It’s New Year resolutions time. I’ve briefly thought about whether I will promise to undertake any risky adventures in the year ahead. Knowing me, I will talk about it and probably do nothing.
Reviewing former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s Lazarus Rising: A Personal and Political Autobiography, Nicholas Stuart, a Canberra journalist, describes Howard as a passionate cricket lover as well as a professional politician. Stuart’s image of Howard as a would-be professional cricketer captured my attention.
“(Howard) is behind the crease, gripping his bat tightly with both hands. Determination is written across his forehead. … He peers at the bowler running towards him. The ball flies slowly through the air. It’s an easy shot and Howard has a simple choice. He can take a chance, have a swing and try for a boundary. For a second, the PM almost seems to consider this option, but that’s not his way. He lets his grip go slack and the bat is dead. The ball is safely blocked. No runs, no one out.”
Most of us, given the chance, will settle for the security of “no runs, no one out.”
Taking risks is one of “12 Winning Secrets From The War Room” in James Carville and Paul Begala’s book, Buck Up, Suck Up ... and Come Back When You Foul Up.
Tucked away in their account of lessons learned through their experiences within the American political system is the story of Jack LaPellerie who worked as a boilerman on the ship that carried President Woodrow Wilson to France for the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War 1.
Jack’s forebears came from France and when the local French teacher and lover of all things French, Miss Mamie Grevenberg, heard Jack was going to France, her excitement knew no bounds. Miss Mamie lectured anyone who was listening about the thrilling sights and sounds Jack was seeing.
“You can imagine,” writes Carville, “the celebration when Jack returned from his heroic voyage. Miss Mamie rushed up to him and in her thick Cajun-French accent asked, ‘Jacques, tell me everything. Was the food heavenly? Is the Eiffel Tower really as high as the clouds? Is Paris as romantic and magical as a Victor Hugo novel?’
And Jack LaPellerie said, ‘Hell! I never left the boat. You don’t know what could happen in a foreign county like that. Food could be spoiled or the water could make you sick. Nosirree, I stayed safe and sound on that boat.’”
Risk taking is a great resolution to make. But recognise that it’s one thing to launch out on a venture, it’s quite another to make it to the other side. Risk taking is vital to life’s significance but, between taking the risk and reaching the other shore, may be a long time in the middle without any visible progress.
Donald Miller is one of a younger breed of American writers in the Christian tradition. Following his successful memoir Blue Like Jazz, his life stalled and he found himself questioning the meaning of life. Now, in a sequel to his original memoir, he has written A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Amongst a variety of reflections about his life story, the book’s a lively, penetrating, evocation of the risks he took when with a group of companions he set out to ride his bicycle across the USA. Part of that journey involved paddling small boats across a big inlet.
“I didn’t want to paddle through the night or across the wide inlet. We didn’t leave the dock till after midnight, and we had to paddle for hours through the pitch black and in the middle the inlet was so large and the dark was so dark we couldn’t make out either shore.”
This experience leads him to reflect on life:
“I think this is when most people give up on their lives. They come out of University wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get in the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore … none of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses and go looking for an easier life. …
“It’s like that with every risky adventure and with every life. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any further. And then suddenly the shore starts to grow and it grows fast. And then the shore reaches out to you and welcomes you home.”
Put risk taking high on your list for 2011. St Paul described his comrades in the faith as those “who risked their necks for the Gospel.”
Life and faith both call for risk taking. Staying safe and sound on the boat has no place in a Christian’s creed. But between riskily setting out on a great venture and seeing the welcoming shores of our goal we shouldn’t forget the long haul, when we can’t see the shore and we seem to be paddling to no effect. It’s then that the hard and disciplined quality of perseverance is needed if we are going to reach the shore and feel its welcoming hand.
– Tom Cadman