Be active, die doing what you love to do

National Trails Day is Saturday, June 2, when park rangers are expected to encourage Americans to hike their booties off. 

The idea, developed in 1993 at the behest of a presidential commission on the outdoors, is to leave the house and take a hike. None of this “Saturday’s my one day to lay low” garbage. Mow the lawn some other day.

“C’mon, you lazy schmucks. Shake it or break it. Move it or lose it. Hup, two, three, four…”

If that tactfully crafted invitation fails to persuade you, and a Saturday hike still sounds way too ambitiously sweaty, read an obituary about somebody you never heard of before.

Lili Bermant was born in Belgium in 1927. At age 13, she escaped the Nazis with her family. They ended up in Cuba, and then settled in the United States. Lili spoke four languages, was married and had two children, enjoyed a long career as a bilingual mediator and traveled around the world.

One more thing. She was an avid hiker who tramped up and down the trails near her home in Amherst, Mass.

A couple of weeks ago, this 83-year-old lady threw caution to the winds and went hiking. That may sound a bit risky for somebody that age, but from what I’ve read, Lili was a remarkable woman who clearly didn’t care what others thought. And yet, she seems to have been a normal American who long ago decided to live her life with all the exuberance she could muster.

It’s easy to find obituaries about so-called “risk-takers” who, while riding ocean waves, climbing mountains, fording streams, or even fighting crime, lost their lives. And at the very moment of their sudden demise, a grief-stricken loved one frequently says, “He died doing what he loved to do.”

Indeed, it’s not uncommon for those inspirational words, “doing what he (or she) loved,” to come from parents of soldiers killed in battle. These Americans are remembered with the utmost respect and honor. We admire them in ways that are hard to describe because they risked everything doing what they felt deeply passionate about.

Some recent examples:

■ A 20-year-old man surfing off Cape Town, South Africa, was attacked and killed by a shark. The man’s grieving father wrote a message to the public: “This was his life and he died doing what he loved.”

■ In Wyoming, a 31-year-old physician recently died in an avalanche. His obit reported, “He was an experienced backcountry skier and mountaineer. He died with his friend doing what he loved most.”

■ After a 41-year-old British kayaker drowned in a river, her mother said, “Kate lived life to the full and died doing what she loved.”

■ A 68-year-old angler drowned while fishing from a pier in Pennsylvania. The headline read, “Professor Died Doing What She Loved: Fishing.”

Sure they took risks, some more dangerous than others. If they hadn’t, perhaps they’d still be alive and resigned to the existence of couch potatoism. Too many people do nothing more adventurous than parking themselves in front of ESPN, washing down the Doritos with Bud Light and waiting for a coronary to end their misery.

That was not Lili Bermant’s idea of fun and games. She went hiking on Mother’s Day with her daughter, Julie. At some point on the Amethyst Trail, Lili, 83 years young, tripped and fell 20 feet. She died at the scene.

“My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived a very full life,” Julie told a reporter. “She died doing something that she loved.”

Sandstrom teaches at Colorado Mesa University and is an interpretive ranger at Colorado National Monument.


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