The Prompt: Envelope Pushers—When was the last time you took a risk (big or small), and pushed your own boundaries — socially, professionally, or otherwise? Were you satisfied with the outcome?
What risks are left in life at 67? That big risk of childbirth far behind me (and since I said no to it, so is the risk of my life being detoured by the products of it); travel no longer the thrill it once was; too tired to build and decorate any more houses; and love seemingly something that is going to be experienced in online spurts for the rest of my life; it seems as though the only risk left is that big one. And I fear it. Actually, resent it. I don’t want for life to ever be over.
I can’t stand the thought of fading into nothingness. Yes, my “work” might live after me, but my work is just the rumor of me. It is only the part of me I have been able to express. What about that entire unexplored rest of me? Where will it go? Will it ever have another chance? I feel the press of my own potential. Have I let it down? Will Hell really be the fleeting awareness, as I fade away, that I have left the most delicious offerings on the plate of life untasted?
I am not an athlete. I was never a mother. Although I have made some brave decisions in my life, nonetheless, I have feared too much. I fear being laughed at, rejected, passed over—so much so that at times I haven’t even tried. Like so many others, I have too often escaped. The power of books and films is that they afford us the opportunity to live vicariously those risks we put off taking in our own lives.
Then, the internet. Finally, the opportunity to control our fantasy lives—to create personalities for ourselves where we can leave out the parts we don’t want to face. We can always be 40 on the internet. Frozen at 145 pounds. Our successes are there on our cyber page for all to see and we can simply neglect to mention our failures. The internet is like a scrapbook with all of the faces we don’t want to see, ever again, relegated to Facebook, where we can block them with the push of a button.
Online, we get to think before talking, or at the very least, a chance to review and edit before hitting the “send” button. We are able to choose greater exposure with fewer risks. Or, one can opt for the “voyeur” stance—simply watching and imagining without ever taking the risk of exposing ourselves.
There is a swimmer a hundred yards off shore who swam by going in the opposite direction a half hour ago. A kayaker paddles by as close to the shore as she can safely travel without being swamped by waves. Two more kayakers come into view 500 yards out, paddling for shore. It is not only the large decisions in life that expose us to risk, but there is risk, also, in the everyday details. You rent a kayak, yes, but how far out into the bay are you willing to paddle it? You go to potentially dangerous places, but to how much of that risk are you willing to expose yourself? We are all here at the same place at the same time, but I am sitting on my porch, well-shaded by the palapa roof.
The tern bobs just beyond the surf line, ducking his head underwater now and then, in search of any fish who are dumb enough to make it easy for him. Up above, magnificent frigate birds are executing their perpetual ballet—this time on our stage. Even clams stick their necks out now and then, albeit to their peril. Younger women and men jog by. Buxom grandmothers plod by. Children draw hopscotch patterns in the sand and poke at a large dying fish. I want to tell them to leave the fish alone as the child touches the eye, but when the fish doesn’t flinch, I hope it signals the end of its too-long death, gasping for air it can’t draw in now that it is surrounded by too much of it. Simply by going after his own breakfast, he has taken a risk that will lead to his becoming someone else’s.
Part of taking risks is going into worlds we are not familiar with, to risk the discomfort of adjusting ourselves to that world. I think the secret is, however, to find familiar worlds within every world we take ourselves off to. It is not that we are rejecting the new, but rather that we are clinging onto those parts of ourselves that make us “us.” When I come to the beach, I occasionally meet with other writers. This keeps me reassured that I am sane to spend so much my life in recreating that life in words. It keeps me less lonely. It gives me a timeline and a goal. Without these touchstones that remind us who we are, we can all too easily become wanderers without purpose, going on to the next place in search of ourselves.
Sitting here on the porch, I am not necessarily any safer than the man or woman swimming so far offshore. It is my own risks I’m taking. I risk telling you something that will make you like me less. Something that will make me look foolish, deluded, poorly-informed, naïve, even crazy. A bigger risk is that in this writing I might see a part of myself I don’t like. This prompt today has done that: raised a question I don’t want to answer, even though I know the answer is hiding there somewhere within me. I know what the risk is that I’m afraid to take, but like the name of that acquaintance whose face I know so well but whose name suddenly eludes me, I just can’t quite put my finger on it. There is at least one risk left to take before that final risk formerly alluded to. Now I just need to set about trying to remember what it is.