Recently, a stranger paid me one of my favorite compliments to date:
He told me I was fearless.
I was at the Buffalo Bill museum in town covering an art discussion for work. I had my notebook and photographer (my boyfriend, Raym) in hand. The older gentleman had ambled over to talk to Raym before the presentation. He’d then reached over to shake my hand and tell me he greatly enjoyed my columns for the newspaper.
I write a column on adventure, called This Wild Life, in which I generally do wild and crazy things that scare me. Not every time is it crazy, but I have written about going over my handlebars while mountain biking, flying in an aerobatic plane and taking a dip in the frigid waters of the Shoshone River on New Year’s Day.
At first, this person shaking my hand with no proper introduction (he hadn’t asked my name) and professing to like my writing thrilled me. I get compliments from time to time, mostly from women, though it means a great deal to me all the same.
But this was different. People who have paid me compliments in the past generally know me or I’ve interacted with them on some occasion. I had never seen this man. Somehow that already seemed greater, as he had no stake in reading what I wrote.
And then he made that fearless comment.
At first I was stupefied. Does this man know what he’s talking about? I am the most scared person that ever was.
Truly. Everything scares me.
I feel a weird lump on my head and become alarmed; I WebMD cancer. My boyfriend is late in getting home and I fear he’s gotten in a wreck. I write a story that deeply moves me and the New Yorker doesn’t call and I am afraid I’ll never make it.
And that’s just everyday nonsense. That isn’t even my “wild and crazy” adventures. I had a coworker recently joke about how much I profess a fear of dying in my columns. I don’t think I am a dark person per se…
Please reference my favorite movie here:
Harry: When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.
Sally: That doesn’t mean you’re deep or anything. I mean, yes, basically I’m a happy person…
Harry: So am I.
Sally: …and I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with that.
Harry: Of course not. You’re too busy being happy. Do you ever think about death?
Harry: Sure you do. A fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind. I spend hours, I spend days…
Sally: – and you think this makes you a better person?
Harry: Look, when the shit comes down, I’m gonna be prepared and you’re not, that’s all I’m saying.
Sally: And in the meantime, you’re gonna ruin your whole life waiting for it.
While I feel a little like Sally in my happiness inclinations, I can relate to Harry’s need to prepare for the end. I suspect it’s moreso my dramatic flair rather than any real darkness, yet it is something I worry about incessantly.
It mostly stems from this deep seated fear about my life being cut short before I have accomplished it all. I almost have to believe in reincarnation because I know I can’t get it all in in this life alone and that’s with me really trying.
So the fact remains. Nearly every time I do any adventure I inevitably plan for my death just in case. I try to make peace with God, kiss my boyfriend, or not kiss him, because I am a believer in the jinx, and usually tell my mom what I am about to do. Like a chairlift evacuation on a ski hill.
A black cat crossed my path the day before I did this and I had to try really hard not to read into it. The amount of scenarios that ran through my mind on that mere adventure were nothing short of a doomsday prepper.
I was fine. It all went so smoothly as to be laughable.
Then later that night I ran into the stranger surmising that I must be a fearless person.
While I loved that a word like that could be used for me, one that so bespeaks of bravery, my mind couldn’t help but think this man had gotten the wrong impression. I am a huge scaredy baby.
But then later that night I asked myself the question I always ask myself when doing most things that scare me straight down to my underwear.
Why do it? Or better yet: Why constantly put myself in situations where I am afraid?
The answer, I realized is twofold.
If I do something that terrifies me and I don’t die (which has been every time to date), I call on that experience for the next time. I remind myself what it’s like to be truly terrified and how I conquered it.
It makes me feel stronger and somehow braver when I know myself to be the polar opposite of brave.
This works for adventures, all kinds. But it also works for when the everyday fears kick in. When I am not rappelling off mountainsides or sliding myself off a chairlift midair trusting someone has me down below, well it’s all a little more bearable.
I feel like I am living my life to the fullest. Or at least 3/4 of the way full as I sometimes am still miffed I have yet to run with the bulls in Pamplona or master croissants in Paris.
But I feel as though, slowly but surely I am getting there. One fear-filled day at a time.
Then when I do run with bulls, or learn to mush sled dogs, or birth a child, or ever get to have an all important book editor look at my work, I can remind myself:
Girl, you’re freakin’ fearless.
At least, one time that stranger told me so.