When in Jamaica, out of the three of us, I decided that I was the one who wouldn’t climb Dunn’s river. I didn’t climb it because I couldn’t picture myself at the top. While I waited for my two friends to come in and out of view through gaps in the pruned forest, I did my best to bask in it. It was great– that I had found myself responsible. Before a foot had even graced the slime of an eternally wet rock, there within me was a self-preservation I didn’t have to dig for. It shocked me, and I noted that I’m going to live for a long time.
I stood at the mouth of the river and watched as foreigners climbed in clusters among the locals who knew the score. You didn’t need to know the score, there was nowhere that told you it; no mandatory guides or vibrant signs of forewarning uglying the landscape. There were no safety measures. That was the appeal.
Nobody takes the world for a safer place. It is in as many ways as it isn’t. The 21st century is a dog on a leash pulling along its owner. We currently live in the shadow of a different time where there were still blank pages to write on, and its terrible events provided cause for today’s safety legislation. Smoking causes cancer, there are no big liquids from home on planes, police are in stab vests wield guns in London Victoria station. Enough of us would agree that it’s a luxury to be made painfully aware if it means we get to stick around longer. Yet, there’s a cost, one that is better known by those from the other side of the fence.
There’s a wide collective of elders who enjoy reliving one specific childhood scene: children playing on fluffy green lawns unattended in a world where white vans were still innocents. Older people like my mum frequently express sympathy for the liberating party scene that was robbed from my generation. It feels that places like Dunn’s river belong in that world. Risk had not yet been given its name. People had gotten hurt back then, and people still died, but the choice had not yet been made for everybody.
There is no publicly known total number of deaths by Dunn’s river. Clearly there have not been enough. Some of us yearn to dismiss risk– to live life as it was intended all along, no matter the cost. That is why you pay to climb. In those same moments, some of us are outed for caring too much about everything. Looking back, it’s clear that the fixation on safety is learnt, regardless of how personal it has become.
“You’ll remember you did that,” I remember saying to my friends when their survival had become apparent, “when the next challenge comes along.”
They’ll picture themselves at the top. It was the thing to say, yet it so happens to be true.