There is no safe life. Where did we get the idea that life was supposed to be safe? What of joy and consequence has ever been safe? Giving birth to a child? Taking a road trip? Kissing that handsome, winsome stranger? Give yourself over to risk. Risk is the only friend you have. Risk is the one who will make your blood flow red. You don’t want a safe life. You want a life that is so full of juice, joy and meaning, that nothing threatens you– because you’ve already won the prize.
Besides, there is no risk free life. You only get to decide which risk is worth it to you, because everything is a risk. Staying tight like a bud is a risk. Staying inside in your bed is a risk. Taking the subway is a risk. Staying in a marriage or job that crushes your soul, though cruises along– as always– is a risk. There is no opting out in this life. You only get to choose which risk you’ll take. Here’s what I’d suggest. Bet on the sure thing. Bet on love. Spend your life on faith. Take the road that makes you stronger. Going after things you want, whether or not you get them, makes you stronger. Yeah, baby, take that in.
There will always be a choice between immediate safety and ultimate safety. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Years ago, I went hiking with a boyfriend, somewhere in Oregon. We had ourselves a slap-happy time by the ocean at the end of the trail. Too much of a time. The sun began evaporating from the sky. It was a time of year that still turned very cold.
We were dressed lightly with no provisions, as we hadn’t intended to hike this far. Knowing we needed to get back to the car, we walked back quickly on the dimming trail. But half way out of the forest, we heard an unusual knocking noise. A tribe of birds squawked and fluttered away. They left a hollowness in their wake. Something didn’t feel right.
The creepy noise continued. “Maybe it’s a moose,” said Nick eagerly, looking around. I walked up ahead and peered into the trees. I saw darkness behind them. Then that darkness took shape, the shape of a bear. Now, for the record, I am not the type of woman that looks at a bear in fascination, even at a zoo. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, for God’s sake. On my best day, I am still probably more comfortable pressed up against a thousand sweaty strangers in a disco than witnessing wildlife in a forest. And at this moment, honest to God, I’d really rather have been clubbed and mugged. I instinctively walked backwards on the trail, and then ran further back until I could breathe. Nick followed me. “It’s a bear,” I said to him, terror and adrenaline lighting up my senses.
Then the negotiations began. We had to walk back past the bear to get out of the woods. We had to walk by the bear. If we walked the other way, nightfall would set in, bringing its wet ocean breath of cold and death by hypothermia. We were already beginning to shiver. I imagined being mauled. Hypothermia sounded nice, just going numb forever. I really wanted to avoid that bear. It was a dark black beast that I could not predict or control and it could confront me whether I was ready or not. But then if we avoided that possibility, we were facing the guarantee of a slow, insidious death.
Believe me the symbolic choice here was not lost on me. I had only recently left my prestigious legal career to dare my crazy dreams of becoming a writer. I had left the “safe position” because I knew it was numbing and annihilating my heart minute by minute. The comfort of that paycheck and validation was seducing me into a stupor in which I abandoned my will and lapsed into a menacing indifference about my own life. It was the hypothermia of having my heart go cold. But in that scenario, I had decided to fight to save my own life. I chose the terror of choosing my desires. I faced the immediate risk of not knowing how things would work out. I felt naked in the world. But I also knew I at least had a chance of something working out. My job had been “safe” in worldly terms, but I knew I had not one shred of hope of living my true life while there. It wasn’t savage death. But it was certain death.
It hit me then that I would have to walk in the direction of my fear. I would have to walk towards the bear. If I walked by the bear, I might make it to total freedom. It held the only possibility of what I really wanted. I’d at least have a chance at life. But I’d have to walk by the bear. I’d have to risk unbearable (no pun intended) uncertainty.
I’ll cut to the chase. I lived. We walked by the bear, slowly, praying silently to ourselves and to the God you pull out of your back pocket when you hope there is a God and you hope he has instant messaging. We surrendered to the vulnerability of our Big Chance and the purity of our instincts. Then we ran like hell and, if memory serves, I kissed that rental car’s thin tin sides. That night we ate at a local diner and I told the waitress about the bear and how happy I was to be alive. She gave us French fries on the house. I have never tasted better French fries. I know they were ordinary and probably too salty. But I was alive and everything tasted beautiful to me.
I suggest you walk by the bear. What is your bear in life? What leaves you bare? What action or direction calls to you right now? Where do you at least have the best chance of getting something that you desire? The need for certainty costs too much. There is no certainty. But there is the strength of moving in the right direction.
I want to leave you with two great quotes by two different men that embraced inspired, creative lives. I also want to leave you with my love and my faith in you. You will make your right choice in your right time. There will always be a bear. And there will always be that within you that can bear anything, on its way to magnificence.
“Every moment of one’s existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit.” Norman Mailer
“Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.” Alan Alda
Love and blessings,
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