Monday, January 21, 2008

Let's Talk About Risk

Risk. It's the thing we're all supposed to avoid. We have Risk Management specialists, Risk Averse investments. When you're trying to decide whether or not to do something, you can be talked out of it with a simple "It's a risk....."

But is that really how you want to live your life?

I know the "On your deathbed..." speech is a tired old cliche, but do you really want to get to the end of your life and think, "I did it. I lived my entire life and never took a single risk."

Woo hoo.

I know that's not how I want to live. It's certainly not how I have lived up to now. And if I had any doubts about my choices, well, let me tell you a little story about my mother.

Mum died last year. She had cancer. We knew she was getting close to the end of her life, so we tried to spend as much time with her as possible. In the last few weeks of her life she was weak and tired and not up for much more than talking. So we talked. About her life, about my life.

And at certain quiet moments, I would look at her and say, "You lived a big life." And she had. At the age of twenty three, she got on a boat, alone, and sailed off to England to marry a man she had a total of seventeen days of face time with between first meeting and wedding (there were eighteen months of letter-writing in between, because of the war).

They lived with his parents and she learned to cook in England with the rationing.

When my father was offered, as a war vet, the opportunity of a free university education, he quit his job, with Mum's blessing and went back to school. This when they already had one child. They had another while he was in school.

When he graduated, there was no work for him in England, so they emigrated to Canada, where there was no work, either.

They moved to Detroit, had five more children. Buried two. Moved back to Canada. Travelled a bit (somewhere there's a picture of Mum riding in a dog-sled in Inuvik, NWT). All this done while she battled M.S.

So when I say she had a big life, she had a Big Life.

And when I would say that to her, she always lit up. Threw her head back and laughed, nodding in agreement.

It wasn't always easy. Sometimes it was unbelievably hard. Sometimes they questioned their choices. And their sanity.

But I could tell by the smile on my mother's face as she lay waiting for death to come and claim her, that all of it, every little bit of it, was so worthwhile.

That smile is what I think of now, when I think of risk.