Security: A Single Cell

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I’ve been thinking a lot about security lately. In May, I took a two-week trip to Alaska, part of it traveling alone. I stuck pretty much to the beaten path, not venturing into the “back-country” at all. However, being in such a wild place gives you pause. In country that produces moose in the middle of its largest city, and more bears than humans in some areas, safety and security seem precarious at best.

Most of us seek security as if it were oxygen—necessary for life. We buy safe cars with airbags and anti-lock brakes; get jobs with good salaries, benefits and opportunities for advancement; live in gated communities or neighborhoods with low crime rates. We lock our houses, our cars, our bikes and even our gym lockers for fear that someone might steal what—our sweaty socks and t-shirts? We are taught early to keep a close eye on our possessions, save for retirement, buy a lot of insurance, wear our seatbelts and do everything we can to stave off disaster. Some of us even eat right and exercise regularly—but let’s not get carried away!

Then something happens that jolts our sense of security to the very core—someone we know is killed in a car accident, planes fly into buildings on American soil, a fire or flood destroys everything we have worked so hard for. For me it was a cancer diagnosis. Facing our own mortality has a way of making us realize quickly that security is just an illusion. That “safe” job and all the insurance in the world can’t protect us from everything.

My diagnosis gave me the courage to quit my job and do something different. I’m sure it was the same for many hurricane Katrina survivors. Once they were displaced and had lost everything, it was somehow easier to take the risk of starting over somewhere else. Having our sense of security threatened can send us in either of two directions: Either cocooning quietly in a corner to regain that illusive sense of safety we used to feel or barreling out into the world which is full of risks that we choose to face head on. The risks will be there whether we are minding your own business at home or living life fully and trying new things. Every 14 minutes, a fatal injury occurs in someone’s home. Might as well get out there.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

Those words have a much deeper meaning in today’s world of Patriot Acts, but that’s really a much larger discussion. Visiting Alaska taught me there is only so much you can do to protect yourself from grizzlies, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take that hike. I learned that more people are killed in the state by moose than bears, but no one has nightmares about Bullwinkle. In Australia a few years ago, I was startled to find out that falling coconuts kill far more people than great white sharks, but they’ve never made a movie about murderous tropical fruit raining down from the sky, while more than 30 years later, Jaws still has the power to terrify.

I have sometimes been questioned and chastised by people who perceive something I’ve done as dangerous and wonder aloud why I would take such risks. “You travel alone?” “I can’t believe you rode in a hot air balloon!” “What could possess you to climb a mountain?” I understand their need to maintain the illusion that everyday life is safe; that if you just keep your head down and stick close to home, bad things won’t happen to you. I just have a different perspective. I recognize life’s dangers, and I choose—while I’m traveling alone—to always wear my seatbelt and sunscreen.


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