Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Be Afraid

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that something is more important than fear.

The Princess Diaries

So it being Halloween and all, I thought I'd talk about things I'm afraid of, or have been afraid of, or may be afraid of in the future.

I'll start off by saying that yes, I am rather afraid of people in scary costumes who jump out at me suddenly after a reasonable buildup of tension. But I'm mostly afraid of this because it often happens, in this particular chain of events, that adrenalin takes over my body and I hit the jumper. Often pretty hard.* So I've learned to avoid these kinds of situations.

Here is a small list of things that I've been afraid of over the years:




Slimy lake plants






Roller Coasters

The X-Files

Most of these fears I now consider conquered. Most of them had to be conquered over eight summers of working as a summer camp counselor. Some Are only conquered because I use one crutch or another (big tough hiking-shoe sandals make slimy lake plants less of an issue), and some I just had to suck it up and deal with (ticks, once my ultimate paralyzing kryptonite-level terror, are now just something I have to fish out of my girls' hair before they go to sleep at night). Some have even become pleasant to me (the onions, peppers, roller coasters, and spiders. Once I discovered that killing spiders is bad luck, they all became my friends. I like to have at least two living in my bathroom at any given time).

My life now contains three remaining major fears:



And, most recently, storms.

The heights thing is a product of growing up in Minnesota and then being abruptly transplanted into Utah. Before I moved here, it never occurred to me that the ground could just stop and be empty air for who-knows-how-many miles all the way to the bone-crunching bottom of the cliff. Minnesota does not have cliffs. Any irregularities in ground level are covered by trees, so if you do fall, you don't fall all the way to the bottom of the (whatever), you just fall as far as the first tree and then you stop. High on my list of Most Embarrassing Moments was my first church youth group outing here in Salt Lake, during which we hiked the short, pleasant trail to the top of Mount Ensign and I had a complete trembling tear-drenched freakout in front of a jury of my peers who had lived comfortably around cliffs their entire lives. I'm not in touch with any of those people anymore.

Needles, my mother swears up and down, are because of a traumatic pneumonia-induced hospital stay when I was two. I don't remember this incident at all, so I have to take her word for it. But the fact remains that needles just plain suck. Often literally. I don't like the consciously-induced pain, I don't like the rape-evoking invasion, and I don't like the residual damage of having a small metal tube shoved through my skin and my muscles and my veins which are all trying to do their jobs without holes in them. This fear keeps me from getting an annual flu shot (I just wash my hands and hope for the best) and makes me dread tetanus vaccinations more than stepping on rusty nails. (Nail went straight through my shoe and well into my foot, and I was calm as a summer's morning. Doctor yanked it out, and I was cool as a cucumber. Someone asked "When was your last tetanus booster?" and I collapsed into a quivering RoseE-shaped Jell-O mold, slowly leaking pathetic tears.)

I do, however, give blood. I give it fairly regularly. I make sure everyone knows that I'm scared of needles when I go to donate, so I will get the appropriate amount of encouragement and pity. But it's the same thing as the ticks, really: the fears that I cannot face for my own sake I can bear for the sake of others. It could be that I'm a selfless wonderful person, or it could just be that I value saving face more than self-preservation.

 So I'm afraid of lots of things. Most of these things I've learned to cope with in one way or another. One of my camp buddies once observed that she would sort me into Gryffindor, since most of my stories involve me being scared of something and dealing with it anyway. This observation made me feel warm and fuzzy, and so I tattooed it upon my heart. Metaphorically. Because tattoos involve needles.

But then there's storms.

The storm thing makes me mad. I love storms. I love the way they smell and the delicious way they drain away the day's heat and the mighty wildness of a world that may act sedate most of the time but will never truly be tame. But, this summer, there was an incident. And post-incident, I now jump out of my skin at the first rumble of thunder (or anything that sounds like a rumble of thunder, like someone moving furniture in another room or unexpected lawn mowers). Thunder is now the only thing in my life that makes me want to hide under my bed. And I hate that. I don't want to be that person . . . the girl who's scared of storms, like Kotah, my parents' deeply cowardly small auxiliary back-up dog. I don't want to be the girl who needs to be held until the weather clears . . . but at the same time I hate being alone under those gray, wild skies.

NO. Because I am ME, and I have dealt with spiders and ticks and slimy lake plants and blood donations and that episode of X-Files that Stephen King wrote. I can drive along the drop-offs of Yellowstone and eat food so spicy it makes my father's eyes water. I've been stung by bees, crushed by horses, and impaled by nails without batting an eye. I will not let this storm thing beat me. I will smack it in the face, and to blazes with what Prez would say.

I am afraid.

But don't think that's gonna stop me.

* That was an interesting weekly report to my mission president. "Dear Prez, before you read Sister Pak Sung Hee's letter, let me explain to you what really happened . . . but before I even do that, I must confess that yes, I smacked her across the face and knocked her off her feet and back into her desk chair. But she was lurking around the corner with her hair combed over her face! You know what long, straight Asian hair she has! It was the thing from The Ring (which I have not seen and now never will) and it was gonna eat me and I screamed and then I'd smacked her and it was already over and I felt really bad but she started it."