This Friday my best friend will say good-bye to one of her dearest friends, someone who has left this world far too soon and too young. A couple of days ago my friend and I were talking about this tragic event, and about what it means to those who are left behind. Having lost both my parents in recent years I've learned a few things about loss, and one of the lessons I've learned is the need to embrace life. The problem with embracing life, of course, is the risk that it involves. I'd like to share some thoughts about risk, and about life.
After my mother died I went through a very bleak time. In fact I became convinced that I was seriously ill. I would wake up every night at about 3 am with severe abdominal pain. I could not eat, and I could not sleep. Gradually the pain took over my waking hours, and I consulted emergency rooms, doctors, and specialists. It took an ultrasound, an endoscopy, two CT scans, and several vials of blood to learn that what I had was a serious case of unresolved and unaddressed grief. I had no idea what grief and loss can do, or the pain it can cause - not just emotional pain, but true physical pain (this is a good lesson to remember, too, friends, if it ever happens to you). It wasn't until I had a few sessions with a therapist that the pain ceased, and just as gradually as it had taken over my life it disappeared.
After that experience I made some decisions. The biggest was the decision to embrace life in every way I could. I have always been a person of passions (some in my life call them obsessions). I cannot like something "a little bit" - I am all in, or all out. When I discover something I love - a country, perhaps, a fast car, or a fabulous pair of shoes - I embrace it with an intensity that can overwhelm other people. Recently I realized how foolish this could make me seem, and I began to realize how very okay I am with appearing foolish. You see, the opposite end of the spectrum is feeling nothing - no passion and no intensity. I am sure there is a middle ground but that doesn't seem enough to me - why aim for mediocrity when you can embrace the far end of the pendulum? Is there a risk? Sure. You might appear foolish to others. You might seem obsessive. And sometimes it might cause you pain when you risk too much, open yourself too wide, and find yourself turned away. But what is life without risk? Perhaps there is no greater truism than "if nothing is risked then nothing is gained".
When I wrote about someone recently I decided to contact them and tell them what I had written. I did it with trepidation and some fear about appearing foolish, especially since this is someone I had not seen in about 30 years. The response was incredibly gratifying, as they said my words had made their day, and given them great pleasure. They went away from that exchange happy, and so did I. It could have gone badly. They could have responded poorly, or not at all. The point, though, isn't how it ended up but rather that I took the step at all - that leap of faith, that risk that could go either way, that opportunity to appear foolish. I took that chance and let someone else see my words, my thoughts, and my heart, and I am so very glad I did. I would have been glad even if the end result had been different.
There have been days in recent months when I beat myself up pretty good about appearing foolish, and about being embarrassed for things I'd said or done (you know, like telling the guy at the body shop where my car is being repaired that the car is my baby and that I cried when she was damaged). As of this Friday, though, I am absolving myself of all this and forgiving myself. As my friend says good bye to her beloved friend I will embrace life just a bit more, forgive my own passionate and obsessive nature, and continue to take those risks as they come into my life, even if in the end I appear to be a fool. Because that's what life is, dear friends - it's all just a big gamble, and you may as well go big - or go home.