Thursday, July 21, 2011


This is not me, nor from yesterday.
It's on Google Maps...
Driving into town yesterday, I saw a young child on a two-wheeler with his mom (or someone who looked mom-like) running alongside.  They were on the sidewalk next to this busy street.  The boy was clearly learning to ride his bike, and naturally wobbled quite a lot.  The mom looked a little awkward jogging, probably at least in part because of footwear not designed for such a task.

I never had training wheels when I was learning to ride a bike.  I had Dad instead.  He took me to (I think) the playground of the local school.  It was a large piece of solid ground with no cars and few obstacles.  I was not entirely pleased, though, because it was a large piece of solid ground and I knew it would hurt to fall.  I questioned why he wouldn't teach me on a lawn.  That would be softer, right?  Why did he take me to a large landscape ripe for blood and bruising?

As I gained bike-riding experience that week, I began to understand my dad's reasoning a little bit.  Though it seemed riskier and more frightening, his choice was an act of wisdom and kindness.  He knew that I would be more stable on hard ground and could learn to ride much more easily.  I might be a little more likely to get hurt if I fell, but quite a lot less likely to fall in the first place.  (And I don't know whether I would have even been capable of learning on grass.)  That was an important lesson.  It still is.

I'm older now.  Life still holds challenges and hazards.  Encounters with these challenges and hazards create decision points -- in recreational activities, conversations, workplace situations, relationships, and more -- which call me to balance degree of risk with likelihood of harm.

This is me, freefalling with Phil,
a couple miles above the ground.
That's part the reason I went skydiving (tandem) last year.  It was arguably unnecessary and I physically risked far more than a few bumps and bruises.  In case that reality wasn't already abundantly clear, the liability release form described in some detail the possibilities of severe injury and even death.  Why take the risk?

I wasn't foolish about it.  I did my homework to make sure the place I went had a good safety record.  I listened attentively to the instructions given.  The fellow I was strapped to is knowledgeable and skilled.  Though willing to risk death a little bit, I certainly wasn't inviting it.  Perhaps I wasn't as entirely safe, but I was safe enough.

Ultimately I chose to jump because there is risk, too, in not doing things like that.  There is risk of trying to build in so much safety net that it becomes a crippling force and makes it impossible to sustain forward motion.  I knew I'd probably survive the experience in full health if I jumped; I was less certain that I would be fully healthy if I didn't make intentional decision to do something like that.

And really, it was just skydiving.  Most decisions aren't like that one.  Most of the challenges and hazards requiring a decision of me in the course of everyday life are more difficult.  The ones I see most?  Conversations.

It is tempting sometimes to build in a grassy cushion around conversations, creating a soft place to land in case something goes awry.  We can build cushions by not speaking truthfully, by avoiding difficult topics, by avoiding difficult relationships, by refusing to allow ourselves to be at all vulnerable.  Thing is, too much "cushion" hinders the relationships that conversations should nurture instead.  It keeps us from growing and moving forward.

Of course, like in skydiving, there is no reason to be foolish.  It is right and good to develop conversational skills.  It is appropriate to gradually trust more those who consistently show themselves to be trustworthy.  It is good to seek input from people skilled in difficult interactions.  Some conversations carry risk of relational death, and we need to be willing to take that risk, to be incompletely safe while still safe enough.

Last night as I drove past the mom running alongside the child on his bicycle, I glimpsed their faces in my rearview mirror.  The young boy looked nervous still, and the woman with him wasn't entirely comfortable, either.  At the same time, though, both faces were lit by smiles and both appeared genuinely delighted.  It seems they decided that a little reasonable risk was totally worth the freedom and joy available as a result.

That little boy and his mom are a reminder and an encouragement for me today.

"Courage is not the absence of fear,
but rather the judgment that something else
is more important than fear."
(Ambrose Redmoon)

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