Fear. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and discussing it with clients and friends. When is fear healthy? When is it helpful? And what about the rest of the time? What I’ve come up with is that on its own fear is neither helpful nor particularly healthy. Now, when fear is triggered by DANGER, that’s different. It can save my life. And yours too. And that is indeed pretty darn healthy. But on its own, fear just holds me back. Because fear is in my head. It resides inside of me and it isn’t real. It can’t actually cause me a speck of harm. Danger, on the other hand, resides outside of me. It does pose a threat to me. It can cause me harm. Danger is real.
So take my hike into rattle snake country the other day. Several friends asked me why I went if I was so scared. They know I’m really, really afraid of snakes. Even those that are very small and non-poisonous. Now, I’ve never had a dangerous encounter with a snake. Nor have I personally known anyone who has. This fear lies completely in my head. Of course in the case of the rattle snakes there was actually some real danger. That’s why I called Ranger Mike. I got the facts. Had he told me that the Timber Rattlers of the Adirondacks were vicious and aggressive and had he listed the number of bites and related fatalities this season alone, I would have stayed right at home that day. But the truth of the situation was that even though fairly large, poisonous snakes resided in the region I was headed into, they didn’t pose much of a threat to me at all. According to my trusted and expert source, the situation rated pretty low on the danger scale.
My fears were big. But the danger risk was small. Very small. So, with the facts in hand, I had a choice. A few, in fact. I could have just listened to my scared-of-snakes self and stayed home. Or, I could have gone on the hike and carried my fears with me, jumping at every winding root along the trail, keeping off the summit stones and not enjoying the expansive views. To me, these choices weren’t very healthy because they would both be based on my irrational and oppressive fears. But I had another option. I could cradle my fears in the knowledge of the actual dangers. I could let the facts dwarf the fears; compartmentalize them. To me, that was the healthiest thing to do. Certainly the most fun of the options. With the knowledge of the dangers in hand, I chose expansive views, good conversation, fresh air, exercise, and Belgian chocolate over the slithering fears in my head.
We giggled each time we referred to “the Summit” on our hike yesterday. “It sounds like we’re hiking Everest when you say that,” my friend would chide me. But what else do you call the top? The end of the trail. The mountain’s highest point where you enjoy the view. The place you’ve been striving to reach. Granted, our six mile trek didn’t stretch our physical boundaries. There were no death-defying crevasses to traverse. There were no potential avalanches, or rock falls. There were no Yeti. None of the hazards of a Himalayan adventure. (Nor were there Sherpas hefting our sandwiches, chocolate, and water.)
However, the area of our hike IS known for its Timber Rattlers. And I am really scared of snakes. They don’t just make me uncomfortable. Their liquid-muscle movement shoots lightening fear through me every time. I’m not proud to admit this, and I’ve worked on this fear for many years. But it still lingers. So when I learned that we were venturing into snake country on our hike, and large poisonous snake country at that, I considered reconsidering the hike. “Damn,” I thought. So I picked-up the phone and I called my Forest Ranger neighbor to get his input. He assured me that there are indeed plenty of Timber Rattlers in the Tongue Range and that it was likely I’d see one. Particularly on the rocky summit where they’d be out warming themselves on this cool October day. “Great,” I thought, “set my sandwich down right on the table of its coils.” I began to reconsider the hike more seriously. But then he also assured me that these snakes are far from aggressive. That I’d really have to provoke one for it to do me any harm. He’d never heard of any snake bites in that area. Then we discussed snakebite procedure.
“The most important thing,” he said, “is to get to the hospital. Whether you’re carried out or air-lifted. Hike out if you have to. Now, this will hurt like hell, but you’d have to do it. The important thing is to get to the hospital.” I breathed deeply, listening to his sage advice. Trying to stay calm as I imagined myself in the situation: Walking off the mountain, trailing three feet of rattler, its fangs imbedded in my blackening calf. I began to giggle. I suppose it would let go, right?
“But really, Mandy, consider yourself lucky if you see one. Seriously.”
Okay, I can’t ever imagine myself feeling lucky watching a three feet long, thick-as-your-wrist, poisonous snake slithering across my picnic spot. But none the less, I felt comforted and reassured by his words. I had the information I needed to go forth with our little trek and not feel scared. I wasn’t going to be looking for Mr. Snake with every step. I wasn’t going to be walking in fear, thinking every branch, twig, and root was going to begin slithering and rattling. I knew what to look for, and where to be a little more aware or cautious. I had a sense of what to do if I saw one. So no, we were in no way about to summit Everest. But I was going to potentialy face one of my own little deamons on our outing. That’s adventure enough for me.
We had plenty of good conversation on our journey. We breathed in the October crisp air. At the summit, we drank in the vast, mountainous views. We marveled at the shadows of clouds on the pewter-like skin of Lake George, far below. We stretched out on the warm rocks and savored Belgian chocolate.
If there were any snakes out that day, they kept themselves hidden. Or I was just too oblivious enjoying myself. Either way, I’m happy not to have encountered any. And so, I would imagine, are they. It was a glorious day.
I was meditating this morning and a favorite scene from a movie slipped into my mind. The movie is “How to Make an American Quit,” from 1995. In this particular scene, Ellen Burstyn’s character is relating a tale of love, betrayal, family, and friendship to her twenty-something granddaughter, played by Winona Ryder. She begins by saying, “When the person you love begins to die, there’s this unbearable……….severing.” I heard her words in my head. And the tears began to run down my cheeks, drip off my chin, trickle under my shirt. You see, it seems I’m experiencing an unbearable severing of my own. Not the death of a loved one. But the growing-up and moving-on of my beloveds.
It’s always just been the three of us. And we’ve always loved it that way. I’ve experienced and acknowledged the passing of phases, always with a degree of longing, sometimes sadness, but also always welcoming what was developing. Happy about what was next. My eighteen-month old draped over my pregnant belly. The two-year-old rocking the baby’s cradle. Two small bodies curled in my lap, their curly heads tucked beneath my chin. The days of painting, drawing, making candles and play dough. Elbows deep in flour, baking chocolate chip cookies. Long walks on fall days, chasing milk weed seeds and gathering wooly bears. Dancing with their long evening shadows and jumping in leaves. Crawling into my bed for apples and cheese, warm milk with honey, and bed time stories on cold winter nights. Singing in the car. Dancing in the dining room. Painting bedrooms. Dinner discussions lasting long after the food was eaten. Soccer games. Friendship struggles. Hair styles and skinny jeans. Jersey swaps. Social Studies grades. Homecoming. Boyfriends. Prom. Friends.
My girls and I are really close. I think that comes from my not having had a partner in raising them. In many ways they’ve nurtured me over the years at least as much as I have them. We’ve been a tight trio. A force to be reckoned with. A solid front. A family. But this phase is different. The most challenging for me yet. Because this is the phase where they become more independent. Where they draw away. Where they develop their own lives. Their own lives away from me. Independent from me. And that’s exactly what they should be doing. It’s healthy. It’s right. Not to mention it’s completely necessary, or so I’m told anyway. But, now more than ever, I want to stop the planet from turning. I want to stope the clocks. In fact, I want to turn the clocks back. I want that 18-month old climbing into my lap with a book. I want that girl falling asleep on my pillow. I want that running leap into my arms. I want the small hands peeling apples next to me. And the voices asking me questions, and telling me their stories, and needing help with her zipper. I want the sleep-overs and pancake breakfasts the next morning. I even want the screaming two-year-old kicking in a football hold walking through the mall to the car.
I was going to give this post the title “Sweet, Healthy Pain.” But right now, there’s nothing sweet for me about it. It just hurts. It feels like a severing. An unbearable one. And I know this will pass too. I know I’ll adjust and simply be happy for all they’re doing. Because they’re doing everything SO darn well. They’re such great young women. But really, that’s what makes this harder. I miss them. No, it’s not over yet. They still have a couple years left of school. But it’s like that slow tearing-off of the bandage. They’re not my babies any more. Not my little girls, either. And I know this next phase and all that follow will bring multitudes of joys. I know that with all my being. But for now I’m just going to feel sad, for a little while at least, and long for what once was. Maybe even feel a little melodramatic about it. That’s what they’d tell me, anyway. That I’m being melodramatic. Pretty soon I’ll be glad for all this. My life will take a turn as well. It’s time for me to do more of my own things. I don’t know exactly what those “things” are. But I will. But for now, I’m just going to feel a little sad, and long for what once was and no longer is.
Yesterday, I posted a photo from my morning hike. Deb posted the response, “Thankfully it energized you so that you could return circulation to the right side of my body! THANK YOU!” Thank YOU, Deb. That comment totally made my day. It reminded me how the little things we do for ourselves really do make a difference.
You see, I’ve been really busy lately. As a friend put it, I’ve “had my hands full.” Which is terrific if you’re a massage therapist. It means you’re helping a lot of people, which is why you do what you do. A full schedule also means you’re paying your bills and your taxes and that you can join that CSA and that you’re actually going to be able to send your daughter to Costa Rica in the spring. But a full schedule also means long days. And that frequently means making sacrifices elsewhere. Like not making it to your daughters’ soccer games. And eating ramen noodles or cereal for dinner. Like not discovering the vacuum had died until the dog hair and dust bunnies were thick in the corners. Like being a little tired and preoccupied when your daughters are talking about an incident in biology and not really hearing them.
Thank goodness for small pleasures and blessings. Morning walks in the woods. Cooking potato latkes for breakfast with Delaney on her day off. Watching the Space Station cross the night sky with friends. Breakfast sandwiches at the river with a neighbor. The smile on a client’s face when the pain is gone. Game night. Pinterest. Consumer Reports arriving in the mail with “Vacuums” as their headline. Amazon.com. Clear blue skies. $.10 off on a gallon of gas. FaceTime. A cup of hot tea. My meditation cushion. Not needing to light the wood furnace even though it’s mid-October. These are the things that re-charge me, that fill me up, that nourish me. Some I seek out. Some are gifts. This is the good stuff that keeps me going so that I can do the good stuff I need to do. What fills you up in hectic times? What keeps you going?
Got up early this morning for a walk in the woods. Wanted to share it with you.
I’ve planned to hike in the Adirondacks today. Meeting a friend at the trail head. With the understanding, of course, that I’m bagging-out if it rains. I’ve had more than my share of rainy hikes. In the Adirondacks. Wet leaves over wet rocks are slippery as ice, but with a trustworthy appearance. When it rains in the woods the amount of water seems to multiply exponentially. Each drop that lands on a leaf turns to three. You become wet to the bone in moments, regardless of the Gortex you’re wearing. And even though your hiking boots are waterproof, your socks are saturated by the water that’s running off your legs. Water drips from your nose and your chin. You’re saturated. I’ve had this experience many times. I’ve become a fair weather hiker. I don’t mind if the temperature is well below zero. Bring it on. But I like clear skies. It’s just more fun these days. Not to mention safer.
But then there’s the sounds you hear on the rainy days. The rain on the trees is a cacophony of tiny drums. The birds will be out. I can’t recognize a single one from its song, but still. And there’s the company. Hiking up a mountain with a friend, catching-up, sharing stories of the past several months. And, best of all, there will be few other people out. I’m not alone in preferring to hike on clear days. And I’m a prima donna when it comes to privacy. I like to have the place to myself. Whether it’s the mountain, the beach, the museum, or the theater I don’t want to have to contend with crowds. Not a realistic preference, but none the less, that’s how I like it.
The rain is teeming down as I write this. The forecast calls for rain showers all day long. All Day Long. My lunch is packed, along with a big water bottle and a change of clothes for the ride home. I’ll be leaving in 15 minutes. It’s going to be a rainy hike. Guess I’m going to go for a walk in the rain.
When Marleigh and Delaney were small and they asked about death, I would tell them that a person dies when their heart stops beating. “What then?” they would ask. “Well,” was my explanation, “then their spirit flies away. And their body begins turning back into the earth. But their love always lives on inside of us.” This satisfied them. And me also.
John sent me this photo he took earlier today. He told me that at Ethan’s burial they released a white dove. Later, when the family and friends had gathered back at home, a white dove flew in and lighted on their roof.
I was awestruck by his words. I could hear in the few sentences he wrote that the white dove was a powerful messenger for them today, though he didn’t say exactly how. Did it speak to them of the flying away of the spirit? Did its return speak of the love that resides in their hearts and that will remain there forever? Was that dove a messenger to them of love and peace? To them, was it a symbol of hope and comfort and healing?
“The body is a sacred garment. It’s your first and last garment; it is what you enter life in and what you depart life with, and it should be treated with honor.” —Martha Graham
Your Body is a Sacred Garment.
It’s Your First and Last Garment;
It is What You Enter Life In
And What You Depart Life With,
And It Should Be Treated With Honor.
Taking care of yourself/your body is not a luxury. It is not decadence. It is not something you need to apologize for. Or make excuses for. Or put off doing. It is completely essential. Vital. Treat your body with honor. It is your sacred garment.
What will you do today to honor and take care of your sacred garment?
I just love this quote. It speaks of those berating voices inside our heads that we hear when, perhaps, we look in the mirror. Or perhaps when we’re embarking on a new project. Or when we’re reviewing a recently completed project. Or when we’re thinking about changing careers, or going back to school. Or when we walk into a room of strangers. Or when we try on a new pair of jeans. You know what I’m talking about, right? The voices that criticize and critique. Our inner voices of self-doubt. They’re all in our head. Many people say they sound like a parent. Others say a bully from school. These voices are terrified of change. When given the power, they’ll keep us right where we are, forever and ever, no matter how good or bad “right here” is. They’re the voices of fear. And they’re just in our heads, playing over and over like a broken record or a bad radio station. Somewhere along our paths, we just chose to keep that station tuned-in.
So go ahead. Tell that Negative Committee to shut the hell up. Move ahead with what feels right, and good, and healthy, and what maybe even stretches your boundaries a little. And while you’re at it, please let me know how it goes. I’ll be here cheering you on.
writing, teaching, publishing
Steve's body of work spans conflicts, vanishing cultures, ancient traditions and contemporary culture alike - yet always retains the human element.