What might happen if we spent time getting to know fear rather than trying to banish it? What if we sidled up next to it at the campfire and checked out the curve of its cheekbones in the light of the flames? What if we let it be real, a hungry visitor, instead of letting it lead us around by the nose?
If we do something we’re afraid of, let’s even say terrified, we come out the other side a changed person. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens between fear and courage. I say, LIGHT IT UP, BITCHES, because without fear, how do we know where an edge is? And if we’re not afraid to try something, if there’s no risk or growth potential, who gives a shit? What’s moving about witnessing someone pour their Cheerios in the morning? I’ll tell you what’s moving:
Jenny’s been in physical therapy for over a year after being stabbed on street in a back alley someplace in Minnesota. She felt his breath on her neck before she ever saw him. So quiet. She remembers thinking, “I wonder if that’s why they call them creeps…” as the blood soaked the arm of her flannel. She didn’t have time to get out the way before turning and lifting her arm into the blade. She barely felt it at all. It slid right in, across the muscles like a tailgate party steak. Then she couldn’t feel anything but the rush and the heat. She can’t tell you exactly what happened, just squared off images come to her. Even the smells and sounds feel like squares. The beer in her collar. The dull metallic smell of that much blood all at once. The way his voice left his throat when her knee came up. And then her boot in his teeth. But she didn’t feel afraid then. No time.
She felt afraid after she woke up though. She felt afraid every second of every day with her arm strapped to her side. She couldn’t go out after dark anymore. A grown woman imprisoned for all evenings. Then there was the shame of that too. The rage. That high crimson screech of rage caught in her ribs, laying in wait. It’d come out in physical therapy when she tried to move the arm. She went four times a week, and she’d meet Peter at the door. She felt like Eeyore, glum and blue and sluggish. He’d coax her to move through it. And it wasn’t just the pain, Oh, HELL no. On top of that, there’s the FEAR of the pain. The fear of no results. The fear of the depression of so many months of the things taken by the pain, and her bad hair done with a clumsy left hand. Buttoning jeans took on a new set of challenges.
One time she saw Peter wince when she tried to move the arm to the right. It’s the only slip he ever had, mirroring her sorrow. And that was the exact moment her courage took root. She saw him feel her pain and she let herself be touched by it. She stayed with it then, not just the pain, but even before that. The bus ride to the office, knowing it was coming. The searing. The failure. The exhaustion of it all. For hours. And days. And months.
So when you see Jenny in the kitchen one day about to grab the cereal with her left hand and pour, and then stop. You see her fix her eyes at an angle, her chin follows. You watch her lungs open up and fill and watch her wide hips pivot to the right. You watch her move the right hand toward the box and clutch it, sweat beading along her hairline. And then just as she begins to raise the box, her mouth opens and all that rage, the shame, the hours of agony and the smell of beer in an alley come tumbling out of her mouth and she manages to get half her cereal into that bowl while the dog eats the rest off the floor and, well,
That’s what’s moving about watching someone pour their Cheerio’s in the morning.
So when you think that fearlessness is the point of doing something, when you imagine yourself strapped to a parachute and about to hop out the floor of a plane and even the thought brings the twitch to the back of your throat and up from your belly, when you aren’t quite sure if you can face the rejection of telling the beloved the truth of your heart, remember it is the alchemy that takes you from terror to courage that awaits.
So I say,
Be very afraid.
But don’t let that be the
Reason you stop.