What if a lifetime of fears could be collected and organized? A-Z. “Boogie man” to “going in for the first kiss.” If this were possible, first I’d lay the fears out on the floor of my bedroom. I’d wear a Breaking Bad-style Hazmat suit and I’d put the fears in chronological order. I’d siphon them off into a room closed with a heavy metal door, six padlocks and holy water sprinkled on it. When I went in there, sorting through the racks, I’d see different decibels of fear. Childhood fears – a 1 on the Richter Scale, to fearing my fears – an 8.0. Families of fear. Because standing at the top of an experts-only run and checking under your bed for monsters are not even blood-related. Killing spiders gives me a mini nervous breakdown but it’s not even cousins with the fear of failure. Once all of my fears were in that room, everything from fear of loss to fear of the future, I’d burn the house down. From the rubble, I’d get a crane and pick up the heavy metal door, and then I’d build another house with another room to put my new fears in.
In the end, when I’m lying in a hospital room somewhere about to breathe my last breaths, I know I won’t think about what I did. I’ll think about who I did it with. My grandpa told me in his room in the nursing home over Christmas, he said, “I’m at the point in my life, at 95 years old, where the only thing that matters is family.” He has pictures on his walls from Tongeren, Germany and London when he was stationed there, and that’s what he thinks about. Wonder. Beauty. He doesn’t think about how he was President of Century Insurance or how much money he made. He thinks about his wedding day. How they drove that 1937 Ford up north through Wisconsin and couldn’t stop for dinner because the car wouldn’t turn off. It was January 1948, and he and my grandmother June drove to the hotel in Land O’ Lakes. Before dinner, he asked the string quartet to play “June in January.” Get it? That’s the good stuff. When it’s all over, I know I will wish I could do over the moments I threw away to fear, and that I could do them like that. But sometimes the little things do get to me.
Jeff Bridges, a.k.a. “The Dude” was on the Stephen Colbert Show and he was smiling, he looked great and Colbert goes, “Man, you relax me on sight. But is that real? Or is there like a twisted fire inside of you?” And Bridges answers, “Well, no, not a ‘twisted fire.’ There’s sort of a low-grade anxiety, fear, irritation going on all the time.” I’d put that in the room, too.
Just as there are varieties of fear, there are also volumes of bravery. Paddling into a red tide, a shore full of seaweed on a 5 foot day at Black’s when I am shitty on my short board and the only girl in the water, my leash pulling me down from all the seaweed and guys taking off right in front of me – that’s a kind of brave. But it’s also brave to wake up in a house alone, three husbands later, with fibromyalgia pain and empty days, and to smile despite it all. To choose to be happy and thankful for the sun outside. For another day. It’s brave to keep trying when your inbox is empty, and the rejection letters pile up next to the bills. It’s brave to continue to not drink a glass of wine if you’ve made a promise to yourself and others that you never will again. It’s brave to say “I’m sorry.” It’s brave to take a chance on a another relationship though you’ve had your heart shit on more than once before. It’s brave to listen to the heart whispers.
Fear is different now than when we were little, but bravery is different, too. The thing about fear is it’s like breathing. Everyone fears things, everybody has fear. Fear that they’ll get fired, fear that since they’ve never had a long term relationship, they’re destined to die alone. I hate fear. I want less fear. It numbs me out and takes me one step out of things to a place where the sky is a little less blue. It’s like an invisible partition between me and the beauty of the world. It’s like dream-action Novocaine – it paralyzes you from doing what in your heart you know is right.
Aung San Suu Kyi said, “Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps most precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ — grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.” Similarly, Georgia O’Keefe said, “I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life, and I have never let it stop me from doing a single thing I’ve wanted to do.”
Human nature says we’ll always be afraid of things, but that’s not what matters. I think it’s important to accept the fears, put your head down, and fight through them like you’re moving through tall grass. Stanley Kubrick said, “However vast the darkness, we must make our own light.” Duly noted.