What would you do if you were not afraid to die? Two true life stories recently got me thinking about this question. The first story is about two women, 87 and 90 years old, who are taking a road trip to Alaska in a RV this summer. The writer of this tale commented that these women are not afraid to die. Yesterday a friend shared that her twenty-something daughter is bicycling solo around Europe. I thought of the older women driving to Alaska and this young women cycling in Europe and wondered what would I do if I were not afraid to die?
I tend to be a moderate adventurer. In the past 12 months I swam in Maine’s chilly Atlantic waters, raced Hurricane Sandy from Atlanta to Baltimore before the airports shut down, and hitchhiked (it wasn’t as exotic as it sounds) and helicoptered in Hawaii. I also risked my heart by falling in love. In the past, I raised three children, became an entrepreneur, and weathered divorce after nearly 3 decades of marriage.
And yet there are simple things that I don’t do, because I am afraid to die, such as walk around in my neighborhood alone after dark. I live in a relatively safe neighborhood. I also read the local police reports and see that sometimes people walking alone after dark within a mile or so of my house get mugged,raped, or worse. Actually, people get mugged, raped, or worse during the daylight hours, too. And I know that, but it doesn’t stop me from my daytime walks the way the night sky does.
Now avoiding night walks in my neighborhood is not a big deal and many will tell you it’s actually a smart thing to do. But what I’m talking about here is fear. How did I learn to fear walking alone in suburbia at night? And what happens when I push back against that fear? Lately I’ve decided to do just that. Shortly after dark, but when it’s truly dark, I walk a block or two around my neighborhood.( During the daylight I walk a mile or two or more). I notice how I feel-a bit jittery in the stomach, but is it fear? Or is it excitement? I’m doing it! I’m doing a simple thing that I am afraid to do! Alone I walk up and down a nearby street, feeling the fear and feeling the excitement.
I think each time we do something we want to do and yet fear, we grow. Our world expands a little more with each face down of the fear. Once I dreamed I was high above a river on a cliff-like overlook. Something eery was happening in the water below and then I sensed the danger, whatever it was, was right behind me. I knew there was no point in running so I turned to face the danger and when I turned, danger in the form of a black shadow embraced me and I embraced back! In that moment of embrace, the fear melted away.
Who knows whether the three women of the first paragraph are consciously embracing their fear. Embracing their shadows. But on some level that is exactly what they are doing and in doing so they and we are inspired to move toward what we want, even if we are afraid to die.