Risk is relative, especially when we are talking about sports and hobbies. This topic has been on my mind these past two weeks as I sat at my husband’s hospital bedside unsure first if he would survive his biking injuries, and once stable, how we would move forward toward healing. Upon release from the hospital it was time to go to our home — just a few blocks from where the accident occurred. I was thrilled he was up for the drive and ferry ride.
Bill had been training for a fundraising bike ride, the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC), when he was struck by a garbage truck that turned into him while he was on a bike path minutes from our home. Embracing long distance biking when we met seven years ago, he became a stronger and better rider than I was, in a very short time. I was thrilled to follow him on our weekly training rides drafting off his adept strength in the hills.
Unfortunately, I was not riding with him the day the garbage truck hit him. I received a very calm message from a skilled ER administrator at our island hospital, just minutes after he had been transported, “Your husband has had a bike accident — please come to the ER.”
Sitting for hours on end at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital –which we arrived at by ferry and ambulance– I spent a great deal of time thinking about risk and choices. To my mind, Bill had not taken any risk at all that day. Bill was fully trained for our upcoming PMC ride (just 12 days away) as we had already completed a century (100 mile) fundraising ride in Tahoe just two months prior (to benefit Leukemia and Lymphoma).
After being released from the hospital Bill insisted I ride the event as we had both trained for it. We had actively fundraised for this event and were deeply committed to raising funds for the Dana Farber Cancer center. Bill’s sister and brother-in-law volunteered to drive him home and I would meet him there later that day. A dear friend offered to ease my return by transporting me by boat back after the ride. After much deliberation, stepping up to ride turned out to be the right choice.
As I clutched the rail of the powerboat transporting me home, knees bent, pounding through the five-foot waves from crest to trough, I sited a windsurfer off the portside. Juxtaposed against this life altering two weeks, I watched this windsurfer carve through the five footers thinking, “Glad that’s not my kid.” As I held my breath, fear was the first sensation and next curiosity, until I settled into a state excitement, awed as I watched that marvelously skilled windsurfer.
Not to beat the metaphor into a froth of sea foam, let me just say–risk is relative. Each one of us decides what feels safe. That windsurfer’s choice of being out in huge surf seemed insane to me but was clearly right for him. Others cannot make the choices for us as to “what feels right” or safe–we must be captains of our own risk/comfort ratios.
Years of downhill skiing allow me to jump into deep powder feeling exhilaration rather than fear. Living in the moment, understanding my athletic limitations and trusting that I know how to manage most slopes allows me to play in the deep powder. The same goes with biking. I’ve been biking long distances since I was 16 years old. Now, three plus decades later, I still have huge comfort on my bike despite the inherent risks.
Here’s the rub. What applies to my own risk/comfort ratio doesn’t easily translate to what I deem is safe for my loved ones. For example, my husband has been a pilot for 30 plus years and he is at home in the sky. Flying solo feels risky to me–however to him, it’s pure pleasure and he prefers it to driving. I negotiate with my anxiety as he takes off into the skies–I repeat regularly, “He is in his comfort zone–he is happy with his choice.” (Sometimes I settle in and accept his journey, but usually I hold my breath until I get a text that he has landed safely.)
At home with our “life on hold” while he begins his at-home healing process we continue to be deeply grateful that he is alive. We are busy composing thank you notes to our local EMTs, amazing care givers at Mass General Hospital, incredible family, generous friends, skilled doctors, patient business partners and to our darling neighborhood that has made it possible to navigate through the chaos. This afternoon, as we sit quietly on our couch, we talk about the choices we make as we play in the world–how to create a balance between pleasure, danger, risk, and faith.
As we heal we will learn ever more about these choices, what feels right and what feels too risky. Maybe our risk profiles will shift from this point on, maybe not. But, one thing I am certain of, Bill will make this choice all by himself…as will I.