Despite all the attempts to remove death from life, to offer the vision of a safe and ordered world, it is impossible to hide the fact that we live in constant fear of death. There is no place for fear on the rooftops; it is the source of self-doubt, hesitation, and failure. It is only afterward, looking back to appreciate the sizable roof gap I have just leaped across, that I can reflect upon death as it is, without the intrusive influence of fear.
After landing, I am inundated by a flood of feelings and emotions, a natural response to the shift I experience as my entire universe rapidly expands. The tunnel vision, which reduces everything to a narrow path, an obstacle, and a landing, dissipates. I feel the embrace of the hot sun on my back and the fresh sting of several small grazes on my palms from rolling over sharp stones. The pain is good—it reminds me I am alive. Adjacent copper-domed roofs contrast a sky that has never looked so brilliantly clear, and inquisitive pigeons chirp and tilt their heads, studying a stranger who has unexpectedly entered their domain. I am thirsty. It is among these intense feelings of vitality that the first thoughts of death tentatively emerge.
Perched on an AC unit, gulping water and peeling an orange, there is no place I would rather be than right here in this perfect moment. As usual, this feeling is undermined slightly: would I still appreciate the subtle joys of existence had I not placed myself in the path of potential destruction? I don’t know. Parkour is strange like that. It entices you to leave behind the relative safety of the developed world and enter a place where death is no longer repressed. High above, among the glass giants and concrete monoliths, I have learned to thrive off fear.
I am reminded of a tradition practiced by the Crow Tribe that I had once read about. In the transition between adolescence and maturity, many young people become extremely depressed—unable to come to terms with life. If existence became intolerable, it was customary to actively reject it. Vowing death upon themselves and seeking it wherever it could be found. Their audacious disregard for their safety distinguished them as fearsome warriors and curious individuals. Liberated from the customs of society, and honored in death; these figures balanced upon a spiritual razor’s edge that I recognize within myself. They were known as ‘Crazy-Dogs-Wishing-To-Die.’ For obvious reasons, I can’t help but smile. There is still something distortedly heroic about it.
An image springs to mind. A small, flickering lift in the darkness. One of these Crazy Dogs sits huddled around a campfire in the wilderness, reflecting on the choices they have made. I like to think he is searching the star-dappled sky for the same answers that hide in the electric pulse of a million lights radiating from the city. He doesn’t seem too crazy to me. I don’t know if I will ever understand his pain and motivation, but I can at least sympathize to some extent. In several decades, colonization had uprooted and displaced thousands of years of tradition, leaving fractured communities to try and respond to the pressures of a strange new world to which they no longer belonged. There may seem like there isn’t any other option than to submit, but that is not true. Crazy Dogs don’t lie down and wait to die, however. They are defined by action.
I have met other freerunners who I believe fit the description of Crazy Dog. You can tell by the sharpness of their eyes. They share the clarity of vision, able to see the world for what it truly is. They follow a code of unflinching absolutism to the very end, unwilling to participate or share complicity in the absurd horrors that perpetuate our modern society. Any lifestyle which deviates from the standard norm is certain to be subjected to accusations of naivety or narcissism. But what alternative is there, when the dismal adherence to an ordinary life is not even for the promise of safety, but the semblance of it? Compromise is the first submission to fear. When everything is falling apart, surely an honest existence can only be achieved through complete and total negation.
Vows of death only lasted a single warring season, and any Dog who managed to survive was permitted to return to the tribe unless they wished to retake the oath. It becomes clear to me that similarly to parkour, death was never the goal, but rather a means of attaining some abstract ideal; it is different for everyone and impossible to comprehensively vocalize. For me, it is the brief moment, suspended at the apex of the jump as I am weightless—perfectly balanced between life and death. I am forced to chase down this feeling to the very edges of life because any other form of existence is intolerable, but I am starting to see the limits of this pursuit. The world we live in is cruel and unforgiving. A sense of futility pushes the best of us into these dangerous lifestyles, prioritizing the self over a society that cannot be redeemed. The world continues to be intolerant and hateful because the best of us, those unafraid to act, are all dead. One day my season will end, and I will have to choose to give up the life of a crazy dog or follow this lifestyle to its tragic conclusion. Perhaps it is time to stop running away.
I take one last look at the city before I climb down the roof hatch to street level, hoping that this image will etch itself into my mind. It is better than a photograph even though the image always fades, sooner or later. Once again, I must surrender myself to the bustling crowds, a sea of nondescript faces rushing about. It’s funny. These people are completely blind to the magical wonders of life that are constantly taking place all around them. There is a reason we call them muggles.
Story by George Starkie.