I'm not particularly afraid of dying — mainly because I'm not yet convinced that I will, despite the undeniable evidence of human history. I've always been lucky; who's to say I won't beat the odds? (In related news, I didn't win the Powerball on Saturday night, but nobody else did either, so I might buy another ticket for Wednesday.)
Anyway, having once been stranded by snowstorms in central Missouri, I sympathize with the people in Europe who can't travel because of the volcanic ash. But I am puzzled by demands that the planes go back in the air, and damn the consequences. Because seriously: of all the different ways I don't want to die, "in a plane that falls out of the sky" is pretty close to the top of the list.
I'm flying tomorrow, if all goes well, and will hope for the best. In the meantime, here are my top five ways I'd prefer not to die. Yes, it's a morbid way to start a Monday morning, but we manage our fears by mocking them . . . leave your own in the comments section.
1. Burned at the stake. Yeah, I've read that asphyxiation kills you before you actually burn — but who lived to be asked about this? I burned my hand on the coffeemaker this morning, and will whine about it for the next week. Open flames scare me (although, in true pyromaniac fashion, I'm drawn to them). If I believed in reincarnation — which I don't — I might wonder whether I was still traumatized by a past-life experience.
2. Crushed partway by a large object. Did you ever see that "Homicide: Life on the Streets" episode "Subway"? My friend Gary directed it; Vincent D'Onofrio got an Emmy nomination for his role as a man crushed under a subway car, who will die as soon as the train is moved. He's not in any pain, and he doesn't know he's doomed until the very end, but this is still not how I would want to go.
3. Killed in a plane that falls from the sky. The unifying theme to these is simply that I don't want to be afraid before I die. A midair explosion is one thing; one minute you're there, one you're not, and you don't have time to realize what's happening before you're gone. That strikes me as a blessing, if you don't have time to prepare for what Catholics call a "happy death." Even at terminal velocity, you'd have time to realize you were falling, time to brace for impact, time to be afraid and time to be seriously pissed off at whatever airline decided to take the risk of flying through volcanic ash.
4. Buried alive. I used to have nightmares about this as a small child. Years ago I had to have an MRI after a back injury, and still count that as one of the most terrifying experiences of my life (yes, I know how lucky that is). I made the mistake of seeing the original version of The Vanishing (Spoorloos) in the movie theater, and it scared me so badly I don't even remember who was with me. If I saw it with you, I apologize.
5. Mauled by bears. I saw Grizzly Man. Stephen Colbert and I are of one mind on this issue. Fortunately, it's relatively easy to avoid bears, even in central Maine.