What Is Safe?

When our oldest daughter was only a couple of years old, I started a routine of taking her out for “cookies and milk” on weekends. It was intended to carve out special time for her when she had my undivided attention. I was working a lot more then…I do my best to work less these days…but for some reason, we lost the routine. Partly because we discovered that everyone in our family has some variety of a food allergy that makes true “cookies and milk” almost impossible unless it’s made from scratch at home, and partly because, as she got older, life changed a bit. I always said that it might hold as a tradition, or it might not, but the important thing was that we held onto having dedicated daddy-daughter time.

This weekend, I was driving home from that outing. We had spent some time at one of our favorite haunts…a local Barnes & Noble…in which she described all of her favorite characters from a book series she is reading. On the drive home, the driver of a vehicle in the opposite lane appeared to become distracted for a split second. The vehicle began to swerve into our lane. The driver realized instantly and course-corrected…the incident wasn’t even enough to be truly concerning. Even so, I found myself thinking that, although I wasn’t driving fast, had the driver not corrected, there would have been little chance that I could have done anything to prevent a disastrous result.

That’s not just a New England traffic story. There have been countless moments like that in my life, just driving on a daily commute, in which another second could have made the difference in a terrible way. I’m thankful for each one turning out as it did. Like most of the world, I really don’t drive that much these days, but the fact is that, every time I do, risk…sometimes serious risk…is inherent.

Driving…or riding the train, or flying…is a potentially horrible outcome presented to us each time we do it. We’re encapsulating ourselves in a steel vehicle hurtling down a road or a track or through the sky at amazing speeds, and ultimately hoping it turns out for the best. And, to be honest, if you do it enough, eventually it won’t turn out for the best. Most of us have had the accidents to prove that fact.

My point in this is that there are traffic laws and vehicle manufacturing regulations out there designed to keep us “safe,” but we aren’t. We can’t be. And sure, those laws and regulations do good things, and prevent a certain number of tragedies, but they don’t make us safe. We choose to not be safe as soon as we get into the car. It’s a risk we’re willing to take.

The rhetoric of the pandemic has been “stay safe.” We want to know if an event is “safe.” What’s being done to keep us “safe?” I’m going to be honest, I want to scream every time I hear the word safe, because we’re reaching for an impossible state. And while I suppose there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be safer…I’m always reminding our kids of wear their helmets when riding bikes…I think that it’s important for us to recognize that we can’t be truly safe, ever. And giving up our freedoms and allowing blatantly dictatorial actions to happen in the name of keeping us safe never leads to good results.

I’m not a reckless person. I drive so slowly since we had children that it really bothers Karen at times…a drastic change from my single days when I used to just expect speeding tickets. I take reasonable precautions. I think that it’s important, though, to stop whenever we’re about to give up something in the name of safety, and realize that we can’t ever have the ultimate result of that transaction. Safety is simply a state that doesn’t exist.

And constantly striving for it will do more harm than good.

Thoughts?

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