When I was younger I took way more risks than I do now. The riskiest things I have done include: Diving headfirst off a cliff into a small pool of water, Driving a car after not sleeping the night before, Having unprotected sex, Saying no to my mother, Writing a review of a concert that I didn’t attend, Turning down a job offer, Rejoining the dating scene at age fifty, Seeking a life of no-fixed-address after retirement.
It is wise to at least look before you leap. Sensible folk will tell us that a little planning goes a long way. There are many phrases that can begin a cautionary tale, which we can share at a dinner party or submit to our children as a lesson on how to avoid daddy’s questionable behaviour. I find it fascinating how our languages have sayings that we can use to keep us safe from harm; if only we would take a moment to listen. Our inner voice may exclaim excitedly, ‘He who hesitates is lost.’ Then concurrently counsel, ‘Good things come to those who wait.’
Life can be scary, yet sometimes we make it scarier when we don’t do a risk analysis. We must not forget that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Most perils can be avoided or at least ameliorated with a little thought before hand. And not all risks are physical. It took me a while to stop fearing imminent financial collapse even though I’ve been fortunate to have regular employment. I’ve felt the anxiety at the end of a monthly pay cycle but I’ve never known the riskiness of living on the street. I’ve weighed options of a benign sort when it comes to the emotional risk of relationships. The risk of a broken heart has been my Everest to conquer in life; something I have chosen with excitement, as a mountaineer might prepare for a risky climb. In this analogy, practice has brought the experience necessary to help me be safely awestruck by love.
Some may see risk taking as creating a fuller life, however, living on the edge is not in my comfort zone. I prefer to watch the thrill seekers, cheer them on even, rather than join in the mass revelry. There are some risks I will not take. I will not jump from an airplane, even with a parachute. I refrain from watching horror films. I am not a recreational drug user. I will not gamble with my money. I will not drink and drive. I will remain faithful to my lover. I will not let anger get the better of me. I will chew my food carefully.
There is reward in taking a risk. Staying in bed or not leaving your apartment will get you nowhere. Life is neither to be squandered nor played like a game of Risk. Situations are inevitable, occasionally dangerous, yet a moment or two of evaluation before proceeding with the next step is a valid price to pay. Steady on, take a breath, pause, be still and listen.
“Enough!” Is a cry of exasperation. I’ve shouted ‘Stop’ using the same emotion. There is so much discord, trauma and catastrophe in the world right now that I’m surprised someone hasn’t used Enough as a label for a social activist, environmental justice or political reform movement. I picture vast numbers of people all wearing red Enough! T-shirts, faces boiling mad, voices yelling through loud speakers. That will fix things.
Enough is a word with a selfish root. We say it when things aren’t going our way. We say it to make bad things go away. We ask it when we are questioning our worthiness or competence: “Am I doing enough?” Or “Have I done enough?” Or “Am I enough for you?” In discussions we have with ourselves or with others we hopefully can reach a point to acknowledge our understanding by saying, “Fair Enough.”
I’ve rarely felt ambitious. A peaceful life of satisfying activity shared with others feels enough for me. I’ll admit there has been a few times when I have hung on tenaciously to a goal. The grasp of that brass ring might have been the only thing sufficient to get me off the scent. And yet I rarely have found myself so fixated that I refused to listen to another person’s counsel. I’ve met people who are always wondering if they will ever have enough material things, enough space or time or even enough peace of mind. The accumulation of things, medals, memories has never been an aim of mine. The journey is what counts. But some must continue to strive, to master, even to conquer, while missing out on what’s right in front of them.
I usually feel uncomfortable in times when abundance is the focus: Decadence diminishes delight. Christmas particularly is a conflict of interest, especially being part of a collective family scene where wrapping paper is strewn about the floor as participants tear into their gifts with wild abandon. There is stress related to the value of the gift in the context of the giver. Thoughts of fairness, have I spent enough, or will the recipient feel the presents were adequate to the occasion, all do a balancing act in my mind. It’s a display of consumption that messes with the joy of giving and receiving for me and each time I hope that I can muster enough patience and grace to be present.
We do many things hoping they will be enough. On retirement, many wonder if they have left a legacy, if they accomplished what they had set out to do. My wife feels this everyday as she cares for her aging parents. I feel her actions are a reminder of the importance of sacrifice; ‘a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before’. Charles Dickens often described his characters, young or old, as being in a state of grace when they put another’s needs ahead of their own. Oliver was clearly needy, while Scrooge was greedy.