Winter 2010 #12

A friend of mine is definitely risk-inclined. To look into his eyes, the bright centre of his vaguely unkempt person, is to peer over the rim of the cliffs and cascades against which he continually pits his mettle. A climber, adventurer, horseman; he’s the fellow who gets a mechanic mate to cut the cast off his broken leg with an angle grinder after the required number of weeks … thereabouts. Jayd teaches the Psychology of Risk at university, and has an evident personal appetite to press the boundary between the known and the unknown to ever new limits. For him, known quantities are such things as the environment, his equipment and his own skill; and the unknown quantity is the outcome. Mystery, unanswered questions and risk are the essence of adventure.

Admittedly Jayd’s exploits are voluntary, and far more daring than mine, but I dare to say we share something in common. We both confront the fragility and resilience of human life, and we each have one foot placed well into the unknown.

Preparing B4 for our first big road-trip the day after tomorrow is much like packing for a few nights bushwalking in the Blue Mountains. Supplies must be chosen, weight considered, lists checked, maps consulted, routes planned, bookings made. There’s not much space on a power wheelchair, it takes ingenuity to fit everything on. This week there will be new train stations, new suburbs of Melbourne, a new hotel, a new hospital, a new clutch of doctors, perhaps even a new diagnosis. Which is why the coming week’s foray back into uncertainty is a little preoccupying.

The trouble with preoccupation is spelled out in the word itself: occupation ahead of time; arrival before departure; destiny without travail. The mental gymnastics of creating a future fantasy in finest detail are an absorbing occupation; and yet if there is one obvious lesson that life offers it must be that the future is always a surprise. I must confess that in the last week I have spent more time preoccupied with the unknowable future than I have in actually preparation for the journey ahead.

Officially there’s not much wrong with me. My last ‘diagnosis’ , for what it was worth, was Functional Illness, medical double-speak for depression. If that notion wasn’t completely spurious in the first instance, I feel it’s looking highly suspect now. The diagnosis before that was Neurological Anomaly, and a good 18 months ago the specialist’s only conclusion was the memorable epithet, “You may get better, or you may get worse”. Hard to argue with that wisdom! Over the last year and a bit, motor neurone disease has been diagnosed, contradicted, suggested and contested; and yet the thing I find most alarming about an appointment with another Neurologist this week is not so much what I fear he might say, it’s the very real possibility that he will say something utterly unexpected. And this is where it gets complicated: my apprehension is more than equalled by anticipation; fear is countered by excitement; mixed in with my alarm is a certain thrill of adrenalin that I am reluctant to acknowledge. It seems a little perverse to take any sort of pleasure in one’s own decline, and yet in facing my unknown future I experience an exhilaration that is as keen as the thrill of every other adventure I’ve been on. I’m having fun – and that seems a little inappropriate!

I find the unknown is both fearful and beckoning, alarming and alluring. By facing peril we discover ourselves, we are reassured that we are what we have always dreamed we could be, and perhaps more. My friend Jayd describes this as Edgeworking, “people going to the very limit of what is possible; their competence just meeting the challenge at hand, allowing them a chance to dance on the brink of disaster…and return”. And in encountering risk we also test our reliance on Providence; free-falling in faith, hoping to discover again that it is true: “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms”. Courage, to my mind, is not a character trait at all, it is an aspect of relationship just like friendship or love. Courage comes from companionship; and there is no point at which we fail and the Almighty takes over, because He walks inseparably with us.

On the brighter side, B4 and I are going to catch some trains and do a little edgeworking together! I wonder what adventures await?


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