FROM CHILDHOOD COMES A REALIZATION
When I was a child my family would go on picnics to Surprise Lake here in western Washington. It was only a fifteen minute drive from our home, and the beach was big enough to handle most weekend crowds. Families from all over would go there to beat the heat and wash away the grime of a work week, and everywhere you looked there were children running in and out of the water, laughing and splashing, frolicking and screeching. Fun times indeed!
One other thing I remember about that lake was that it had a high dive in the middle of the lake. One could swim out about fifty yards to a floating platform. From there you would climb a ladder to a diving board perched fifty feet above the water, and those who had eaten their Wheaties and were feeling a bit reckless could stand above the crowds and take the plunge. Oohs and aahs would greet the divers as they surfaced after their death-defying dives.
For years I watched and wondered what it must be like to do what they had done, and for years I told myself that when I got older I would be one of those brave souls. Of course my mother had other thoughts on the matter. No child of hers was going to dive fifty feet, risking life and limb, and I admit that a part of me was quite thankful for her reticence in letting her baby boy do such a ridiculous thing.
The day did come, however, when I was sixteen and not under the watchful eye of my mother. My friends and I had driven out to the lake one hot July afternoon, and there was no protective Madonna to prevent me from testing my own level of stupidity.
Out to the float I swam, and up the rungs of the ladder I climbed, and then….and then….the chilly breath of fear seeped into my marrow and rendered me paralyzed. My legs suddenly had the muscle mass of Jello, and my heart beat to the rhythm of a hummingbird. In truth, what had started out as a lark on a sun-kissed afternoon, had magically transformed into a defining moment in life.
TO BE REPEATED MANY TIMES
How many times, during his lifetime, does a man face fear? How many times does a woman “face the elephant” and wonder if this will be the time when she backs down and concedes defeat to that which has haunted her for a years?
We all have them. Like Wallanda the Magnificent, standing precariously above the crowd, feet placed on a thin wire, hoping that calm winds continue till she reaches the other side, we all walk a tightrope without a safety net. Of course we have our friends for temporary support. Of course our families are there when needed, but during those quiet times when it is just us and our thoughts, we face the high dive of life, and those are the times we separate the fantasy from the reality.
Talk is cheap and it is oh so easy to say we are not afraid. We banish doubts with the flippant remark, and we proclaim to the world that we have no worries, but really that is just so much whistling in the dark, keeping the wolves at a safe distance….unfortunately it only works when the wolves are not hungry.
We come into this world alone and alone we are when our fears must be faced, for no crowd of supporters can silence the inner voice that says run, run as fast as you can.
My father was the bravest man I have ever known, but he was relegated to mere mortal status after a mild heart attack in November, 1968. His life changed that day when tightness gripped his chest and breathing became, not a guarantee, but a precarious gift from the gods. Bravery was tossed to the junk heap that day to be replaced by the knowledge that we all have a limited warranty. Three months later he was dead, and he spent those last three months looking over his shoulder and whistling as loudly as he could.
FROM FEAR COMES STRENGTH OF CHARACTER
Yes, we all fear. There is nothing remarkable about fear, but there is an abundance of remarkable in how many of us face that fear.
Knowing what must be done….therein is the key.
I read the other day about a family that was in a car crash. The two cars caught on fire almost immediately. The mother in one car was thrown free of the car upon impact, and the teenage son released his seat belt and ran from the car and joined his mother. It was then that the two of them realized that the two youngest children were still in the car.
Without hesitation the teenage boy ran back to the burning car and freed his siblings and carried them to safety.
Do you suppose he was fearful as he ran back to that car engulfed in flames?
Knowing what must be done.
It could be argued that the day I stood on that fifty foot diving board, I did not have to be there and I certainly did not have to dive, but I think that is a rather limited and narrow-minded view of the situation, simply because it is vital, if we are to live our lives free of paralysis, that we face our fears.
An old man walks by a levy and notices water slowly trickling from a small leak. If he had not been looking closely he would never have seen it, so small was that leak. No reason to panic for sure, and to many others there would be no reason to say a word about it. Still the man told authorities, because he knew that the small leak had the potential to become a serious breach in the system and could eventually lead to flooding.
So it is with our fears. Some may seem insignificant in nature. What does it matter whether that fear, on that day, is faced? There will always be tomorrow and another opportunity, right? And yet that one small fear, when not faced, has the potential to grow daily, gathering other fears with it, until it has become so large and so formidable as to seem insurmountable. Slowly, over time, our legs refuse to answer the call, and our breathing becomes labored, and we are so busy guarding against our fears that we have forgotten the freedom that is inherent in fearless action.
Sit with me a moment
YES IT IS SCARY
Phobos rode into battle with fiery eyes and teeth flashing, a Greek god who rode side by side with many into the chasm of human frailty. Some turned around, so fierce was his visage; others rode on despite the possibility of injury and death, tossing aside Phobos and refusing to succumb to his threats.
Will you retreat from Phobos or will you ride on and gain control of your fears?
I say to you that we were not given this gift of life to run in fear. I say to you that we were given wings with which to help us soar above fear and I say that life, dictated by fear, is barely life at all.
I learned well from my father. I remember him risking injury one day to help neighbors as their house was burning. I remember him serving five campaigns in Italy during World War 2. I remember him in countless other acts of bravery, all defining him as a man who faced fear and refused to back down, and yes, I remember those last three months of his life when he could no longer find the resources with which to fight a fear he could not overcome.
He was, in a very real sense, the perfect metaphor for all of us who struggle daily in life. We go toe to toe with little fears, medium fears and whopper fears, and most definitely there are those fears we refuse to take on. We move forward despite it all, because to do otherwise is to invite Phobos into our hearts and psyches, and we all sense that to do that is to invite a disaster of spirit.
STILL STANDING ON THAT HIGH DIVE
I’m older now, and hopefully wiser. I have not been back to Surprise Lake in many decades and yet it is with me daily. Every time I am faced with doubts and reluctance I am standing on that diving board. Every time I feel my skin grow clammy and the sweat begin to bead on my forehead, I am standing on that diving board. Every single time I begin to question my abilities and embrace my weaknesses, I am left on that diving board with a decision to make. I can either dive off and bask in one more instance of overcoming, or I can climb back down the ladder and say hello to Phobos at the bottom.
Today I choose to dive.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”