of meaning or order. People die all the time, for so many different reasons. The reality of life and death don't dictate much in terms of how we feel. For example, when I fly in an airplane, I constantly fear that I'm going to die. I feel like something horrible could go wrong and I and everyone on the plane will plummet to our deaths, shrieking and gripping for dear life into some of the least comfortable comfortable chairs in the world. When I drive in my car, I rarely ever fear that something horrible is going to happen to me. Statistically however, there is a greater chance of me dying on the road driving to work then riding on an airplane. If there is an objective way of calculating risk, danger and what I should be afraid of, it is not what I listen to. Instead, each of us have our own ways of organizing the world to create our own ideas of what is dangerous and what is risky. We draw from our own experiences and how own identities to make a framework of fear, and that unique perspective gives us a healthy sense of meaning.

So much of this is not even public, but rather a dialogue you have with yourself constantly. A weighing of risks. You chide yourself, pat yourself on the back, you create a spider web of reasons for why you do this, why you do that, why you fear or respect this, why you take risks involving that. Most of the reasons why people die are beyond their control, but through the winding of this web, you feel like you are in charge. You choose to put yourself into certain dangers and wisely avoid others.

Since I turned 30 last year I find myself thinking more and more about death. I was never afraid of flying before, but as I have gotten older I get more and more sick and fearful on planes. I regularly get carsick in cars, but sometimes my nausea on airplanes becomes intolerable. Before, when there would be a series of car accidents on Guam, I would remember that car accidents happen all the time and while it is unfortunate, it's not like an epidemic. But nowadays, I find myself weaving things together to sometimes see something wrong or something out of whack. The recent drownings around Guam make me wonder if we have fundamentally lost something on this island in terms of our relationship to nature, or that there is something fundamentally wrong with the ecosystem that our seas are getting rougher. I find myself more afraid of things, worrying about things. I worry about the crippling student loan and credit card debt that my graduate school career has bequethed to me. I worry about never finding a permanent job at UOG and that I made the mistake of only wanting to move home and so my career as an academic will always be limited and that my desire to live and work here will allow institutions to take advantage of me. There are far far more and it seems that the only thing I have lately that exceeds the number of papers I have to grade is the things I worry about, that keep me up at night and make it so hard to feel like I had a decent night's sleep.

I wonder if this is how most people start their 30's.

1 comment:

Tamagosan said...

"A weighing of risks." You nailed it.

I'm more aware of this process as I, too, am now 30! Was it going on in the background beforehand? Did I even know that I could die then? Have my parents ever thought that I had good judgment?

This as I plan a trip to see a friend in Japan...

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