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A humble opinion on accepting risk in order to choose joy

Hobbies can offer an amazing sense of purpose and fulfillment, and many of us acquire new ones as we grow older. But what happens when a pursuit of passion poses risk of physical harm? Novelist Jane Hamilton shares her humble opinion on being willing to accept danger in exchange for a life well lived.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Picking up new hobbies can be, for many, a lifelong habit. And, as we grow older, many pursue a new language or become proficient at a game we never played before.

    But what happens when we choose a riskier approach?

    Tonight, novelist Jane Hamilton brings us her Humble Opinion on just how to weigh that decision.

  • Jane Hamilton:

    In my 50s, I fell in love. I couldn't believe it at first, a love without the usual lunacy, no sleepless nights, sudden weight loss, no sending reckless notes.

    Ah, my beloved, Trek Alpha super light road bike. Like any new love, however, there were soon problems beyond maintenance and repair. There was a standard fundamental question: Is this relationship going to kill me?

    Every time I get on the Trek, I wonder if I'm going to die at the hands of some idiot on the road, and I include myself in that category. I have made some stupendously unconsidered moves and, more than once, tipped over at a standstill.

    Question number two, a math problem: How much risk is worth taking for how much joy? For instance, there's my father, who started rock climbing in middle age. He was rapturously obsessed. When he fell to his death at age 59 in a freak accident, we were in shock, not just for a while, but really for years.

    Everyone said how lucky he was to die doing something he loved. I wasn't so sure. He missed a lot of future rapture, such as knowing his grandchildren.

    What would he say to me now, I wonder, if he became available for an interview? Was your sport worth dying for, father? Look at your grandsons, spitting images of you, and they have your brains, too.

    He might say, well, obviously, rock climbing was stupid. What was I thinking?

    Maybe he would advise me to do good works, instead of chugging around the county, train therapy animals, run for Congress, volunteer at a detention center.

    Instead, I pump up the Trek tires and, say, it's a spring morning. I head out, the cool air on my bare arms. I swear that sometimes all I wish for, cool air, bare arms and to be free, free from the labor of making sentences, liberated into a pure self and into the fresh, awakening world.

    What luck, this joy, at my age. Maybe, after all, my father, with a long view, will say, oh, don't be such a worrier and a puritan.

    Maybe, in the afterlife, he's had time to read George Eliot's "Middlemarch." "The best piety is to enjoy," she wrote in her novel.

    If you have joy, she said, you are doing the most then to save the Earth's character as an agreeable planet.

    We will bat that one around, my father and I. Is George Eliot's claim simple-minded? Is joy an old-fashioned luxury? Is it selfish? Or is it, my father will offer, the reason for being?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Novelist Jane Hamilton.

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