As I sit writing in the pre-dawn, a blessing arrives: the sound of raindrops on my patio roof. I’m struck by inspiration: how beautiful it would be to feel the drops on my skin. I set my notebook aside and open the front door, but there’s a problem.
Before stepping out, I study the walkway, lined by plants and bushes, and I wonder if there’s anything hiding there. A snake, a black widow, a rat? Will I be startled or worse, bitten by something? I’m alone and I’m in my nightgown. What if the door locks somehow? The neighborhood is asleep. Would I sit on my porch until daylight, then tiptoe over and wake up my neighbor?
Of course, I’m exaggerating for effect, but it’s 75% true. Sometimes, coyotes run down our street. A mountain lion has been spotted–rarely, but still, we live on the edge of rural, open land. Hillsides, gullies, fields.
I’m an early riser, and I love the idea of walking before sunrise. One morning when I told Bill I was heading out, he looked alarmed. “It’s still dark.”
I went anyway, but his warning took a little of the fun away. As an older person, I’m more careful. In my thirties and forties, I’d drive north to Monterey to see friends, a journey of about seven hours. I went alone. Would I do that now?
Would I drive to a distant city, get a hotel room, and have dinner alone? Or (my fantasy) ride the train all over California while writing?
Frankly, I do find myself being much more careful as I age, and while part of that is wise, I wonder if I’m teaching myself to live in fear, and if that’s a normal aspect of aging.
We’re more careful physically, because we break more easily and heal less quickly, but it can go too far.
Worry, of course, is a means of psychological control. This isn’t just true of older people. Haven’t you seen parents of young children turning themselves inside out to keep their children safe from every kind of potential trauma?
Universally, we humans believe if we’re careful enough–if we limit ourselves to safe, known places and people–we’ll be okay. We even tend to blame victims, because that reassures us that we can dodge the same fate through carefulness. (“What was she wearing? Was she alone? It was two in the morning and she’d been drinking? Well, what did she expect?”)
We’re trying to control life–our little corner of the world. But on the other hand, as older people, one of the lessons we should have learned by now is that life will go on its merry way, doing whatever random things it chooses. So it would actually be smarter to develop resiliency and adaptability.
How much better it would be if we could let go of some of our fear? How much freer we would be?
How might we develop that? If we took a baby step and nothing bad happened, might we not become braver and enjoy more of what life has to offer?
One way might be to get away and do something solo, which would increase our confidence. Julia Cameron, in her popular book The Artist’s Way, encourages readers to have an artist’s date with themselves. Here’s her description of the Artist Date and here are 101 Ideas for Artist’s Dates.
As I write this, I blush, wondering if you’re all braver than me, and if I’m the only one who lives this way. Am I making too much of everyday caution turning to fear?
On the morning of the surprise rain shower, I decided that if I gave in to my fear, I’d miss out on one of the sweetest things a person could experience. So I stomped my feet a bit to scare away the larger carnivores and stood in the driveway in my nightgown at dawn, feeling raindrops on my face and shoulders. Then I went back inside, proud of myself.
For more on the subject:
Here is an article about risk in older age, from Senior Planet.
And here is the trailer from The Last Word, starring Shirley MacLaine. I hope you enjoy them both. And in the comments, why not tell us about a risk you took? It’ll make us all feel braver.