“Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these… Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself…”
- Matthew 6-25:34; The Bible
“Some risk has to be taken for life growth to continue and transformation to occur…”
- Michael Meade: The Genius Myth
I’ve always been a lilies-of-the-field kind of guy, comfortable with uncertainty and confident that the kindness of strangers and some benevolent angels would watch over me. So far, so good.
The kinds of risks I took were not slack-lining over Yosemite Falls, climbing up Half-Dome, bungee jumping or motorcycle racing. I had a healthy concern for putting my actual life on the line and apart from boarding countless airplanes, getting in cars and occasionally shaking vending machines (you’d be surprised at the statistics of death-by-vending-machine!), that also has been a good choice.
The type of risks and deliberate steps into the unknown I’ve taken are things like hitchhiking a few times across the country by myself. Signing up for the most rigorous 7-day Zen meditation retreat without having done any previously. Traveling halfway around the world with no hotel reservations or itineraries. Stepping on to the SF Jazz stage to play piano where the Gods have walked before me. That kind of thing.
And despite tsunamis and earthquakes and viruses and the unrelenting march of wars and a President who advises us to drink Clorox and thought stealth bombers invisible to radar were actually invisible and suggested nuking a hurricane and praised the Air Force we had during the Revolutionary War—and worse yet, despite the 30% - 40% of my fellow Americans who believe him and excuse him and support him, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I still have some deep-founded Faith that the world is a benevolent place and people are mostly kind and helpful and the stories I can tell about hitchhiking and travel and such all point to that same conclusion— some level of risk is essential to a life well-lived.
And that has spilled over into my teaching of children. Creating enough of a safety net and modeling myself an exciting venture into the unknown that they’re willing to try a xylophone solo in front of the group having never done it before. That they’re courageous enough to “show us their motion” and bold enough to sing that solo. These kind of risks can be scarier than the tightrope walk and reap greater building of character— increased willingness to keep climbing beyond safe contentment and the reward of surprising beauty that sometimes emerges.
When I first heard about a Risk Committee being formed at my school, I was excited that we were taking a bold step to risk further. Of course, no “committee” will ever risk anything but the safest common denominator and what it really was about was letting fear creep in and hit us behind the knees, crippling our ability to boldly walk and urge us to tiptoe through school life in pleasant slumber. Not good.
This is not the time to extol risk, for the Cautious are in the lead and for now, that’s okay with me. I started off flaunting the virus by hugging visiting alums and gradually towed the line for the good of the whole community and in sensible response to the real dangers. I want to keep living long enough to keep risking as I have, to keep improvising into the unknown at and away from the piano to see how it turns out.
But maybe it’s a good time to have this discussion. Because nothing would be sadder than to come out of this with distrust enabled yet further, with fear constantly at our side, with intimacy a dangerous value. Michael Meade (quoted above) goes on to say:
“Youth are at greater risk when their elders try not to be at risk at all. They need to see others taking meaningful risks and surviving those risks. The issue is not simply risking one’s life as much as risking being fully alive in the midst of the life one has been given.”
And might we all find some consolation in the advice “Be not therefore anxious for the morrow”? Not in any kind of naïve science-denying way, but in some deep sense of spiritual benevolence still afoot in the world, no matter how invisible it might seem. Maybe we might find it in the emerging Springtime as we frolick through the lilies.
6 feet away from fellow-frolickers, of course.