I know I’ve shared the story before of when, as a sixth grader, I needed a parental note to ice skate at school without a helmet. My father wrote a long, fountain-penned note that began, “recognizing that risk is an inherent part of life.” I wrote a whole piece about this once. I was absolutely horrified and that clause became one we tossed around jokingly in our family often.
I think it in my head a lot these days. I also went looking this morning for an essay by an English professor who died this weekend, and I stumbled onto the document that Dad gave me when I left for college. I haven’t read through these 14 pages in many years. I did so with tears in my eyes, hearing Dad’s voice in my head. What a gift: I feel like he’s in these pages, animate. There are many sections that made me gasp and try to photograph them. But there’s one that I want to share today.
Be at risk
Life is risky; but in the risk also lies most of the interest. Our dearest desire in life is to feel fully alive and engaged. To risk, to strive, is to be alive in the fullest sense. We are drawn to people who are trying to do difficult things, who are, within reason, willing to tempt fate, to gamble on the future. By contrast, people who play totally safe are really unplugging, deciding not to play at life any more.
Being at risk is going sailing whatever the weather, going skiing even when it is foggy, as we did at Zermatt. Being at risk is moving to Paris with two small children and living over a Russian restaurant on Rue Brea. How much less meaningful the Paris years would have been if we had been living in luxury in the 16eme? Being at risk means that we are more willing to try the new, rather than persist in the old, more willing to gamble on a new experience. As a result we will see more things sooner and have a broader pallette of options to choose from.
So much of life right now feels risky, and it also feels suffused with the weighing of risks. I ache to talk about what’s going on with Dad, but I also know he’d have felt hamstrung and frustrated and probably as a man in his late 70s (by now) pretty nervous. There’s not much I can add to Dad’s own words, but I wanted to share them. I will read and re-read this treatise and ask both Grace and Whit to do so (I was just turning 18 when Dad wrote this for me, and she’s less than 6 months away from 18 now – a dizzying fact to realize).
As I wrote yesterday, I feel both of my parents alongside me right now (Mum often literally, on our daily walks). Finding this piece that Dad had written to me just reinforces my sense that his example, his leadership, his voice remain loud and strong for me. How grateful I am for that.