I once felt safe in the deepest caverns of my body. I was strong, I was agile, I was in possession of endless stamina. I felt the immortality of youth, as do we all.
I once felt safe in a place called Marriage. I was misguided in my choices and my beliefs, and now the very idea suggests anything but solid ground.
I once felt safe in the urban centers and quiet corners of my country. Naively, idealistically, unassumingly, like millions of others.
I grew up.
We all grow up, if we’re lucky.
And it has been – and continues to be – quite the ride.
* * *
When our babies are tiny and crawling and then on their feet and toddling, we sidle into the parental preoccupation with keeping them safe. We lock down toilet seats and we latch cabinets, we bolt movable furnishings to sturdy walls or we banish them from our rooms altogether; we cover outlets, we put up gates, we check windows.
We do whatever we can to minimize dangers, and so we teach our children not to talk to strangers, we teach them how to cross the streets, we teach them to trust their gut and even to put up their dukes to defend themselves. We want their safe passage through each day, their safe assessment at the emotional and physical intersections, their safest selections – or so we think – while still going for what they want.
* * *
As adults, some of us plunge into adventures with little hesitation – generally when we’re younger and hungry for new experiences; this is also the time when we have the fewest responsibilities, the freedom to attempt new pastimes, to move to new cities, to explore unusual careers, to try out different partners.
It’s all part of learning.
It is anything but safe.
As we grow older, we take on families and financial responsibilities. We move into a rhythm that provides structure for others and so, safety – or perhaps, security – becomes paramount.
Because of those we love.
* * *
There are no guarantees. We may make “good decisions” with whatever knowledge we have, and others that are questionable; we deem them one or the other (and everything in between) based on the (apparent) results.
We also come to accept that luck has a hand – or fate if you prefer. There is no “deserving” an illness or accident, a genetic predisposition we may not know about, causes we will never be able to determine, the careless act of another, simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In some instances, of our fragility.
We cannot control what is beyond our control, but nor do we relinquish what is up to us: each day’s thoughts and their appropriate expression, the words we pronounce and those we edit, our actions, our inactions, and our attitude in approaching them.
We’re marching into the unknown, and glad of it when we’re younger. We’re marching into the unknown, and more trepidatious as we age.
* * *
Before I had children, I had only myself to worry about.
Change jobs? Change cities? Change countries?
No problem. I would figure it out.
Once there were two little people for whom I provided, like most of the mothers I knew, I became more careful, more constrained, and more circumspect in my own choices in order to increase the likelihood that I would be safe – so the world for my boys would stay stable and secure.
Finding myself on my own again, I realize that I now have the opportunity to take more chances. What I don’t have is the same energy, the financial means, and quite possibly, the resourcefulness of two decades ago.
Or two years ago.
* * *
I ask myself if I still have the desire – for adventure, for pursuing my dreams, and for accepting the consequences of both action and inaction – certainly more problematic at midlife, precisely because there are fewer resources in the event of an unsafe crossing.
Then I remind myself of what I believe: in the abiding goodness of women and men, in the vitality of caring connection, in the importance of discovery, in the sustenance of passion of every kind, in the beauty of creating.
Safety? Yes, it matters. But for me, I inch gently toward the renewed realization that it must be accompanied by the fullest possible living.
What do you think?
- How much is psychological make-up a determinant of risk-taking?
- Is upbringing a factor? Financial status?
- What about friends and family supporting your efforts, or possibly trying to undermine them?
- What of the sense of time we have when we’re young and healthy?
- What of the impetus to risk (and achieve) when we sense that time is running short?
- Has your need for safety and security evolved with parenting, as a result of unexpected life events?
- Has it evolved again with both the freedoms and constraints of aging?
© D. A. Wolf