Fear is a weird phenomenon. Before August of this year, I was scared of butterflies. You know, those horrifying, colorful creatures that lightly land on flowers and FLUTTER!!!… I was terrified.
I’m not sure how I ended up afraid of the same critter that adorns glittery Lisa Frank notebooks. I’ve known it was irrational, yet every time one floated my way… Panic! This summer, when a fourth grade girl at work laughed at my phobia, I decided it was probably time to get over it. I don’t claim to be a bad ass when it comes to insects, but I like to think I’m tougher than an 8 year old. So it was incredibly convenient that the metro park a half mile from my house had a butterfly exhibit that I’d been avoiding… a whole greenhouse teaming with those ‘evil monsters’. Bring it on!
Feeling bold, I powered through the front door of this insect filled chamber… and immediately panicked when I realized that I had to walk at least 20 more feet to get to the exit, and there were SO many flying beasts. Wall to wall monarch butterflies, each surface covered with flapping wings. Then I see a youth volunteer, probably about 8 or 9 years old, sitting calmly on a bench, every part of him blanketed in butterflies. He had braces on his legs, hearing aid and a speech impediment that made him hard to understand, but despite any physical limitations, this kid was clearly the butterfly whisperer. Every part of my being wanted to run from entrance to exit to avoid having one of these evil insects land on me, and rescue this poor child who clearly hadn’t been warned of the sinister dangers of butterflies… but he was so excited to have someone to rattle off facts to that I couldn’t just rush past him. As I pretended to listen, while brainstorming an exit strategy and scanning the air for rogue butterfly attacks…it hit me. In reality, most of my fears are about as rational as being afraid of a bright orange butterfly. I waited until I reached the exit, and then I started laughing and couldn’t stop. I laughed at the image of my adult self dodging butterflies, it was SO silly. I had to walk into my fear, really look around and see it for what it was to stop being afraid… and as I laughed all the way back to my car, fear became joy.
But it’s not just butterflies…
I’m afraid of moths, and butterflies that look like moths. I’m afraid of canned green beans and any event in which I might have to eat them, smell them, or prepare them. I’m afraid of mispronouncing simple words while having an academic conversation, and someone realizing that I only majored in philosophy because I’m an excellent bullshitter.
I’m afraid if I don’t write my thoughts down, I’ll forget them. I’m afraid of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia, or anything else that might impact my perception of reality or render me unintelligent. I’m afraid if I spend even one afternoon doing nothing, I might become like this crazy shut I know who tells everyone else how to live their life because he stopped living his own years ago, and now spends his days chain smoking cigarettes, watching the news, and drowning his distorted reality in a cocktail made from equal parts of liquor and sadness.
I’m afraid of singing in public. I’m afraid that my voice really sounds like it does on my voice mail, uncertain and childlike. I’m afraid speaking my mind will make people uncomfortable. I’m afraid of telling people how I feel. I’m afraid of not telling people how I feel. I’m afraid of not having the right words at the right moment. I’m afraid of silence.
I’m afraid of how long this list has become, and that I’m not even half way done. I’m afraid of people knowing how many things I’m afraid of, and thinking I’m weak. I’m afraid caring what people think means I am weak.
I’m afraid that this blog has become more about me self indulgently purging my thoughts than about writing. I’m afraid that I was a better writer five years ago, before my vocabulary and focus started to match that of the 4th graders I was teaching, before writing all those half ass research papers at the last minute, before I stopped having time to read books for pleasure. I’m most afraid that I was always a sub par writer, even way back then, and no one told me.
I’m afraid that I’m 28 and I’m still not sure “what I want to be when I grow up”. I’m afraid my dreams won’t pay the bills. I’m afraid that being the creative unstructured person in a family of scientists and PhD’s makes me the fuck up. I’m afraid that everyone is waiting for me to “settle down” and “be practical”. I’m afraid that the “American dream” doesn’t appeal to me and yet no one seems to notice that I don’t give a shit about cookware or scented candles.
I’m afraid if my life goes according to plan, it will lose the mystery. I’m afraid of becoming bored. I’m more afraid of becoming boring. I’m afraid of limiting myself.
I’m afraid that deeply loving someone will limit me, that I’ll forget about travel, that I’ll suddenly lose my sense of adventure. I’m afraid that wanting to spend time traveling means I won’t get to have a family. I’m afraid that when I meet the person I’m supposed to fall in love with, I won’t be ready to be with someone. I’m afraid that I’m so not ready I don’t even know what “ready” means. I’m afraid that I already met that person somewhere along the way, and because I wasn’t ready, I didn’t recognize it, and now he’s long gone. I’m afraid at how comfortable I’ve become with being alone, because I’m afraid that after a certain age, my friends will stop setting me up on bad blind dates and just start bringing me homeless cats.
I’m afraid I’ll be so busy thinking and worrying, or even so busy writing, that I miss out on living. I’m afraid that if I choose any one path, I’ll miss out on all the other possible paths. I’m afraid of knowing that I only get one life, because it makes every moment seems achingly important. I’m afraid that every precious second I spend on laundry, grocery shopping, or putting gas in my car is a second I didn’t spend doing something amazing.
I’m afraid I’ll wake up old and realize I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to. I’m afraid I’ll never see those fireflies in Thailand, temples in India, ruins in Guatemala, and that my passport will end up shoved in the back of some filing cabinet in the office of a boring job I took to pay the rent. I’m afraid if I’m not looking, I’ll miss something. I’m afraid if I’m not acting, I’ll miss something. I’m afraid, SO afraid that if I stop for one second, I’ll miss something.
Here’s the thing… the only thing that’s keeping me from missing anything IS fear…this year I’ve dove head first into my fears of public speaking, commitment, calling a place ‘home’, rejection, heights, making an ass of myself, blind leaps of faith, among others. Not only did none of them kill me, in retrospective all the things I’ve been afraid of seem…inconsequential. Comical. To hell with fear…
Bring on the canned green beans…