Sunday, February 6, 2011

Safety Last

"Drive Reckless."  This is the admonishment I receive from my father when I drive any distance.  My version is something along the lines of "Don't Crash."  Another variation on the theme is "Don't kill yourself"; that one I usually use with the kids.  Of course, these are all silly things to say in the literal sense; what is meant is "I trust your choices and I won't try to steer them (even if sometimes I wish I could), but I care what happens to you."  It is dangerous to blunt someone's instincts with our anxiety; self-consciousness interferes with our ability to navigate the changing terrain of our environment.  The mother mountain goat does not worry her kids up the rocks; their footing in the landscape will not be intuitive, and thus not "safe," if they do not internalize it with unencumbered visceral experience.  Try to type, or drive, while thinking about every aspect of the movement - once the left brain engages in the task the whole thing becomes an awkward robot dance (trust me, I have lots of experience with awkward robot dances).
"You do not go to sea to be safe." (Neither John nor I can remember or find the attribution for this quote, so if you know it, please comment!).   When sailing, it is not possible, safe or fun to stop things from changing constantly, it is a fluid process that keeps me in the present.  Life's rewards stem from risk-taking, and the desire to order the universe to be "manageable," or static, can rob me of the only true security I have: that I am myself, in this moment.  In The Lord of the Rings, (which I consider to be a great work of literature and philosophy, and not just a fairy story), Frodo leaves the Shire because of imminent danger.  But he leaves the haven of Rivendell, on a quest of almost certain death and disaster, because he recognizes that the great wheel is turning and any security in stasis is illusory.  Initially shrinking from the task, he complains to Gandalf that he wishes he did not have the ring and its responsibilities, to which the wizard replies, "So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

It wouldn't have been as compelling a story if Tolkien had been writing about how nice everything is all the time; I don't find my current situation to involve a cosmic struggle with the forces of evil and the tragedy of power.  Still, I imagine you take my point.  I value the bourgeois comforts of a glass of bourbon and roaring fire, don't misunderstand me, but when I am experiencing the joy of that pleasure it is a joy of that moment, rather than a need to ensure that all my future moments possess that character.  I have found that there is some joy in all moments, whether it is obvious or not, and I would not sacrifice the depth of that realization for anything.  I would not have it had I not had the privilege of some genuine challenges. 

That has been one of the greatest gifts of this dramatic curve in my path: to find out how much beauty there is in dark times, and how much reward there is in letting go of the pretense that I possess control over anything other than my reactions.  It's no good trying to be safe.

1 comment:

  1. Another fantastic post! I would also like to point out that while my picture was chosen as an example of unsafe childcare, my cat-like reflexes were ready for any rock falling.