I was told recently, in an insulting and accusatory voice, that I am no longer a risk taker…..
The sting of that remark has prompted a great deal of thought.
Is it true? If I have changed, is it due to my advanced age of 77 or have I simply turned into a chicken? I believe that anyone who knows me well – almost anyone, apparently – would find the offensive statement that I am no longer a risk taker to be false. I live a full life. I am a moving target.
There are many definitions of being a risk taker, depending on who you ask. In my peer group of seventy-something adults the risk taking most of us do is probably way below the level it was even just 10 years ago. We are perhaps a bit slower, a lot wiser now and we prioritize what is important and what is not worth the effort of getting stirred up about. We weigh things. Do I feel like jumping on a plane to Madagascar or am I content with driving down the Big Sur highway with a person I enjoy? Is someone going to accuse me of being a chicken if I choose Big Sur? Yes. But I am just prioritizing how I want to spend my time. It’s a big ordeal to fly to Madagascar.
Growing up on 8 acres of country in the hills of southern Ohio, I roamed and wandered freely all over that acreage and well beyond, alone and gone for hours and hours at a time. I was fearless and independent even as young as seven years old. I climbed trees much taller than our pitched-roof house, making my mother gasp and my father proud. I road horses and one particular insane pony who bucked me off repeatedly and might have easily broken my skinny neck as I landed on hard ground. I was quite confident, although some people who barely knew me might have decided that since I was pale of complexion and blue-eyed, petite, soft-spoken and intelligent that I must be a scaredy-cat, afraid of life.
I made the highly contested decision to go west to college instead of staying close to home because I could not stand the thought of never leaving Ohio. After arriving in Boulder, Colorado I realized I belonged in the west and basically made all my decisions from that day forward in support of that plan. I had places to see and things to do. I wanted to broaden my horizons. For the next several decades circumstances offered me and my new family the chance to live in at least a half-dozen different states and I knew that every move we made was an adventure to be welcomed. I loved to explore and meet new people.
During the time I was raising my children I ended a chapter or two in my life and began others. It took courage and a high degree of risk taking to begin a new life again, and then again, and again several more times in new locations and on my own. I did not come away from those experiences unscathed. I have been battered and bruised, learned some valuable lessons and kicked some butt, because when rotten things happen to me I rise above and take action. I have taken on battles with insurance companies, social security, moving companies and various negative people who were not truly my friends. I was, at one particular period of time, so defeated that I took the risk of emotionally exposing myself 100% to a professional person I trusted who gave me enormous help and peace of mind with the realization that the simple, honest things I was expecting out of the relationships in my life were normal and deserved. After learning that lesson, I chose to remain single rather than push for the security of being married.
I am an open book. I have expressed my deepest thoughts in art and in print, gaining a degree of notoriety with galleries showing my paintings, an appearance on national TV resulting from a letter I wrote, authoring 4 books published on Amazon.com and being quite vocal whenever I get the chance. It requires intestinal fortitude to write down on paper and publish, for the world to see, the gutsy little thoughts in your head. Any person who paints or writes from the soul opens herself to criticism and judgement.
I have traveled rather extensively, halfway around the world in both directions, sometimes alone, and become a better person for it. Traveling opens your eyes and broadens your gratitude. Traveling is not the biggest risk – living a narrow life can be the risk that takes you down.
These days I am most happy doing the same things I did when I was a young girl growing up. I hike alone in the mountains outside Denver, I paint and write, I travel and I meet new people whenever I can. I am not afraid of getting older. I am not afraid of new relationships. In my mind, largely unchanged after decades of time, I feel like I am 10 years old climbing a high tree. I take great joy in celebrations, giving gifts, surprises, cupcakes, Mexican food…..and meaty conversations.
I laugh a lot and when I can no longer do that with a person in my circle of friends then I know it is time to move on. Any melancholy person, any sad soul is probably not going to be taking many risks. It is a joyful thing to be high on life, and the enormous risk in life is if you enjoy living! because life can be taken away at a moments notice. RISK is the bottom line to everything, down through decades of time. Living fearlessly, with confidence and faith, for all of your years on earth is risky as hell.
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