My grandmother used to say, "What you fear, you will draw near!"
Now I don't know about that, but I do know that fear can be one of the most paralyzing emotions to overcome. Fear can cause you to freeze, both literally and figuratively. Your chest constricts, your breathing becomes difficult, and thinking becomes clouded if you can think coherently at all. Anxiety stalks you and somehow quadruples in the wee hours of the night, usually somewhere around 3am in my world.
I almost lost my most recent battle with this ugly, double-headed monster that slithers around stealing energy and forward momentum. Through a wonderful set of circumstances placed in front of me by the universe I found myself invited to pursue a potential partnership with a third world country in Africa for purposes of improving their healthcare system. I was awake most of the night before I boarded the plane, wringing my hands and watching the world news and wondering if I had lost my mind. Was I really going to step off of US soil, get on a plane, fly by myself to a country where I didn't speak the language and did not know a single soul? Everything about the country was different than anything I have ever experienced. What if something happened? I could almost see the headline, "Grandmother of six vanishes in the Sahara Desert...story at 6!"
Confounding my anxiety about the trip is the fact that prior to last month I had struggled with an almost unreasonable fear about falling and injuring my neck. I have had two cervical fusions and the dreams I experience usually end with me falling down, my head falling off, and rolling under whatever piece of furniture is closest. Just let that mental image sink in for a moment.
I accessed my support system and coached myself down the jetway and got on the plane. A brief layover in Paris, and I was on my way to Mauritania! I arrived, and must admit was feeling pretty proud of myself. And all I wanted to do after I arrived at my hotel was to take a long, long shower.
Little did I know that I was about to be given an opportunity to address my second issue. I was standing in the shower and thinking that never had anything felt so refreshing in my entire life. I stepped forward and had one of those crazy experiences where everything happens in a split second but also in slow motion as you watch yourself and have an internal conversation around how much this is going to hurt. It was as though I had somehow stepped onto ice, and as I skied the length of the bathtub I also did a quarter-revolution that had me facing the wall. I have to admit that my windmilling arms were quite impressive. And just like that, I fell backwards over the side of the bathtub, hooking my knees as the rest of me hit the floor. Including my head which did a thud so hard it literally bounced. Down came the shower curtain, the shower rod, and I laid there looking at the friendly dolphin that was on the curtain completely covering my face. All I remember thinking is, "REALLY?! You made it all the way to Africa and now are going to need an ER, which they don't really have which is why you are here in the first place!"
Slowly I moved my head to the left and then to the right. To my surprise it not only was still attached, my neck also seemed to be no worse for the wear. That is when the lessons became clear to me:
1. Sometimes you just have to muster up just enough courage to walk down the jetway.
2. And sometimes, the thing you fear the most needs to happen so you can see it for what it is. I haven't had the dream where my head falls off since my revelation on the bathroom floor in Mauritania.
As I grow older I am beginning to realize most things you fear aren't nearly what your imagination creates. So that battle is one that you ultimately wage with yourself. When I turned the light on at 3am and looked under my bed there wasn't any monster present, and my head hadn't rolled under there either!
How do you explain, in Arabic, to camel handlers that you do not want to accept their gracious offer to put you on a camel for purposes of transportation because your pelvis did not fare nearly as well as your neck during your swan dive out of a bathtub?
That's another story for another day!