Taking a chance on love

The stories of Toni Kurtz and Brian Guest remind us that risk – whether at work or play, at home or abroad – is part of life itself; an enhancement, rather than something to be avoided.”

– Editorial, The Independent, 2010

In the old days when I used to buy the paper, I would often keep clippings of articles that made an impact on me. I’d place them in the back of my journals or in a keepsake box. I take great pleasure in digging them out, re-reading them and reminding myself of the lessons they teach.

Today’s quote is from an Editorial in the Independent entitled, ‘Making life worth living’, which is probably my favourite paper-clipping. It recounts the courage of two individuals: Toni Kurz and Brian Guest, both from different eras, both encountering different challenges. Toni Kurz led a group of climbers to make the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, Switzerland in 1936. They all perished in the attempt, with Toni, dying of exhaustion, suspended from a rope just 15ft away from rescue. Brian Guest was a campaigner for the protection of sharks, and four years ago he disappeared off the coast of Western Australia, falling victim to what was believed to be a shark attack.

Whenever I feel fear or whenever I feel like life is passing me by, I return to this clipping. Recently, I have been returning to it in the context of love.

This time last year, I took a chance on love. I crossed the Atlantic to be with someone I came to love. We had been old friends who had met in the Caribbean many years ago. He came to visit me in the autumn of 2012 and our friendship turned into courtship. The downside is of course, he lived in America. But I decided to throw caution to the wind and visit him, because I knew that the regret of taking this chance on love (and it not working out) would never be as great as the regret of not giving it a try in the first place.

A little under ten years ago, someone else took a chance on love. A Dutch man had decided one morning to take the train from the Netherlands to Paris, to surprise a girl whom he had become enchanted with four months before. That girl was me.

By no means do I want to compare my stories to the heroism of Toni Kurz and Brian Guest. But courage comes in many forms and cannot be compared. As the philosopher A.C Grayling in his book ‘The Meaning of Things’ writes:

Ordinary life evokes more extraordinary courage than combat or adventure because both the chances and inevitabilities of life – grief, illness, disappointment, pain, struggle, poverty, loss, terror, heartache: all of them common features of the human condition, and all of them experienced by hundreds of thousands of people every day – demand kinds of endurance of bravery that make clambering up Everest seem an easier alternative.”

Some would say that there is no greater risk than the risk of love. For many of us, romantic love is what gives or adds meaning to our lives; it is the glue that keeps us together, or that binds us to the living. It can take much courage to take a chance on love, especially since the reward can be so great, and yet the loss so devastating.

Taking a chance on love does not need to be as dramatic as flying across the Atlantic, or taking a spontaneous train ride to Paris. It can be as simple as telling someone how you honestly feel about them, even if you are aware of the risk that they will not reciprocate your feelings.

Taking chances, assuming risk is part of what makes life worth living. It takes courage; not only in doing the act itself but also in facing the consequences. But along with courage comes freedom: freedom to follow your heart and – if it all goes horribly wrong – freedom to let go and move on. In this way, the return already far exceeds the investment.

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In praise of coming last

In true European fashion, Living room philosophy will be taking a break in August and will be back in September. As a fitting tribute to the last post, on the last day of July, I thought I would write about the joys of coming last.

Coming last has never really had a good reputation. If someone comes last in a competition or is ranked bottom of a league table, it usually means that they are not very good at what they came last in. If someone comes last to a party or an event, it tends to signify that this person is inept at time-keeping or not very considerate of the host’s feelings.  Thus, criticism usually follows coming last. One recent example is the publication of how much coming last had cost Ireland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Would cost have been such an issue had Ireland won?

Coming last is not always all bad though. A couple of years ago, my fellow interns and I competed in the intern five-aside football tournament. We were a predominantly female team in a predominantly male tournament. Most of us had never really played much football before (or any at all) and we had no clue about training. We decided to enter however, to have fun as well as it being a good occasion to bond.

Our first match was a disaster: we lost by a colossal amount (without scoring a goal) and we were considered a bit of a laughing stock. Not only were some boys laughing at us because we were generally rubbish; they were also laughing at us because we were (mostly) women playing football: proving gender stereotypes.

The humiliation of our first match was a turning point for us: we could either quit or continue humiliating ourselves. The team was close to splitting into warring factions but after a heated team-talk, we chose the latter, and we decided to at least try to train. From then on, we trained twice weekly and we got better.

Alas, we finished last place by a very long shot. Regardless of how badly we were beaten, or what names we were called, we always showed up to our matches and played with professionalism. Our effort and commitment were honoured as the recipients of the “Fair Play” award, and we became minor celebrities. We didn’t win games but we won hearts.

In the 2000 summer Olympics, Eric “the Eel” Moussambani enraptured 17,000 supporters and the world by coming last: he won his 100m freestyle swim-heat but his time of 1 minute 52.72 seconds is the slowest time ever recorded in Olympic history. He defied criticism and taunts to embody the spirit of the Games. On coming last, he said, “Many people thought that I would not be able to finish the race. I would have been ashamed had I not been able to finish the race. I would not have been able to live with myself.”

Coming last can mean many things: heroic failure; personal and financial cost; or simply that our talents lie elsewhere. But on the bright side, by coming last, we can at least say that we did our best, and we contributed to the betterment of the human race. To me, coming last means one more thing: that today we’ve reached the end, and tomorrow we start again.