“Safe!” yells the umpire as the player slides into home plate, seconds before the ball thuds into the catcher’s mitt. With that magic word—safe—the umpire seals the fate of the game, and the fans stream from the bleachers, some elated with the final call, others grumbling at the outcome. In baseball, getting to that white square in time will make you safe—able to stay in the game and advance from base to base, or, even better, have your run added to your team’s total. Similarly, in a children’s game of tag, getting to whatever object has been designated as the base—a tree, or the swingset—will make you safe, unable to be tagged.
In life, though, “safe” is not so easy to find, or even to define. One of my childhood memories is of sitting behind my dad in our white station wagon, my eyes glued to the dark country highway just barely visible in the car’s headlights. I was looking for cows in the road. Once, I had heard my father tell my mother about someone who hit a cow in the road. I didn’t sleep on a family car trip for years: I was convinced that we would be the next ones to hit a cow. (We never did, by the way, although my dad probably was amused and perhaps appreciative of having a small lookout posted in the back seat of the car.)
Similarly, when we went on a camping trip to Petit Jean—I was about seven at the time—I was convinced that I would encounter a bear. This was a strange fear, considering that we were actually going to stay in a cabin! I’m not even sure that there are bears still roaming North Arkansas, but I read a lot as a child: by then, I might have latched on to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. Bears—and cows—both show up in Little House in the Big Woods, and Laura, growing up in a wooded Wisconsin, would have been right to fear bears. Me? Not so much, but the fear was real in my mind. In the end, I wasn’t satisfied until my mother wrote me a guarantee that bears wouldn’t get me while I was at Petit Jean. True story.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Perhaps you’re either born with a fear of the world and a desire to stay safe, or you’re not. (It’s obvious which camp I fall into.) The interesting thing is that it sometimes doesn’t seem to matter whether we choose the “safe” option or not. My husband and I happened to be in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan when the Gulf War broke out in 1991: he was doing a two-month rotation at a missions hospital in Qalandarabad (city of the wandering holy man—which was a puzzling name, since, if the holy man wandered, how did he come to have a designated city?), and I had accompanied him. That was actually my first time to leave the United States; we had no idea when we left that a war would break out not so very far from our part of the world. The real danger to us was of an uprising against the foreigners living in the hospital compound. One night, my husband and some other men were invited to dinner at the home of a grateful patient: their host’s vehicle, which they were following, had a poster of Saddam Hussein on its back windshield. Yet we were safe in Pakistan and came home greatly enriched by the experience—and with a few stories to tell.
I try to remind myself of our safety in Pakistan when my children want to do something that strikes me as being unsafe. Often, driving is involved. Maybe it isn’t surprising that car crashes are ranked as one of the top causes of death in the United States because we simply spend so much of our time in cars? And, of course, you can’t do anything about how the other guy is driving, aside from trying to stay alert. But, in the end, I can’t keep my children safe, even more than my parents could do anything to keep me safe when I was halfway around the world during an international war.
We try to give them good counsel, of course: this past summer, our daughter had been at a fiddle camp in Ohio and wanted to go visit a friend in Wisconsin “on the way home.” She would have been driving an extra 10 hours or so on 4th of July weekend, and it seemed like a bad idea to us—particularly since she was driving solo and would only be with her friend in Wisconsin for a day. She’s an adult now, and she could have disregarded our advice, but she decided not to add on the Wisconsin trip, mostly because she knew she’d be wiped out when she got home and she had editing work that was overdue.
Later, I wondered: were we right to discourage her? Hard to say. The work was the deciding factor for her, not our concerns about her safety, but maybe we should have been less negative. Opportunities to see other parts of the country, or the world, don’t come around that often. We were concerned for her safety, but if safety becomes the primary concern, where is the joy in life? And sometimes, we aren’t safe even when we’re home in our own beds, as I was reminded a few weeks ago when Hurricane Irma’s high winds strayed into Georgia and North Carolina; a large tree fell in our yard—-happily not on anyone or anything; a gentleman living in Georgia was not so fortunate, however: a tree fell on his bedroom, and he died.
Getting your life philosophy from a movie isn’t really a great idea, but a line from the quirky movie Strictly Ballroom can be helpful to me when I realize I’ve become too preoccupied with safety: “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” (My daughter likes to quote that line to me when I’m pouring cold water on her latest scheme.) Believe me, I still advocate wearing helmets when you go biking and bringing water bottles when you go on a hike. And sunscreen—don’t forget the importance of sunscreen! But letting my fears about possible problems prevent me from the enjoyment of life is just as foolish as not putting on my seatbelt. It will rob life of its possibilities and its zest. By always putting safety as the top priority, what exactly is it that I’m trying to save?
This post was written in response to the prompt “save/safe” as part of Linda G. Hill’s Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday event. Click on the link to read Linda’s rules for writing an SoCS post. Thanks to Joey of Joeyfully Stated for hosting this week!