In Praise of Risk

I’m convinced that in life we are either moving forward or backward, and that rarely are we standing still or static. Even when we think we are stuck, we are being dragged downwards and backwards by a variety of thoughts, circumstances, people, etc. I was talking to a friend who astutely pointed out that Covid and the sudden change in circumstances for many people have exposed now more than ever the tendencies of individuals to move forward or backward.  Those who can adapt quickly to a loss or a lack, and who think about things from different aspects, are more likely to take risks and move forward despite what appear to be insurmountable obstacles. 

I’ve been mulling over lately what it is that compels me to more forward after a sudden tragedy that completely altered my life.  We can guess and speculate all we want, but it is true that we never know how we will react until we are faced with a difficult challenge or a loss.  Why do I get out of bed everyday? Why do I feel the need, the urge even, to move forward, to make a new and different life for myself? What compels me to find joy and happiness, even in simple things? Am I just wired this way? Is it for the sake of my daughter? Is it because of the people with whom I have chosen to surround myself, like the friend I mentioned above who encourages  and inspires me to write?

The French philosopher Anne Dufourmantelle’s book In Praise of Risk has struck a cord with me as I think about this choice between moving forward, or backward in life.  Dufourmantelle points out that in spite of the 21st century obsession with zero risk, extensive insurance policies and 100% guarantees, life is a risk.  There is no way around it.  Dufourmantelle emphasizes throughout her book that love in particular—and the desire, passion, fear and sadness that come with it—is always a risk.  Whether it be familial, platonic or romantic love all relationships will inevitably end through separation, estrangement or death.  Durfourmantelle writes, “Love happens in spite of violence, stupidity, style, envy, and our dreams; it is also constantly ill-timed.”  And we continue to seek out and move towards love in spite of the risks of pain, of heartache, of sadness and, even more surprisingly, love happens without regrets or second thoughts.

“Snowdrops,” a poem composed by Louise Gluck, the recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, captures perfectly the desire to move forward, to live, to seek out new risks:

Do you know what I was, how I lived?  You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

Gluck’s placement of those four words together at the end of her poem—crying yes risk joy—makes us feel the author’s forward movement into her “new world.”

Every single day brings for me the renewed risk of finding love, joy, happiness. And lots of questions. So many questions. What was I thinking adopting a puppy, beginning major renovations on my house, filling two 30 yard dumpsters with years worth of accumulated junk, putting my career on pause or welcoming new relationships/connections into my life? But all of these things represent a way forward for me; and I could not have moved any way but forward. A friend wrote a note to me over the summer that keeps playing over in my mind: “…the arrival of an unsought and unthought-of future alone is just an ongoing perplexity. But I believe, perhaps more on a hunch than anything else, that you have a natural buoyancy that will emerge and keep you from sinking under all of this.”

And so I carry on and, perhaps stupidly, ridiculously, I take more risks.

I think that maybe I’m just wired this way.

Our golden retriever puppy, Phoebe.


Filed under American Literature, French Literature, Opinion Posts

24 responses to “In Praise of Risk

  1. Yes! What struck me is how what you’ve written about reminds me of the Quaker advice to ‘live adventurously’, which is occasionally read out in our Meetings, to remind us not to get/stay stuck. I wish you well.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. If there’s one thing I hate about myself, it’s this tendency to linger in the past, to wallow in misery. I am excellent in the moment of crisis, but then after the crisis is over, I have a delayed shock and seem to take forever to get over it. So I really admire you for being able to focus on what’s next and make plans and keep going.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I truly believe your way forward is the best, Melissa. As Marina says, wallowing can be a temptation, but we are human beings and I think we’re hard-wired to survive – even a loss as devastating as yours. Taking on new challenges and continuing to do new things is a method of survival, and I’m sure Alan would want you to do that. Phoebe will bring you joy, and if you surround yourself with people and creatures and things you love and who love you, that’s a good way to live. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Melissa, your courage inspires me to take risks and to fully embrace life’s joys and sorrows…and to allow them, even if in equal measure. Thank you, beautiful friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. (But please don’t take risks with Covid.)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you your thoughts, to which the poem of Louise Glück fits really well.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bianca

    Melissa, this post opened a curtain for me. Incredibly inspiring. And though we are strangers, I agree you are a natural risk taker. From afar I watch with joy as you navigate the way forward for you and your daughter. I wish you continued love and light.


  8. Rohan Maitzen

    Like so many others who have posted here, I am inspired and moved by the courage and determination and, yes, joy you are showing as you face your new life. Your beautiful deck seems like such a perfect symbol of that spirit. Changed though it was in such a tragic and sudden way, it is still *your* life, and it seems right to keep trying to fill it with the best things you can, for your sake and for Claire’s.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A profound testament to resilience that comes from being loved. Thank you for your insights and for the life-affirming conversations that followed. The thought that came to me while reading, was” Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard. Every day we risk. We do not foresee what comes next and we are bound by the law of a forward moving existence. Perhaps that it our greatest gift. We press onward, sustained by love that remains within our souls. I look forward to following your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Embracing Risks – Simon Terry

  11. Such a superbly written piece. Thanks for posting it.

    Liked by 1 person

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