My husband and I recently took a day trip to Wildwood, New Jersey. I wanted to show Martin the doo-wop architecture of the 1950s and 1960s that I grew up with when my family and I summered there when I was young. I have such fond memories of those Wildwood summers. They were carefree – I got to live for a week with my cousins and grandparents. We played on the beach, rode the rides on the boardwalk, and once even staged a protest complete with signs as we marched around the block (it was the Sixties!) because the adults were cramping our style.
But I was afraid of two things I encountered in Wildwood every summer – the ocean’s large waves and the roller coaster.
Martin and I drove along the beach until we hit the boardwalk. I told him how night after night as my family walked the boardwalk, the flashing crown atop the King roller coaster beckoned to me. Way too high, way too fast. Other kids got on and off with ease – some were even laughing. It took me almost the entire week of vacation to muster the courage to finally ride it. My uncle was always willing to take me on the ride and waited until I said I was ready to get on. It was a wooden roller coaster and the click, click, click of the car on the tracks as we neared the top mirrored my heartbeat. Then in one swoosh we were careening down and then up and around until finally we jolted to a stop. I disembarked, my legs wobbly. But I was so proud to have ridden it! I forgot my fear until the next summer.
Martin and I looked out on the ocean. I told him how I would play at the water’s edge venturing out to knee-depth. The ocean scared me; the roar of the waves as they crashed onto the shore, the crabs that sometimes grabbed for my toes, the jelly fish. I remembered that at the end of the day, just as we were getting ready to leave the beach, my uncle would scoop up my cousin and me in his arms and take us out into the ocean “beyond the breakers.” I would cling so tightly to him, afraid of having a rogue wave separate us. The shore seemed so far away as we bobbed over the swell of the waves. Sometimes the wave was a bit too high to jump and it would hit me in the face. I tasted the salt water. But soon the fear gave way to thrill. I was so proud that I was brave enough to go out with him, not a scaredy cat like my other cousin who remained on the beach, watching us from the safety of the blanket.
The things that once seemed scary when I was young now aren’t scarey at all. Was it that I grew larger than the fear?
I’ve been thinking about fear lately. Some fears protect us from harm. But most fears don’t protect us at all from danger. You know, those things over which we think we have no control. Thoughts of things or people who can harm us, or take away something that’s important, or cause us to suffer in some way – keep us small, keep us from avoiding those situations that challenge us to grow, rise up.
Over the past few years I have come face to face with experiencing things that, before they occurred, I thought would do me in, like the sudden passing of my father. But I weathered through them. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t without tears and bargaining. It sometimes came at the cost of a momentary loss of faith that ultimately – and thankfully got restored.
I published my book, Serendipity: Chance Pilgrimages, in January – and that brought up its own set of fears and insecurities. Who am I to write a book? What will I do if people read it and don’t like it? What will I do if people don’t read it? Publishing the book made me feel exposed – my thoughts laid bare – as if everyone knew something about me but I knew nothing about them. Why did I write it and why on earth did I publish it? What was I thinking? And then I read a quote by the writer Jill Smolowe that pushed away the fear – a little.
What propels me is my belief that there is a book missing from the shelves. One that would have been helpful to me, touched me, guided me, showed me I wasn’t alone in my feelings.
And those two lines caused me to remember why I wrote and published Serendipity. It wasn’t for me. It was for you – to share my experiences with you. To show that on some level we’re all connected. And it also showed me that Jill had the same questions as did I.
Fear had even caused me to hesitate sharing news of the book with the college community where I work. When I finally hit the button to publish news of the book in the college’s monthly newsletter I wanted to crawl under my desk. Retract the submission. Co-workers would now know my intimate thoughts; read of my trials and growth. I expressed this to my daughter who reminded me that in order to be a writer I had to expose myself in some way. She was right.
The book’s publications is making me see and remember more than ever that when I encounter those things I fear (some small, some quite huge – some by choice, some by no choice of my own) I came out on the other side of the fear. Sometimes a little worse for the wear, sometimes truly beaten up – but I always made it through to the other side. I’m not saying I would want to relive some of those experiences that I feared, but I do see now, on the other side of the event, that I did make it through – and that, my friend, takes away the power the fear had over me.
What is it that you fear? Are there things you want to try but are afraid to fail? Are there classes you want to take but feel that you’re too old, or too young, or too unskilled? Do you want to change your physical appearance – cut your hair, grow your hair longer, apply purple to the tips (okay, that’s mine), dress differently – in a way that’s more aligned with the “real” you? Do you want to write a book? Learn to ride a bike, learn to swim, or learn to dive (okay, that’s another one of mine).
Trust me on this, not doing something that you want to do is worse than confronting the fear. Fear keeps us small. Holding something within that wants to burst forth is painful. Postponing doing things from worry doesn’t ease the situation – and that includes not scheduling that test you need (colonoscopy, mammogram, prostate screening), not asking for a promotion, not declining a request to do something you’d rather not do. Avoiding walking into Weight Watchers, the gym, or AA won’t make things easier for you – the worry will not subside. Do it and deal with it. You can do it.
I’ve challenged myself to continue to do things that are out of my comfort zone all in the name of growth. I try to do a little something a few times a week as the opportunity presents itself – and if nothing seems to present itself I seek out something challenging. Could be large, could be small. Some things involve promoting the book. I was recently interviewed by two newspapers, one in which involved a photo shoot – uncomfortable! I wanted to cancel the interviews, put the book back in its box, and pretend I didn’t write it. But I didn’t. I put on my big girl pants and talked about the book and myself (uncomfortable again) and then allowed the photographer to follow me around my house as I “naturally” wrote on my computer and looked over my bookshelf – and my favorite – spoke to an invisible person to my right in order to be photographed as if I was in conversation.
A few weekends ago it involved buying a really cute headband. The buying was the easy part. My sister, who was with me, asked why I wasn’t wearing it after I bought it. Well – because I don’t wear headbands even though I like how they look on other people – and maybe one day when I get up the nerve to do something different I might want to wear it. Headbands are outside of my comfort zone. This one I bought was one that Rhoda Morganstern (coolest dresser on TV) would wear – it was wide and noticeable. I know it doesn’t make sense to buy something and not wear it. Fear. So, I put it on! And I wore it the rest of the day – in public!
Now it’s your turn. Try to do something that is out of your comfort zone. Face a fear. Challenge yourself. That’s how we grow. And now if you see me on the street I might have on the headband (don’t stare, please). And if you’ve read the book (please, do) you’ll know a lot of my thoughts, and fears, and triumphs. I no longer feel so exposed and naked – I have the headband like Superman has his cape!
I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment on Facebook or send me an email. We’re in this together! And – the book is available on Amazon. I hope you read it!
P.S. The photo is of the Lollipop Motel in Wildwood. What fun!