Risk is part of the daily fabric of our lives. Generally speaking, I think people have done a great job convincing themselves that life is safe and that they are secure most of the time. Changes since 9/11 have awakened people to the reality that we are not as free from harm as we would like to believe. However, I think most people still believe risk only affects our lives when we do something out of the norm. The poem below hung on the wall in my classroom as long as I can remember, and I think it does a wonderful job reminding us of the role risk should play in our daily lives.
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,
before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the
greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change,
grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
~ from page 147 of the book “Addiction by Prescription” by Joan Gadsby
Most members of the disability community are much more aware of the role risk plays in an individual’s daily life. Many of us have become disabled as a result of the unforeseen consequences of risk; not the risk of skydiving, swimming with sharks, or making a mad dash to beat a train across the railroad crossing, but rather by being negatively impacted by risk in our daily lives.
As a result of this acute awareness of the ever presence of risk and its consequences in our lives, many of us, I believe, try to limit the amount of risk to which we expose ourselves. Risk is more obvious for an individual on crutches, in a wheelchair, with impaired vision, and the like, which leads to the question of how then do we enjoy ourselves and at the same time limit the amount of risk in our new lives. Do we allow the possibility of risk’s negative consequences to dictate what we do and how we enjoy the life we now have? I once saw a movie about professional surfers who wanted to ride the ultimate wave. One famous surfer from Hawaii said, “To enjoy the ultimate thrill we must be willing to pay the ultimate price.” Now I am not trying to encourage risk to that extreme, but rather to avoid letting the threat of risk take living to the fullest away from us.This past weekend my friend Andy, from Utah, reminded me of enjoying life in spite of its risks. While driving his adapted all-terrain vehicle on sand dunes near his home, he was going sideways on a dune, lost momentum, and ended up rolling the ATV part way down the hill. Fortunately, he was strapped in, remaining in the vehicle while it was rolling, and he was unhurt. A friend who was with him was able to get some nearby help, and they were able to right his vehicle. In a recent email, Andy explained his ambivalence about what had happened. Several years ago I found myself in a very similar situation when I flipped over in my kayak. Since I was also strapped in, it was only do to the quick intervention of a couple of my friends that prevented me from drowning. I, too, did a lot of soul-searching as a result of this incident.
As we try to adjust to this new life our disability has thrust upon us, the challenge is how do we balance risk? What immediately comes to my mind is the Christopher Reeve quote:
“I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery.”
For individuals who have been physically active in their pre-disability life, the thought of eliminating the activities which provided them with quality of life can only compound the restricting nature of their new circumstances. Risk is a part of life and is no doubt heightened by our disability, but as the poem might be edited to include, only a person who takes “sensible risks” is truly free.