Sunday, October 31, 2010

I'm afraid...

It’s said we live in a fearful age.  Not walking to school, not taking candy from strangers (even on Halloween!), and not riding bikes in the early fall dusk are considered normal parental restrictions. In many ways, I was quite ‘ahead of the times’ in my upbringing. My parents were older when they had me, and some of my earliest memories are memories of being told ‘no.’ As in ‘no, you may not go swimming in your friend’s pool,’ ‘no, you may not ride your bike past the driveway,’ ‘no, you may not sell Girl Scout cookies door-to-door, even if I accompany you.’ I recently found a book that my mother used to read to me at bedtime—not a storybook, but a medical book that had illustrations of what you should do in case you accidentally were drowning or trapped in a blazing building. The little dying stick figures were quite funny, I must say!
Although this one REALLY creeps me out as a cyclist
 Flickr: Salim Virji

While it’s good to be prepared, I also remember that whenever I did finally win whatever argument I had about going away to sleep-a-way camp or something like that, I’d always find myself so paralyzed with all of the fears my mother had rehearsed with me—and my own anxieties—I couldn’t enjoy myself. ‘Be careful’ was so internalized that, like cancerous cells, the semi-legitimate fears (abduction and falling off the monkey bars) began to breed other fears. Soon I grew afraid of the dark, of escalators, of walking up and down stairs, of the murderous powers of see-saws…some parents have their children confront such fears. In my family, such caution was seen as an admirable trait, and they simply bought me a nightlight.

The fears my parents had were born from pure love, and a less anxious child might not have been so paralyzed by them. But my parents had grown up in uncertain, frightening environments, and had naturally anxious personalities as well.  You can see how when parents who are scared, and who know the world is a scary place have a naturally scared child…a ‘perfect storm’ of anxiety is the result…

That’s why I cringe every time someone says “be careful,” because I know I am never more at risk when I am careful, when I duck and anticipate something, expecting to get hurt.  That’s when the baseball comes down and cracks me in the face, because I was too afraid to reach out my hands and catch it.

Sometimes I'm so afraid that being fearful has become hard-wired into my body there is no way I can overcome all the experiences I've lost to fear...

Yet as an adult, I’ve done things that on paper make me sound brave. I’ve been to communist countries, moved to cities where I knew no one, and lived in apartments in neighborhoods where the sidewalks were crunchy with discarded condoms and needles. But I know how fragile my persona of bravery really is...

Flickr: DianthusMoon
Of course, taking silly risks with no emotional payoff is just that—silly, like playing in traffic. But taking risks that make life worth living—like running six miles, riding a horse, traveling spontaneously to a strange city, going to a party where you don’t know anyone—for me, at least, seem like an essential part of growing, learning, and changing.  How awful to look back on a day and to think you just spent it at your computer, without changing at all, in your mind, body, or soul!

Life is a bit like Trick-or-Treat—taking a risk, knocking on a strange door, and hoping against hope you get something wonderful and sweet.  And even if you get nothing, rejection isn’t as awful or as scary as you anticipate.

Flickr: elana's pantry
Well, unless you get coconut.  Now, that's scary stuff! But that is the subject of another post!

Happy Halloween!  Have a risky, daring, night and make it home alive and not too nauseous from all of the sugar!

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