Sunday 22 January 2017

George Hook on... Life and death decisions

A random choice saved his life, but George Hook firmly believes that spontaneity is essential to a joyous existence

Published 27/07/2015 | 02:30

George Hook
George Hook

The Misty Fjords is a national monument and wilderness area in Alaska. It is best seen from the air, although the constant mist that gives the area its name makes piloting difficult.

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Ingrid and I took a cruise holiday to Alaska in July 2007 and the highlight was a trip in a six-seater seaplane from Ketchikan through the fjords. It was a magic experience, and we returned safely to base. As we floated to the pier, the next five passengers were waiting to board. We engaged in some shopping on the way back to the cruise ship and by the time we reached the quay, the news came through that the plane we had used had crashed into the cliff face with no survivors.

A decision to book the noon flight rather than an hour later had saved our lives. I was reminded of this - if a reminder was needed - when I read of another crash in the fjords this summer. The average of one fatal incident a year gives food for thought, but the tens of thousands of tourists that visit do so convinced "that it will not happen to me". The formula for fate hinges on a balance of decisions over time. Each of our life paths is mapped out on a series of split-second choices that have the ability to influence minor daily occurrences, or change the very facet of life as we know it.

A minute either side of the clock usually renders itself unnoticeable, but an hour either way could be the difference between life and death. The reality is that each of us is playing with the unknown and the consequences of the alternate route and the road less travelled often remain obsolete.

The subconscious choice rarely gives pause for thought. It can be as natural as picking up an apple or switching a channel on the television. We all make thousands of minor decisions every day and never give them a second thought.

There are times, however, when we are reminded of the supreme power of our own choices. Every so often, moments occur when a realisation about the impact of our decisions hits us like a thunderbolt. When it happens, it can be unsettling and enlightening in equal measure. But for a move here, or a few steps there, we are all at the mercy of fate.

"When one door closes, another one opens." My father's advice sustained me through some of the lowest periods in my life. Many times, on the brink of bankruptcy, in complete despair and with creditors closing in, I kept faith that a door would open for me to escape my troubles. Looking back now, I can honestly say that my father's advice probably saved my life.

Fate intervened with drastically different outcomes in the lives of two Irish couples during the recent terror attack in Tunisia. Larry and Martina Hayes from Athlone in Co Westmeath were minutes away from leaving their hotel to fly back to Ireland when they reportedly decided to go for one last walk along the beach. It was a decision that would cost them their lives.

At the same time, Anthony and Betty Tunstead from Ballymun were in the process of changing hotels for the second week of their holiday. If the Dublin couple had been at their usual spot, on a sunbed on the beach, it is highly unlikely that they would have survived. According to a subsequent interview, Betty claimed they were late checking out of their room. Had they been on time, Betty said, they would almost certainly have been killed.

Two Irish couples, two different sets of decisions and two drastically different outcomes. The beauty that life has to offer cannot be experienced through a prism of constant consideration. We pontificate only on what we must and on the rest, we let the dice fall where it may.

Life would be heaped in misery were it not for spontaneity. How boring would we all become if every single decision had to be mapped out and struggled with? None of us would ever get anything done.

The freedom to live life uninhibited by neuroses or mental barriers is one of the greatest gifts attributable to mankind. If that freedom was ever paralysed by over-analysis on the smallest details, the world would be a very different place.

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