To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
Middle Girl is afraid of shadows, particularly the one cast by the chandelier that hangs from her bedroom ceiling. She is also a bit afraid of Scout, our resident elf. We tell her that there's nothing to be scared of, that we are here, that all is good, that she is safe. But is this the right message to send, even to a small creature? Isn't life, and love, all about fear?
It's interesting because Big Girl never talked much about fear. She never had qualms about surrendering to the darkness of her room at night. Quintessentially scary scenes in movies have never fazed her. She's just a different kid.
And so. I am sitting here. At yet another Starbucks in my city. Thinking about fear. About how, if we are really honest, we will admit that fear underpins so much of existence. That it informs so much of what we do, and what we do not do. I am realizing, and beginning to revere too, that I have many fears. They come with being a parent, sure. With that boundless fog of anxiety that settles once you bring a baby into the world. But my fears are broader in scope. They have not just to do with the job I am doing with my children, but they have to do with me. Me as a discrete being.
I have fears that I am not leading the life I should. I have fears that I am wasting time. I have fears that I am not contributing enough to that ever-elusive greater good. I have fears that I am superficial sometimes. I have fears that I am too reliant on certain people, and certain things. I have fears of writing a bad book, or saying the wrong thing. I have fears of writing a wonderful book, of saying the absolute right thing.
I have fears.
When I think about it, I am using fears quite broadly here. I think the word thought would suffice. I think a lot. Sometimes, I feel like I think too much, that the tangle of my thoughts unnecessarily complicates things. But then? Then I think: No, I'm not sure there is such a thing as thinking too much, or even fearing too much.
I think what matters is what we do with our thoughts and fears, how we arrange them in the recesses of our minds and our lives, how we honor them at times, and shove them aside at others, how we understand them, how we function in their midst. We can try to conquer our thoughts and our fears, and maybe we can find a modicum of success in these efforts, but I think what's more important is that we notice them - those things we think about, those things that matter to us and deeply, those things that stir our souls.
A while back, I wrote a little post. The post was about Emerson's quote, one of my favorites: Always do what you are afraid to do. And I still believe this. That we should march toward those things that rattle us, that we should live and love and learn bravely. But I do not think that wisdom begins only at the conquering of fear; I think wisdom comes in living within the context and contours of our fears, and even with loving them.
Recently, I have become more hesitant on this blog. I have felt uneasy about revealing too much here. I'm not sure why. I think I am longing for a certain kind of privacy I once enjoyed. I think I am also afraid. Of judgment, of silence, of regret. This insecurity? It's not new. It is why I named my blog what I did almost three years ago. We can call it what we want - insecurity or fear or prudence. There are many words, many names, for the more complicated things in life.
But here I am. Writing. Writing about the grit, the gray, the glorious swirl of existence and identity. Here I am. Doing something which I fear. It feels good. It feels scary. It feels bold. It feels right. It feels like why I started this silly old space in the first place.
The next time Middle Girl tells me she's scared, I will pull her into my arms and I will nod. I will look past the decades that divide us, into her three-year-old eyes and I will not quote Bertrand Russell as I do here. Instead I will say something far more simple, and maybe far more true. I will say, "I understand you're scared. Everyone gets scared sometimes. But I am here, we are. And you will be okay."
Because she will. And so will I.
* Speaking of conquering fear, please check out the great article by my friend (and fabu wedding planner) Jes Gordon in yesterday's New York Times. Congrats, Jes!*
Do you feel fears in your own life? Do you think it's important that we acknowledge, and respect, our own fears instead of trying to eliminate them wholesale from our worlds? How do you handle it when your loved ones articulate their fears?