Dr. Elaine Aron recently wrote about her experience white water rafting in the Grand Canyon. In a beautiful post, she tells the world about how this experience was both incredible, and incredibly scary. She shares with us the fears she had to face on this trip, and not just the fear of the risks that come with white water rafting, but also the social fear of spending 13 days with a bunch of people who are nothing like you, who might make you feel like you don’t belong there, and who wear t-shirts that say things like “The best things in life are dangerous”. While reading about her experience facing her fear to enjoy the thrill of life, I got to thinking about my own fears.
I have always loved the water. I have also always been afraid of the water, and I don’t think anyone close to me knows that about me.
When I was 3 years old, I was thrown into a pool by a kindergarten teacher, and I remember that moment like it was yesterday. It surprises me I managed to get back in the pool and learn how to swim at a young age. I always felt whole in the water. I always felt most like myself in the water. As a little girl, I was convinced I was a fish (or rather a mermaid) in a past life or in another universe. The ocean always brought me comfort; the sight of it, the sounds of its waves, the smell of its salt water, and the feel of its mist on my face. That has always been therapeutic to me.
And yet, whenever I was in it and as much as I loved being in it, I could hear my heart pound in my ears I was so scared; scared of what might be in the water, scared of what I couldn’t see. I was terrified something my bite me, or pull me down, or even eat me up (that would be none other than Jaws, of course). That fear was always there, and yet it wasn’t enough to keep me out of the water.
I can’t explain this phenomenon at all. But I can say that this was the case with everything I loved that was somewhat risky. Travel is something else I’ve always loved, and yet after having extensively planned for and committed to a trip, I would have a near panic attack a few hours before we left, and then be completely ecstatic once we got to the airport.
When we had kids, my worry got exponentially worse. There were times it completely paralyzed me and left me depressed for months until I managed to pull myself out. We recently went to Italy with the children, and months before the trip, I had to deal with an intense fear of the potential risks we were taking with them My head was filled with doubt and worry and questions like: What if the plane fell out of the sky (as we are hearing much too often on the news lately)? What if they got sick on the trip? What if they fell and we had to rush them to an ER? Do they have ER’s in Florence? What if we turned away for a second and lost them in a crowded piazza? All those things kept me up at night for months. I told my husband about them only because I wanted us both to be as careful as possible on the trip.
“Let’s smile at our fear, and, yes, take those risks we think are worth it.” -Elaine Aron
We ended up having a fantastic time… the time of our lives! And that, the thrill of life, is the reason I go back for more, regardless of the fears that drive me insane. That’s why I’ve been on 10-day sailing trips, where living conditions are far from what I need to be comfortable, and dream of going again with the kids (just the thought of the kids on a boat… oh boy); that’s why I’ve always loved hiking and camping in the wilderness; that’s why I have been dreaming of white water rafting in the Grand Canyon since I was 16 years old, and have started to look up family-friendly packages.
In her post, Elaine Aron says: “Get over it – not the fear, but the fear of fear.” And that’s what it comes down to in the end, I suppose. It’s alright to be scared, so as long as it doesn’t stop you from truly living.
I watch my son, cautious since he was an infant, afraid of so many things that mean nothing to most children. And I see him now, doing things in spite of his fear. He will do them slowly; he will test the waters before jumping in; he might try when no one’s looking, but he’ll do them. And I see the fear on his face when he’s doing something scary for the first time. But fear is then replaced with pride, and with pride comes excitement.
And then he goes back for more.
“The best things in life are dangerous”: I’m not so sure about that one. But I do know that it’s those adventures that come with some risk that make me feel most alive. And that is where I get the strength and will to face those fears.
And it fills my heart with joy to watch my little one face his fears to enjoy the thrill of life.
What about you? What are the fears that you have faced?
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