I’m not afraid of a lot of things. (Except for those things I fear: spiders, snakes, running into someone I know at the grocery store, and automated car washes.) I’m okay with heights, public speaking and upside-down roller coasters.
When I was 18, I boxed up my belongings, mailed the boxes to a college in Missouri and rode a Greyhound bus for three days and nights to start my college career. I had never seen the college before. I didn’t know anyone there but one woman who worked in the administration office.
No big deal.
Back then, if you gave me a giant, life-altering decision, I didn’t really flinch. I considered myself a rather timid person–I really hated to ride the city bus because inevitably some scary looking person would want to befriend me–but I was braver than I knew.
I think this is the bravery that accompanies limited life experience, when you can touch the edges of your life without leaving your bedroom. Everything is so contained, so controllable. You hardly even need a telescope to see the border between you and the unknowable future.
You don’t know what you ought to fear. You haven’t shaken hands with the sorrow life will hand you, the losses you’ll endure, the battles you’ll fight, the impossible situations you’ll navigate. You just don’t know.
You have so little to lose when you’re young. You think your problems are compelling and worthy of the notebooks you fill with the angst you cannot contain. Your life is a miniature; it only feels enormous to you.
When I was very young, I remember riding through the automated car wash with my dad. I may have dramatized the actual events in my memory, but I recall sitting on the floor of the car, terrified that the water would swoosh through the windows, that those flapping strips would somehow slap water into the car.
I still hate the car wash. I avoid it, even though I’m grown and I know that the car will emerge all shiny and clean. I wince at the very idea of steering my car into those metal grooves at the car wash entrance. I’m afraid of it.
Fear is sometimes irrational. Logic informs you that you’re out of my mind to be afraid. But what difference does that make? You can’t slow your racing pulse.
Rational fear is worse. You know exactly how things can go wrong. You know what each person might lose. You can pinpoint where disaster will occur. You know.
At the same time, the older I get, the less I fear. I planned my wedding. I was even so foolhardy that I sewed my own wedding dress. I watched cancer kill my father. I planned his funeral. I moved across the country with my husband more than once. I gave birth twice at home with the assistance of midwives. I sat in the waiting room while my husband had surgery to remove cancer from his larynx.
And through each situation, I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had. I survived. My partnership with my husband thrived. I felt the arms of God surround me as I cried. I found out I can handle even the weirdest situation.
Not that I want to. I don’t want to fling myself into crazy circumstances. I don’t want the earth to shift beneath me, for the foundation to crack and the windows to shatter. I don’t want things to change. I am afraid of change.
But does anything ever stay the same? My kids insist on growing older, day by day. The seasons refuse to stay and linger. People die. Babies are born. Nothing ever stays the same.
That scares me in a way that a 2,000 mile bus journey never did. I’m older. I’m wiser. I’m terrified by my age and wisdom and by the unknown.
I’m not sure that I would ever do again what I did when I was 18.
If it were up to me, I’d stop the clock.
It’s not up to me.
But don’t expect me to kill a spider or get the car washed. That’s where I draw the line.