I know I promised my next post would be pictures from Kauai, and it’s long overdue, but today I watched the coverage of the attacks at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and it got me thinking about fear and my relationship with it.
My generation’s early adulthood was shaped by the events of September 11, 2001. Like everyone, watching those planes fly into the World Trade Center shocked me and changed my perception of the world I live in. It also made me afraid. Afraid to fly, afraid to travel, afraid to do many of the things I had always dreamed of doing, and had, in fact, done fearlessly in my earlier life. (I was twenty-one that day, and had already gone to Europe a couple times by myself.) Add that to my deep-rooted fear of failure and humiliation, and my twenties were characterized in a large part by an unwillingness to try new things; getting married, working on my career, and having a baby were safe, expected, and predictable things that made me feel secure.
Then I turned thirty, and started evaluating my life (and my fears.) I made a conscious decision that I would not let myself pass up things I wanted to experience because I was anxious about what could go wrong. It wasn’t so much a decision not to be scared as a commitment not to let that fear stop me. Was I afraid to fly? Sure. But I was more afraid of never seeing a sunset on Maui, so off we went. Afraid to swim in the ocean? Heck, yeah…But more afraid that if I didn’t control my fear of fish, rip tides, big waves and sharks, I would miss out on the opportunity to see something remarkable…So I dived in. (Okay, okay, I waded in, slowly, and the first time a fish swam near me I ran back to shore, hyperventilating, until I got the nerve to go back in again, but you get the picture.) Afraid to travel solo with a three-year-old? Yes, but more afraid I’d never get to see Las Vegas if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity I had. So I hit the strip with a kiddo and a stroller, and it was awesome! Oh, and I was also afraid I would fail if I tried to finish a triathlon…But I sucked it up, learned to swim, and the rest is history.
Last December, a shooter opened fire in the mall I wasted countless hours at as a teenager. Two people were killed, people I’d knew personally had to run for their lives, and our community was stunned. Two days later, another gunman opened fire in an elementary school in Connecticut. I don’t even need to describe that unspeakable tragedy; you know it as well as I do. My five-year-old son was oblivious, and went on with his life as usual. But I was threatened by a wave of fear that made me want to avoid public places, to keep him inside, to shelter him from everything I could for the rest of my life. Then I gave myself a mental head-shake, and thought to myself, what’s the point of living if you’re going to spend all your time trying to anticipate every possible threat? Not only will you be eaten alive with worry, but you’ll miss out on all the joy in life, and probably end up getting blindsided by some crazy thing you never could have prepared for, anyway. I’m not going to do that to myself, and I won’t let my child grow up that way either.
Watching the Boston Marathon tragedy unfold, I feel the temptation to withdraw, to try to shelter myself and my family from the outside world. But I know this is an irrational tendency. As frightening as each of these events is, they’re so much more rare than they seem. And every day, millions of acts of kindness and heroism go unrecognized. I will keep reminding myself that there is more good in the world than bad, and I’m going to embrace life instead of being a victim of fear. I’ll never be one to go rushing headlong into danger or anything, but every time I consider not doing something I want to because I’m afraid it could turn out badly, I’m going to remind myself not to let the fear make my decisions for me.