the landscape of loving is a risky business

I am not really superstitious.

The one exception is that if I have not been sick for a while (with a cold, for example), I don’t like to even mention it. It seems that as soon as I say it out loud, I catch something. In fact, that happened just this week–when I just happened to mention that I had not been sick since March–and here I am sniffling and coughing. I am sure there is no correlation, but still. I keep those thoughts to myself more often than not.

I feel the same way about the risks we live with every day. I know that they are there, but I try not to speak of them. If I acknowledge one of my fears aloud will that particular tragedy surely follow? Likely not, but doesn’t it seem wiser not to risk it?

So I generally assume that what will happen, will happen, and I direct my focus toward more mundane things. I don’t allow myself to contemplate the myriad possibilities of terrible things that might befall those I love.

Yesterday I read an NPR story (thanks, Renee H.) that highlighted the top ways that parents fear their children will be harmed vs. how they actually die.

It turns out most parents are worrying about all the wrong things.

Based on surveys collected, the top five worries of parents are, in order:

  1. Kidnapping
  2. School snipers
  3. Terrorists
  4. Dangerous strangers
  5. Drugs

But how do children really get hurt or killed?

  1. Car accidents
  2. Homicide (usually committed by a person who knows the child, not a stranger)
  3. Abuse
  4. Suicide
  5. Drowning

The article’s main point? A helmet, seat belt, and swimming lessons are valid ways to increase the odds of protecting your children. Preventing them from going to school or the mall because they might be attacked by snipers or terrorists is not. And worrying does not help anyone.

Reminds me of this sage verse: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:27

Overprotectiveness will hurt [children] in the long run by making them less resilient. We’re teaching them to be helpless, and because we’re so afraid of the world, we’re teaching them to be afraid of the world.

We think worry means that we love our kids. So we’re kind of fooling ourselves to think that all this research and all this worry we’re doing is actually love… because it isn’t.

So then, if worrying doesn’t prove that we love, why do we do it?

Because we’re scared. Because we really wish that we could ensure the physical safety of those we love. Because caring is a risky business, like walking a tightrope, high above the ground, with no safety net below. Loving anything sets us up for loss. And we know it. After just one loss, boy, do we know it. And naturally, many of us tend to close up just a little bit each time we lose something or someone we love.

Of course this has happened to me over the years too. I have lost or nearly lost people and pets I love dearly. I know that tragedy does and will happen to all of us. Still, I can’t seem to stop myself from loving, no matter how savagely I might occasionally sing S & G in an effort to keep a fortress around my heart:

I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

It doesn’t stick. I have decided, for better or for worse, that I will live my life loving many, many people. And if I must love with so much abandon, I must also reconcile myself to the grief that will surely hit me when I lose something or someone I hold dear. Reconciling myself to this undeniable consequence of loving grants me the resilience I need to cope with loss.

At times, the risks of loving become more real and I am forced to face them.

Like when I put Dylan onto the school bus this morning at 6:40 a.m. and didn’t hear a word of confirmation that he had arrived safely at school until he got home  this afternoon. “Trust the system.” “Someone would have called if he hadn’t shown up in his classroom.” These are things that I whisper to myself to remain calm. And it’s all fine as long as I don’t allow my mind to wander.

The reality is that my precious first-grade boy is on the roads with someone I don’t even know at the wheel. Despite the procedures in place, despite the assurances from the school district, the fact remains: Letting my boy go outside of my reach with this stranger is a big risk. And it takes a lot of faith to put him on the bus. So I kept myself busy all day and forced myself not to call the school, but my heart leapt with joy when he bounced off of the bus at 2:30 p.m., safe and sound.

Like the time I drove Jeremy to the hospital during the night, trying to stay a stoplight ahead of his failing kidneys and his struggling heart, crying and saying, “You are not allowed to die. You are not allowed to die. Do you hear me?”

In Kelly Corrigan’s* most recent book, Lift, she writes to her children about how much they have changed her life. One of the major changes she describes is the additional risk she’s assumed by having children to love. And possibly lose.

She describes how this awareness came to her. First, through watching a cousin experience the loss of her teenage son in a car accident:

I tell you about Aaron because he died when you were both in diapers and his death has changed every day of our life together. I tell you about Aaron because I want you to live longer than he did. Even though I hope you have Aaron’s general trust in people and his belief that things usually work out, even though I want you to love people as easily and overtly as he did, I want you to be more cautious and less optimistic. I want to keep you in the world where I can find you.

Second, by describing her baby’s fight with meningitis:

But the smell of the hospital, the sting of those overhead lights in the night, the snippets of conversation I’d overheard stayed with me and marked the beginning of how I came to know what a bold and dangerous thing parenthood is. Risk was not an event we’d survived but a place where we now lived.

Risk was not an event we’d survived but a place where we now lived.

Ah yes, this too is where I live. In the landscape of loving. In the landscape of risk.

Loving not only my children, husband and family members.

But choosing to hold so many friends, young and old, past and present, deep, deep, deep in my heart.

It’s a risky business to love all of you.

But I guess I’d better get used to the scenery, because this is where I live.


* I loved Kelly’s first book, The Middle Place. If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should.