Periodically I like to stop and take stock of how my life is going. This is one of the benefits of retirement: time to think about stuff like “Am I happy?” “Am I healthy?” For most of my life I was too busy going to school, having kids and trying to remain as sane as I possibly could. I never had time to think about these weighty matters.
One of the biggest question folks my age ask themselves is “Have I made as much out of this life as I could?” We only get this one shot. There's no Do-Overs. Nobody wants to get to the Pearly Gates and find a lot of “C’s” and "Ds" on their report card. So I like to step back and take stock once in a while to see if I'm doing it right.
And I always go back to Risk.
Everything you do in life defines you. What you eat tells a lot about where you come from, how important health is to you, how sensitive you are to the dignity of others. When we went to the Fair last week it was clear to anyone that health was not very important to me, that I am from the South and I don't think much about how much the Fair concession stands pay their folks. Just give me the Corny Dog and get out of my way.
But sometimes I remember the people I've met in Central America and the words of smart and loving people who spend a lot of time there. On those occasions I choose Fair Trade coffee even if I have to pay a little more for it. And my weak, though earnest, attempt to cut back on my consumption of coffee says something about my health concerns.
A few years ago I thought about my lack of risks and decided to march in my first peace march. It was extremely low risk and way too much fun. The weather was glorious and the folks around me happy and hearty. It was so much fun that it didn't really feel like risk.
I've been reading posts on facebook from David LaMotte. It seems like everybody I respect knows David. I met him a couple of years ago in the main gathering place for gringos in Guatemala, Cafe Condesa in Antigua. He's s singer and speaker whose passion is human rights and dignity. David has been spending as much time as he can at the Moral Monday events in North Carolina. His father is a Presbyterian minister and one of the highlights of their relationship was a couple of months ago when they were arrested together at a Moral Monday protest. I invite you to look him up and find out more.
I've decided I don't want to leave this world without risking myself for something important. And I think Jesus' definition of what is important is as simple as the Golden Rule. And there are so many places and people who are not interested in their neighbor having a life as good as their own.
For a good definition of risk we can watch what Malala Yousefzai has done and continues to do. She speaks out eloquently on the importance of education. This is the girl who spoke out as early as when she was 12 years old. Twelve. As in "pre-teen." A girl. Consequently, she was targeted for death by the Taliban. At age 15 she was shot in the head. They thought they had silenced her. It was a miracle that she survived. And she spoke at the United Nations on her 16th birthday.
And here's a tiny risk of sorts. It's a four minute video. You would be risking four minutes of your life to watch it. I can promise it will be worth it.
She can't return to Afghanistan because they are still trying to kill her. In fact, her current address in England is a closely guarded secret. And she is speaking out more than ever now. She has a book out and every media agency interviewed her when it was published. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Here's the deal on Courage and Risk. If you want your cause to be heard and honored you must risk a bit of yourself. A Cause without any Risk is hollow and no one will pay any attention to it. If it is important for me to listen to you then it must be important enough for you to risk something of yourself. Martin Luther King risked his life and lost it for the Civil Rights movement. The Risk defines the value of the Cause.
A football player risking concussions for a lot of money and fame isn't the same. The cause must benefit someone else.
So now my definition of courage becomes willing to risk something of myself for the good of others.
As Maya Angelou defines courage it can be as simple as saying hello to people who don't look like you.
You could start there and work your way up.