The concept of “risk” has been pretty dominant in my life lately.
I was tested today for my donor status. At this point, there’s not a whole lot to tell– they took a sample of my urine, and 11 (!) vials of my blood. The donor coordinator talked to me for a while, explained the whole procedure and a bunch of other stuff I won’t bore you with. Then they had me meet with the surgeon, “Dr. O.”
Dr. O is himself a marathon runner, not to mention about 38 and well, let’s just say good looking. He spent about 30 minutes talking to me about the surgery, and then he got to the part about risk.
All told, this is a fairly easy surgery, but, he said, as with every surgery comes risk, including death. Uh, okay. I asked for the option of getting the surgery where death wasn’t included.
Silence. Blank stare. I don’t think he got the joke.
Cute or not, he’s still a doctor and they’re not really known for their social skills.
Anyhoo, he also talked about all the things that could happen if a person only has one kidney. He said that we can function just like people that have two, but that if something were to happen, like cancer or getting in a car accident where your kidney is damaged, I would essentially be screwed. He read down this list of all the things that could happen to me, and at the end said, “So this comes with a certain degree of risk. You have to be willing to take that risk.”
What he said was something I have been thinking about a lot lately - what if something happens to me down the road, and I end up being the one who needs a kidney? What if one of my other family members needs one? What if….? The list goes on and on. But the reality is I never know what’s going to happen in the future – these things may NEVER happen to me – but that’s the risk I take.
Ironman is the same. With Ironman, there is so much invested – more than I could have comprehended when I signed up – but yet there are so many variables that you can’t control. There’s so much risk involved in committing an entire year (or two) to something, only to have it possibly ripped away with a herniated disk, or torn cartilage, or bonking on race day. Last year, I jumped in, challenged myself to do something I actually never really thought I could do, and then got hurt so close to the race. That was the risk I took, and at the time, I thought I lost.
It took a couple weeks, but I finally accepted that I didn’t lose – I gained a whole aspect of training that I didn’t have before – I gained a whole extra year of developing my body so I would be even stronger this time around. I gained a greater focus and determination, and most of all, appreciation for this event. I gained respect for the 140.6 miles I would take on – I don’t know if I had that last year.
The most obvious place this happens is in relationships. A friend of mine recently started a relationship with a woman, and is experiencing all the nerves and insecurities that go along with it. It’s been a while since he’s been in a relationship, and he really likes this woman, so he feels pretty vulnerable right now – worried that he’s going to get hurt, she won’t reciprocate his feelings, etc.
During one of our conversations, he said, “It’s just not worth it.”
There is always the risk that someone might not reciprocate in the beginning, just as your feelings start to grow. Or worse - that you do jump in and bathe in all the love and attention and affection that is showered on you, and allow yourself to be vulnerable and open and loved and giving back in return – Only to have someone stop loving you later, once you have already given over all your emotions. Is that pain of having someone fall out of love with you worth the risk of loving at all? What do you do with all those big plans, hopes and dreams? How do you learn to live and love again so freely, when you know that it might be taken away again? How do you RECOVER and RESTART?
I like to think that the risk is worth it. Just like Ironman, when relationships go south, you can still walk away learning something from them. The lessons are impossible to see through the pain of a break-up, the devastation of having someone lose interest or make you less of a priority or (the worst) stop loving you – but with enough time and space, the lessons become clearer. I have said before that relationships are like looking in the mirror – they reveal all of our deepest interpersonal flaws and beauty. We need then to help us figure out what works and what needs to be fixed. Just like the stray gray hair we might see in the mirror, a relationship can show us the insecurities, fears, and scars of our psyches. If there is the potential for self-growth, then I would like to believe that the risk is worth it.
Getting back to the donor thing – Dr. O concluded our time together by saying, “Your brother is very sick, and the odds of his new pancreas functioning in the absence of healthy kidneys is slim, meaning he will go on dialysis, and his chance of survival is even slimmer. So this isn’t about making someone else’s life comfortable – this is about saving his life.”
Before he said that, I didn’t really know how sick my brother was, so I didn’t think about it like that before – I thought I was just sort of helping out.
So I told him, “Yes, this is a risk worth taking.”