Friday, March 27, 2009

Safety's Overrated aka Being "safe" in my Old Age

Eleanor Roosevelt once challenged, "Do something every day that scares you."

If you read newspapers or watch the television news reports, you probably think that the world is a pretty scary place. If you're a parent, you live in perpetual fear of child abductions, food tampering, and bone-breaking injuries. (etc, etc - topics are endless) If you're like me, sometimes the mere act of leaving your house probably qualifies as doing something scary each day!

But, I cannot recall the last time that I've truly chosen to be "scared." Each day seems to safely flow from one to the next, without much change. And, as I grow steadily older, I have found comfort in the relative safety of each day.

Ack! I'm an Aries...the RAM...We laugh in the face of fear! HA! (I am pounding my chest here.) I should never be happy with safety!!! Well, I'm not happy nor content with this state of homeostasis. After a friend casually mentioned that she was relieved that her grandkids lived in a "peaceful, lovely, and most importantly, safe" new city, I have been contemplating the word "safe" and "safety," as they pertain to my own life.

I think that as we age, we start to weigh our life choices in terms of "how safe is a potential activity?" As I grow older, I measure how likely it is that I might obtain an injury from a possible activity. In my advancing years, I have to minimize the potential for harm. Listen, I can hurt myself just in the act of sleeping. I often awaken with a stiff neck and back, hobbling about like I've been in a street fight - with my bed. My loved ones inquire, "What's wrong?" and I have to sheepishly state, "I slept wrong." HOW is THAT even possible?? Do I need to stretch before climbing into bed for the night? What is going on during my REM snooze? Seems dangerous.

Since I can hurt myself in the mere act of sleeping, perhaps you can see why I must ignore my natural tendency to worry about safety. When I was younger, I felt immortal and immune to potential harm. I took chances, and didn't worry about the consequences.

As we grow older, we cling more to life and the continuation of the act of living. Life becomes more precious, and we hold on tighter. As a rule, we make safer choices. For example, older people tend to do their errands in midday on weekdays in order to avoid traffic scares from younger, more agressive drivers. I'm beginning to understand the logic.

So, I am reminded of that Spanish proverb that warns, "A life lived in fear is a life half-lived."
I don't want to be too "safe." I don't want to half-live. If I live safely or in fear, I will miss out on opportunities. But, it is not natural to participate in activities that make us feel uncomfortably out of our comfort zones.

With all this in mind, I recently made the unsafe decision to confront head-on a major fear of mine. I love children and I love to letterbox. (see for explanation) I was recently offered the opportunity to combine these two loves. Several local Parks Departments asked me to teach several letterboxing classes this summer. The only issue is that there will be people there. Staring at me. Listening to my every word. Public speaking is my Achilles heel. I get sweaty, my voice quavers, and my face reddens. In general, it makes me feel extremely unsafe. However, I know that once I confront my frightened demons, I am going to have the time of my life, teaching children about an incredibly fun pastime.

So, you think you're fearless, huh? If you want to experience the ultimate scenario of flying without a net, being unsafe, or living in perpetual fear, I DARE you to have a child. First of all, from the day that they are conceived, you are fearful FOR them. "Are they breathing, did they change their underwear today, do they have friends at school, will they get into Harvard, etc." Oh my God, the things to worry about, and be fearful of, are endless. You could truly worry yourself into a raving lunatic in the first trimester alone!

And, then these little people, when they inevitably attain the power of speech, they will challenge you to do the most ridiculous and scary things you can ever imagine. (P.S. They are NOT worried about YOUR mental or physical safety at all.) They think you are a superhero and can do anything! I wish that I would have told my daughter earlier in life that my cape was being dry-cleaned.

SHE: "Mommy, let's go dance out on the dance floor."
ME inside: "No one else is dancing."

SHE: "Let's go jump in puddles, Mommy!"
ME inside: "My hair will get frizzy in the humidity, my feet will get wet."

SHE: "Let's roll down that hu-normous hill!"(our new word on par with gi-normous.)
ME inside: "I might break a hip, collar bone, femur, etc."

SHE: "Kiss me Mommy." (Oh, I can handle that one a thousand times over. No fear!)

Through the years, I have learned that it's best to find ways to say "yes" when my daughter challenges me and my fears. If I discover that I'm going to answer "no" to her request because of potential public humiliation, I try to fight through my fears and participate. (See dance scenario above.) If I am inclined to deny her request because of possible physical injury to my body, I have to ask myself more questions. (Ice skating, for example.) Do I currently have health insurance? How maimed could I end up if things don't go smoothly? Is the risk worth the reward? The reward is always my daughter's smile, and man, I have risked a lot through the years to attain as many of these love tokens as I can! If you're a parent, you know what I mean.

And, now I find that sometimes our roles are reversed. My daughter is now a great teacher, and even a role model for me. Currently starring in her class' musical next week, she has NO fear of public speaking. Subsequently, she is now helping me to overcome my own fears.

So, I'm going to vow to try and live life a little more fully, and less fearfully. Sure, I'll still wear my seat belt every day, have my annual physical exams, and eat my monthly vegetables, but I'm going to try new things and live more bravely, too.


It's hell to get old, but it sure beats the alternative.

I'll leave you with this awesome quote:

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and well preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out, leaking oil, shouting 'GERONIMO!' " --Bill McKenna, professional motorcycle racer (Cycle magazine 02.1982)

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