Navigating Risk (Day 105)

Colleen texted last night to say she would join me again for my early swim today and I was so glad. For her company, of course, but also because if Colleen was planning to swim it meant she wasn’t worried about the run-off from the rainstorm we got yesterday. I had already decided I was going to swim in the bay this morning even if I shouldn’t and it felt better knowing that someone else was willing to take the risk, too. 

We swam into the beautiful morning light with our heads up, just in case there was anything we should be worried about in the water, but mostly we just enjoyed the swim, the chats, the dawning of the new day.

While today’s risk was about the pollution and bacteria that can run from the streets into the bay after a rain, this has been a week of navigating risks in different ways. Back when I was in academia, I thought about risk a lot; consuming and producing hundreds of thousands of words on the subject, all of which boiled down to this: people experience risk in ways that are shaped by, and make sense in, the context of their own lives. Accepting or avoiding risk is an emotional experience as much as it is a rational decision. In the last two-plus years we have all seen this play out on the global stage. COVID has shown us that people will take the same basic scientific facts and make meaning of them in ways that are specific to their own worldviews. 

Knowing this, I felt very uncertain navigating my way in the world as a person with COVID this last week. Except for my daily swim, I’ve been safely ensconced in my house and I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not I should forget about the swim, too. While being outside far from any other human seems categorically safe to me, I am aware that it might not seem that way to someone else. So I compromised by going at the crack of dawn when chances are high that I will be alone. 

While those early swims have been my way of dealing with the risk of transmitting a virus, they bring their own risks. Swimming alone is never as safe as swimming with a buddy. Besides the actual dangers, the imaginary ones pile up when alone and in the dark. 

It was a relief, then, when Colleen wanted to swim together today so I didn’t have to add “swimming after a rain” to my list of worries. Of course, it’s no safer for me to do so just because Colleen wants to, too. While she may have better information than me, she also might just be as recklessly hellbent on swimming (knowing Colleen, both of these things are probably true). Either way, it’s another irrational aspect of risk that whatever risky thing you might undertake, it always seems less risky when doing it with a friend. 

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