I like to think about it, read about it, and talk about it. I like to take a risk. I like to win, too, but the taking is my main motivation.

Covid has radically changed the conversation about risk, but not in a way I find productive. And that is because the cultural conversation seems to set up some assumptions: there was no risk before the pandemic, and current risk is all about the virus.

Being born into a human body subjects us to risk. In the poem “White Shroud” Allen Ginsberg is sick in bed in China. He writes: “I made a mistake a long time ago.” I take this to mean having been born at all, and not deciding to go on a trip.

Stay home, or go to China. Either way, we all grow old and die.

Some risk isn’t really risk at all, but self-destruction. Drunk driving, for example. I don’t count it as risk because there is no potential gain, and it is a doomed enterprise. Not getting a vaccine is similar. It might carry a very small risk–and so does driving to the pharmacy for it. I don’t focus on miniscule risk because I find that more a product of my anxiety than my critical thinking. And there is nothing much to gain.

Risk involves the possibility of great success, and real failure. Artists and writers tend to live in this realm. But so do parents, even if without seeing it. Midwives I know socially told me in all honesty: childbirth is chancey. Babies die. No one wants to admit it, but having children is risky.

And that doesn’t even include raising children. And here is an arena where, in my opinion, taking many small chances is important. Letting children have freedom–physical, mental, and emotional. Not being too controlling. Letting them make their own mistakes.

Let me say right now, I’m not a very groovy or relaxed person. Anxiety is a big problem for me. But I know my fear isn’t an accurate reflection of reality. When my daughter Isabel was about eleven, she wanted to walk a few blocks alone to the bookstore. I was nervous, and asked her step-dad Rich to decide because I trusted his calmer judgement. He said: life is full of risk, and if she figures that out in this neighborhood, that is fine with me.

So off she went. Into competent adulthood.

Of course…anything can happen. I don’t quarrel when people tell me that, because it is true. However, alien abductors or Nazis in the neighborhood just aren’t very likely. Nor is getting Covid from a library book.

And, as anything can happen, perhaps that anything might be beautiful, like falling in love, expressing your full heart, or a good deed.

6 thoughts on “Risk

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