I hopped off the bow with the dockline and fixed it to the cleat at the town’s free dock. Andalsnes was quiet… too quiet. The feeling that we’d missed something hung in the air.
We got the boat sorted and set off the explore the town. The streets were dirty with the leftovers of a night of rabble-rousing. Blonde, weathered maintenance men with twinkling eyes swept up the refuse. After a few weeks of sailing, I noticed that Norwegians tend to keep their lives very ordered.
I popped into the hotel to get some info.
The ever knowledgable concierge told me that we’d missed a party the night before. Just my luck.
“What was the party for?”
“Oh, it was the opening party for the World BASE Race.”
Every summer at Innsfjorden, a short way around the corner from Andalsnes, Norway, one of the premier BASE jumping events in the world takes place. Squirrel-suited competitors race head-to-head from the lip of a 900 meter cliff; the first to cross the finish line wins. The kicker: for the race to count the jumpers have to land on a narrow road right at the sea’s edge, next to a forest. If they miss the road (i.e. pull their chute too late or fly to low) they are disqualified.
After a quick bite in town, we untied and pottered around the corner, where we spotted some tents and spectators set up on the side of the road. My sister Luna and I hopped over the side into our dinghy to go say hello.
Immediately upon landing we spotted a woman in a full leg brace with pins in her knee. Despite this, she somehow looked official, so we went and said hello.
The woman on crutches was the wife of one of the event organizers and an avid skydiver and BASE jumper. She had completed thousands of jumps all over the world, most of them in her native Czech Republic. She told us about the selection process for competitors, how every racer is vetted by the community; jumpers with a reputation of recklessness aren’t welcome. We talked about how people learn to use the squirrel suits, jumping out of planes and testing the maneuvering, braking, maintaining control, and so on. She explained the rules.
While we were chatting, a competitor who had miscalculated his approach plunked down into the chilly North Atlantic, much more humiliated than injured.
We finally got around to acknowledging the elephant in the fjord — Loons asked what had happened to her leg.
“You won’t believe it. I was walking my dog in the park in Prague and stepped off a curb wrong. I had surgery last month and am on crutches for the next two.”
It goes to show, everything is dangerous. Everything, our very existence, has an element of risk. The trick is to mitigate that risk, to be honest with yourself about the danger, about your accepted level of danger, and to take steps to minimize risk. For some this means wearing a knee brace skiing at the resort, for others it means hauling up a few extra cams, just in case.
To me, the most dangerous action of all is inaction. To not pursue one’s passion is to disregard life, smirking into her kind face as she urges us along. And when I say “pursue one’s passion,” I don’t mean to merely seek pleasure in a passive or removed capacity. Rather, I contend that every human has their own Great Work, the process that is laid latent in their possibilities for them to create, fulfilling themselves, and enriching their communities in positive ways.
For some this means starting a business, for others it’s doing scientific research, then there are those who bake cakes. Once you find that opportunity, though, it’s impossible to ignore it. I personally have felt compelled by some unknowable drive to follow the path, however obscured and uncertain it is. We are all explorers in our own ways, some are simply more intrepid than others.
Individuals do not always have the same route to discovering or fulfilling one’s Great Work — but I believe everyone has a Great Work, and it is everyone’s responsibility to find out for themselves exactly what makes them tick.
For the woman on the crutches, it was following the thrill of the jump. She found ways to make it meaningful and collaborative, not just a risky and selfish expression of mastery over the world.
There is no mastery over the world, only the chance to increase the level of your apprenticeship.