Friday, February 28, 2020


I have a skewed perception of risk.

 It comes from seeing a boy die on the playground; from seeing someone fall from the first step of a treehouse and wind up paralyzed for life; from being the son of a cop, with the overdeveloped sense of consequence that comes with that; from a well-honed awareness of my own weaknesses and proclivities; and from a total and complete lack of interest in most of the activities traditionally consigned to my gender, which are risky and also pointless.

I have heard that teenagers think they are invincible ever since before I was one. I've never understood that mindset, because I've never once had it. I had a brother whose tenure on earth was measured in days, and not many of those.  My mom was quite protective of me, which led inevitably to me being quite protective of myself.

The boy's name was Alan. He wasn't my friend -- I had exactly one of those that year -- but he wasn't my enemy either. What he was was immature.

My school had one of those wooden playground structures common in the 1980s, with slides and climbing bars and a swinging tire. Alan was laying on that tire, legs hooked securely, head dangling out just as far as he could stretch, and the tire was set to swinging in a giant parabola. Alan's left ear connected with a metal bar protruding from the wooden structure. He screamed--I will remember that scream for the rest of my life. It was crazily high pitched, piercing, in the way that metal hand pierced his head.

They brought trauma counsellors in. One spoke with me, briefly. I didn't consider myself traumatized by the incident: it was, in my head, maybe not his just desserts, but about what would be expected from swinging in such an unsafe, risky manner. Pretty sure the counsellor didn't expect such a stoic reaction from a little kid.

The other boy I've talked about before. Cub camp...Camp Sylvan, I think it was called. Can't remember his name. I do remember the tower: four levels, each fifteen wooden slats apart. I had climbed it myself the day before, against every instinct but one. That one was the desire not to be ridiculed and beaten, which was what was promised if I didn't stop "being a pussy" and climb. So I climbed. Very carefully. All the way up. I was terrified, and getting DOWN was even worse, but I made it. Predictably, it didn't stop anyone from ridiculing and beating me, and that was one of the last times I succumbed to peer pressure because of that.

It rained that night, and the ground and wood was slick the next morning when he went to ascend the tower. He made one step. In taking his second, he lost his footing and fell backwards, landing flat on his back.

Not quite flat. There was a little rock, just so. Paralysis. For life.

Now, even I knew that was a freak accident. But I'd gone a few years being told I was a freak every weekday, and by that point I was thoroughly convinced that if such a freak accident were to happen to me, it would be greeted with laughter and nothing else. Certainly not medical attention.

I couldn't very well resolve to avoid situations where freak accidents could happen, not without bubble-wrapping myself. But it reinforced my inclination towards caution and prudence.

The son of a cop thing....have you ever noticed that cops and preachers either breed respectful and fine upstanding members of society, or wild children who seem to become career criminals? I'm not sure how fine I am, but I'm reasonably upstanding with (mostly) a healthy respect for the law. What I mostly have, though, is an imagination, and it imaginates all sorts of consequences to taking risks. On some level, I think I feel that risk taking is inherently something criminals do--the risk is that they'll be caught and punished, of course. Logically, I know that there are millions of perfectly legal risks. Emotionally....

And I know that I am not very co-ordinated. I therefore know that if I climb a tree, I will fall out of that tree and break my neck. I don't want a broken neck and find it incredible how many other people either DO want a broken neck, or are so confident in their own abilities to avoid one. I know that I am absent-minded, and so whatever I do in the course of a day should probably carry as little risk as possible...absentmindedness elevates risk as it is.

I've probably missed out on some amazing experiences, not to mention some personal growth, because of my risk aversion. But I've also missed out on blood and tears. In my value system, that's a trade-off I'll make almost every time.

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