I have this thing with ants. This deep-rooted, irrational fear. I had this dream as a child, where I was literally marching one by one with the ants. I was smiling in the dream. I was sobbing when I woke up. I guess the prospect of human-sized ants are enough to frighten any seven-year-old. And apparently enough to still frighten a 22-year-old.
Maybe, if I allowed myself the time to think like Augustus Waters, I would also fear oblivion. Instead, more meaningless fears occupy my times: how exactly do parking garages—floating cement—stay, well, afloat? If I use a period at the end of this sentence will the email recipient think I’m rude? Is the weight of all the ants in the world really greater than the weight of all humans combined?
There really isn’t time to fear oblivion when you’re all busy being anxious about the small stuff.
Recently, one of my friends—likely my most analytical friend—asked me how she could abolish fear from her life. She loved or liked or loved to like a new boy in her life, and she wanted to not be afraid of showing this love or like or loving to like. I really mulled over the question. I desperately wanted to provide her with an answer so profound and life changing she would wake up with everything in life—everything but fear, everything including the boy. So I thought. And I thought some more. And then tonight, while tearing up as Kristina Braverman fought cancer, an ant crawled across my blanket. Naturally, I panicked. And it hit me just how ironic this ‘fear cure’ request was.
I don’t like walking up the street in the dark. I say a prayer before every flight take-off. I’d rather not talk to strangers at the Newark Airport. I color within life’s legal lines. I stay quiet when someone is wrong because I don’t like to offend. I am afraid of offending people. I am afraid of heartbreak and heartache.
How ironic it is that I was being asked advice on conquering fear when
there are still so many things I’m fearful of.
How ironic it is that I was being asked advice on conquering fear when fear has managed to become a part of who I am.
And there was my profound moment. Only unfortunately, I had no answer that would help a girl to overcome her fears and fall in love with a boy.
I only had an answer for myself: I’m not supposed to learn to not be fearful, because it’s a part of who I am. An integral part.
Because I’m not Eminem. And I’m not not afraid.
John Mayer was right. Fear really is a friend that’s misunderstood.
Being careful and conscientious and protective aren’t side effects of fear. In fact, it’s the opposite. Fear is the side effect.
I am not afraid of life. And living. And looking down the edge of the Grand Canyon.
I am afraid of slipping on the roads if I drive too fast. Of meeting the one stranger on the street that Criminal Minds would also like to meet. I am careful.
I am afraid of offending someone with my opinions. I am afraid that my casual use of punctuation might offend someone in an email. I am conscientious.
I am afraid of uncontrollable tears and a heart that can’t be mended. I am afraid for my friends when they shake with sadness. I am protective.
These traits are often manifested through fear, but the root is not fear; the root is carefulness, conscientiousness, protectiveness. The root is me.
There are people in this world who jump out of planes and feel the rush of the wind as the world passes them by. There are people in this world who climb mountains in cold, foreign countries, feeling new air melt onto their vulnerable skin. There are people who risk it all—life, love, safety—just to feel alive. And then there are people who risk it all—happiness, love, a future—just to keep their heart alive.
But we’re all afraid of something, some things. We’re afraid we won’t do enough. We’re afraid to do too much. We’re afraid of what our life will be if we don’t skydive. We’re afraid of what our life will be if we do skydive.
We’re all afraid of something, of some things.
And I don’t think there’s a cure for fear. I think there’s just embracing fears. Of deciding which fears are worthwhile, and which should be tossed out the plane never to arrive with us.
Last week I visited Las Vegas’ replica of the Eiffel Tower. Unlike everything else in Vegas, the mock up is actually smaller than the original. It’s half the size, but still over 45 stories high. I rode an elevator to the top. And I stood out on the viewing deck looking down at the strip below. People were suddenly tiny. They looked like ants. Only I didn’t fear them. I feared nothing up there. Maybe I should’ve feared the elevator that brought me up to such great heights. Because how exactly do elevators work?
I don’t know.
And that seems to be precisely the problem.
Standing 500 feet in the air, and I was finally able to form a semblance of an answer:
Fear comes from what we cannot understand and what we cannot control.
I cannot understand parking garages, elevators, or bridges. And so that leaves room for fear. Fear that hits when you realize your life is on the line and you have absolutely no idea how the machinery holding your precious little life even works. But here’s the greatest news in all of the world: someone does understand it! And because they’re so smart and engineer-y, they build this stuff!
I rode the elevator back down to the bottom. And I marveled at the genius that is behind most things I do not understand: the printing press, cell phones, airplanes, electricity, Nintendo 64s. I marveled. But I didn’t fear. Because someone, somewhere understands. And that’s enough. With a bit of trust, that’s enough.
There’s a myriad of things I cannot control: other people, the future, the unknown, ants. And from 500 feet in the air, let me ask this: what is the point of being anxious about things you cannot control?
And from down on the ground, I will tell you there is no point.
(Except for ants. There is always a point in fearing ants. Just ask the Buzzfeed article that informed me ants kill more people each year than sharks.)
People are going to break your heart.
If you let them.
And giving someone the chance to break your heart is the best gift you can give yourself. Because it means you’re giving someone the chance to love you. And I suppose you have to trust that it will work out.
There is no cure for the fear that comes with saying I love you for the first time. There’s no cure for the fear that comes with vulnerability, exposure, and heartbreak. There’s no cure, only trust.
And fear is the side effect of kindness and carefulness and conscientiousness. It’s the side effect of love and lust and life.
But there’s trust. And there’s a boy on the other end of her line who may or may not be worth trusting.
It seems worth the risk, though—worth the facing of the fear—to find out.
(Contradictory to what this post may lead you to believe, I actually do not have a fear of heights.)