Take a Risk for Happiness
By Elizabeth Taylor-Mead
I’ve always believed in taking risks. Part of it is FOMO — fear of missing out. . . . I had a card taped to my desk that said, “If you don’t go in, you can’t find out.” That pretty much sums up my view of risk. It’s always worth it because the worst outcome, even if you don’t achieve anything like your wildest dream or even a fair-to-middling goal, always gives you the consolation prize of increased knowledge.
I’ve learned a lot about risk from my years of making films and the workshops I’ve taken on story structure. In all dramatic works from Aristotle to Aaron Sorkin, the only way to know the truth of a story is to witness a character make choices under pressure, take action, or take action in pursuit of his desire. When someone decides to not take action, not speak up, not step firmly into the fray, not be counted — in the quest of the desire for what? Peace? Security? Invisibility? — that’s the wrong choice. Not knowing, not taking a shot, voluntarily forgoing a chance for nostril tingling, skin vibrating, heart-pounding, enlivening happiness, even temporarily, would be worse than any risk.
A Magic Bus Ride
In another country and another era, I was part of a women’s group — ten women from a wide range of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, committed to support each other in leading authentic lives and reaching more of our individual potential. During one session we all shared the wish to have at least one full day of respite — to be lifted out of our humdrum daily routines from the responsibility for the running of our lives/families/home.
It was Friday, and I devoted my weekend to make that group wish come true. I made a 20-foot banner out of old bedsheets. Across it I painted the words “TAKE A RISK FOR HAPPINESS” in fire engine red. I called local school bus companies until I found a driver and a small bus available that Sunday. Then I called the other 9 women and told them to be at home at 8:00 am on Sunday morning ready to leave for the day. I did not answer any questions. Most had lots of questions. I just replied, “trust me”. Some seemed anxious or indignant, some seemed amused and curious, and one just said “Okay!”
When Sunday morning came, the driver helped me affix the banner to the outside of the bus then carry the case of sparkling wine, plastic stemmed glasses, thermos carafes of coffee and tea, insulated cups, a hamper of bagels, croissants, spreads, plates, fruit, and cloth napkins, a box of artificial flower leis, real long stemmed roses, and the boombox loaded with cheesy upbeat Europop compilation cds — a literal magic carpet on wheels.
First we picked up Penny, a wiry greyhound of a 40ish woman with a wildly successful business, a teenaged daughter she’d raised alone, and a penchant for much younger men who had no interest in commitment. She took one look at the bus, shook her head, laughed and grabbed her coat and purse.
Next we grabbed Jean, the oldest member of the group, a towering and weather-beaten novelist with a racy past. She was quite hesitant, but I promised her she’d be back, safely, at the end of the day and though she was more a limo and martini fan, she gingerly boarded the bus and wondered loudly what this was all about.
Next was Ursula, the second oldest member. Her porcelain skin and Nordic blue eyes shone beneath the regal crown of her always perfect silver chignon. She felt she was owed an explanation before she could consider something that might be “a frightful experience.” I hugged this once privileged but lonely motherless boarding school child and assured this was exactly what she had asked for. We’d all be together. The wine helped but she refused to wear the lei.
Frances, the other American in the group, was a professional mountain climber, who led expeditions up the highest climbs. When she joined the group, someone asked her how she chose that career and she told us that after her twin sister killed herself, she was a person “who was afraid of everything, even answering the phone” and so she decided she couldn’t live like that any longer and wanted to do the hardest thing she could think of. When the bus arrived at her door and I rang the bell, she took one look inside at the festive enticements, ran back inside her apartment for her key, and happily sat in the front seat of the bus in her pajamas and bathrobe.
My best friend, Claire, trusting me to be creative and resourceful, was always game for any of my wacky ideas. She climbed aboard with great enthusiasm for this surprise adventure, taking the seat next to me in the middle of the bus where she immediately applied a fresh coat of scarlet lipstick, prepared for any eventuality.
When the bus arrived that Sunday morning at Hannah’s chaotic, laugh-filled house, which always smelled like something delicious was cooking, her 4-year-old son opened the door. When Hannah saw me and saw the bus, she roared with laughter, cursed at me in Yiddish, grabbed me, kissed me on both cheeks and said, “My darling! This is a terrible day. I have so much to do, I can’t possibly come to whatever crazy thing you’re doing. Look, everyone’s on the bus! We’re coming! I’m taking Leo. Wait, we’ll get our coats.”
The range of responses from the other members of the group was just as varied. Some were surly, some were beset with concerns for how those in their household would manage without her for a whole day, unplanned, some wanted assurance that if this was not to her liking, she could leave at any time and make her way back home.
The bus took us to the coast, to a seaside town that had been a desirable summer resort in Victorian times right through the end of the second world war but had since become neglected. It was a beautiful early spring day, the sun was shining, the ocean shimmering, and lunch we ordered in the grand dining room of a seafront hotel of faded elegance was truly delicious. We walked along the boardwalk, we played silly children’s games in the antique arcade, we window shopped.
On the ride back home, even the grumpiest member of the group joined in the chorus of Making Your Mind Up, by the group Buck’s Fizz, the winner of a Eurovision Song Contest.
Don’t let your indecision
Take you from behind
Trust your inner vision
Don’t let others change your mind.
Last month I learned that Hannah from our group passed away suddenly. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she arrived in England in her 20s to “marry a British philosopher” and did so, enjoying a long and devoted marriage. The matron of a close, warm and generous family, Hannah was the queen of endearing malapropisms and someone who was always late by hours, not minutes, to every holiday party because she had to bake “one more cake” to bring to the host. As I gathered pictures of Hannah to send to her grieving family, I found a photo of the ten of us, the Jamaican driver (who knew all the words to all the songs and sang in full voice), and Leo, holding Hannah’s hand as we all smiled and waved beneath the “Take A Risk For Happiness” banner.