Balancing the Rituals of Risk Management
I was born into a risk management family. My parents built a mom and pop insurance agency into a regional empire, and now my brother and I are deep in it, too.
This works because my personality is naturally cautious. I don’t go on solo mountain bike rides longer than 10 miles. I rarely backcountry ski a slope steeper than 30 degrees. I keep a blanket, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit, a beanie, a down jacket, and mace in my truck. I like new experiences, but I need to know all that I can before getting started. Improvisation scares the hell out of me.
My mom’s personality appears opposite on the surface; her boisterous exterior makes her seem spontaneous. And while I know she has the tenacity to endure anything that comes at her (e.g., lung transplant), “enduring” is not her idea of fun.
Maybe because my mom, Diana, grew up with uncertainty — how she would eat, who she could trust, how long or short life can be — she has created a safe world for herself that involves delighting in decadent foods, surrounding herself with trustworthy friends, and protecting the ones she loves most.
These are the ways she manages the risks she knows exist.
Goats speckle the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. Not for milk or meat, but for fire prevention. Routine fuel reduction is an essential risk management strategy for preventing the spread of wildfire.
Walking the three blocks to the grass-munching goats on a hillside in the middle of San Francisco was a milestone my mom hit a week out from her single-lung transplant in May 2020. I watched the goats chew while my mom, a grandmother now, reveled in the presence of children screeching about farm animals.
Breathing in the energy of the little kids, animals, and everything blooming in June, my mom beamed and likely thanked her god for her new lung.
Our rituals of risk management must be balanced with gratitude or we will scare ourselves into a fever. My mom found that balance, while taking 30 pills a day and cooperating with her lung transplant team’s instructions, by noticing small miracles. Witnessing city goats, flowering succulents, and friendly strangers was made possible by one of the biggest miracles of her life: receiving a new lung.
There’s only so much risk management we can do. We reduce fire fuels, we take the pills, we wash our hands, we look both ways. But at some point, faith swoops in and grabs the reins.
On one of our post-transplant recovery walks, we met a woman with her baby near the end of a cul-de-sac. She and my mom exchanged stories as I listened: a lung transplant patient leveling with a young mother with breast cancer, each deep in the ritual dance of Western medicine.
As we parted, my mom told her to keep going in her own way, and she told us to keep going — there was a Zen garden at the end of the road. Someone else’s ritual that the woman borrowed to gain gratitude and strength.
Tucked into a bushy corner, the garden was an oasis of life and spirit. Fresh lilies skirted the life-size stone Buddha. Miniature doors led into the mossy cove as if inviting you to choose your path. Here, quiet faith took the reins and coated my mom and me in a warm, grateful silence.
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