Thoughts on risk

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.

Happiest holidays 2019


Thank you for still being here and reading.  It means more than you know.  See you in 2020!

Much is Taken, Much Abides

I wrote a piece a while ago that I shared on Medium last week.  It’s probably pretty redundant for anyone who has been reading here – about Dad, poetry, Tennyson, Whit, loss, memory.  One of the reasons I go back and forth on continuing to write here is this sense that I’ve become a totally boring, repetitive writer.  Still, it’s a piece that means a huge amount to me, so I’m proud to see it up.  You can read the piece here, and the first part of it is below.  To add color to the particularly complicated and rigorous last year, Liz, who read at Dad’s funeral (one of two non-family members to do so) recently died herself.  I will attend her funeral next weekend.  Losses everywhere.  Much is taken.  Much abides.



Nineteen Years

9/9/00, Marion, Massachusetts

Today is our 19th anniversary.  I’ve written about Matt on this day for many years, and I feel a little bit like there’s nothing new to say.  In case you’re curious and have a lot of time on your hands: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011.

So, I’ll try to capture the last nineteen years, which have been simultaneously and alternately a lifetime and a moment, in numbers.

20 – length of our wedding ceremony, in minutes
5 – the amount of time we’d been in the church when it started pouring, thundering, and lightning, in minutes
1 – number of houses we’ve lived in
18 – number of years we’ve lived here
6 – weeks we’d known each other when we planned a 2 month trip to Africa
5 – continents we’ve been to together
19,341 – highest elevation we’ve been to together, in feet (summit of Kilimanjaro)
2 – children we have welcomed
40 – length of Grace’s labor, in hours
3 – length of Whit’s labor, in hours
2 – fathers who died in the fall of 2017
6 – grandparents we have lost since we met
1 – number of times I have beaten you at tennis
lost track – number of times we’ve run together as the sun came up – best way to start the day
0 – number of times I’ve eaten shellfish since we’ve known each other
4 – number of books that we’ve both read and enjoyed in 20+ years (our tastes differ)
0 – number of minutes that I slept on our four flights between Boston and Bali for our honeymoon
0 – number of our duffel bags that arrived in Bali with us for said honeymoon
45 – number of minutes that you slept while I was in transition at the end of Grace’s labor
6 – minutes per mile (you)
8.5 – minutes per mile (me)
2 – number of cars of ours that have been hit by tree branches falling in storms (one was totaled)
unlimited – how much I’m looking forward to the next 19

Eighteen years

This picture was taken by my college roommate’s mother as we left our wedding reception.  We don’t have that many pictures from our wedding (I shared a few yesterday here) and so I am now recycling them, so long have I been writing anniversary posts to mark the years as they tick by.

This year was one for the ages, no?  I’m still finding my footing and I know you are too. Certainly the last year of our marriage held the most transition of any since we got married.  These haven’t been easy months.  We are both volatile and fragile at the same time, and treating each other with gentleness, surely always a core tenet of marriage, is something we’re learning how to do (and the importance of) all over again.

I’m frankly without words when I try to write something commemorating today. And as you know that rarely happens to me.  I feel overcome with all there is to say at the same time as I feel so spent as to find it hard to really say anything at all.

On Valentine’s Day I wrote a short post on Instagram which feels like the best way to summarize right now:

Twenty years, five continents, one apartment, one house, two MBAs, two howlingly (literally) unmedicated labors, two astonishing children who are now young adults, eight jobs, countless family dinners, a million photographs, one surgery, eight weeks lying flat in the living room, two fathers gone and two funeral eulogies given in last five months.

That was February, and it’s all still true (though now, almost 12 months). Right now feels enormous, heavy, gorgeous, fraught, and fleeting.  I’ve never been more aware of how fast it all goes and of how ephemeral our lives are. I know sometimes the way I wrestle with this reality is frustrating.  The week or two before Grace left, when I labored under suffocating weight of her pending departure, were surely not your favorite of our marriage.  They weren’t mine either.  And I know that can be traced back to this awareness, not new but newly keen, newly visceral, newly urgent, of how fragile and evanescent this life is.

And despite those messy weeks, despite the times I don’t act with gentleness, despite the heartbreak and difficulty of the last year, despite the dishes in the sink and the rush out the door in the morning, despite it all, you’re still the one I want to be walking with. Into the mystic we go. I’m still amazed.

Happy eighteen years, Matt.  I love you.