When I was a kid, my older brother saw a t-shirt that said “If you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”
He would say that phrase to me from time to time. I didn’t really know what that meant, so I started sitting on the edges of chairs instead of leaning back . In my mind, I thought I lived in a house, not an edge, and that suited me just fine- but I still wanted to impress my brother.
My philosophy since then has evolved- but not that much. I still think that “living on the edge” requires a significant investment in being on the edge of your seat. Living on the edge is about is placing yourself on the fine line between possibilities and disasters. It is about choosing to be outside of where you are comfortable, so that you can achieve great things. To summarize: living with a “no risk, no reward” mentality.
Living on the edge seems like a noble, high road that some people choose to take. There is something immensely appealing about people who choose to take more risks so they can achieve greater things. People envy that choice, and aspire to make “edgier” choices themselves.
The truth is, no matter what choices you make, you are closer to disaster and possibility than you think. We all live on the edge.
This was made clearer to me by two separate experiences that I had recently. In the first, I was walking to dance practice, something that only happens when it’s too icy for me to ride my bike. I stopped, because a woman had fallen on a giant sheet of ice between the street and the sidewalk. I tried to help her up, and quickly realized she was injured and incapable of standing up. The effort hurt her. I called an ambulance and waited with her and her daughter. I could see how helpless she was, sprawled on a sheet of ice, halfways on the street, in pain. Unable to move.
She wasn’t living on the edge the way we imagine it- nobody really adds “walking across streets” into their mental file of high risk activities. And yet- it will probably be a while before she can walk without pain again. She wasn’t “on the edge,” but she fell off the cliff, so to speak.
A few weeks later, I volunteered in a soup kitchen, serving a starchy breakfast of coffee, bagels, and porridge. Many of the people looked like any stereotype of homeless people. Many did not. I ran dirty trays between the tables and the dishwashing room, laughing and talking to people in short little bursts as I cleared trays.
As the crew was cleaning up, one of the other volunteers and I talked for a while. “We’re all closer to being in here than you think,” he told me. “It’s important to give back.” I thought of the lady who fell on the ice patch. I thought about how easy it is to break a leg, lose a job, lose a house in a flood. Lose someone you love. How often misfortunes of all types strike; a mugging, a car wreck, almost anything at all.
The reality is, nothing is as sure as it seems, no matter how used to it we are or how long it’s been that way. We all live on the edge, and our choices about doing so are irrelevant.
It’s a depressing realization. No matter what you build, how fit you are, how hard you try- it can be stripped from you. At any moment.
The power of the realization is this: possibility and disaster are on the same edge. You are already “living on the edge.” You are closer to possibilities than you think, and often the best things about you are forged by disaster. Reach for the possibilities in your life with all you have.