Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leap of Faith

When I was little, I had a lot of fears. Fear of the first day of school. Fear of public speaking. Fear of getting in trouble. Fear of nuclear holocaust.

My mom's sage advice for handling these phobias was to "pretend that you're an actress playing the part of someone who is not afraid." For the record, this is amazing advice.

And it has worked. I no longer fear the first day of school (I've had many now), I love speaking in public, I don't fear getting out of line when necessary, and I just don't allow myself to think about nuclear holocaust.

And I can vividly remember those moments when I did something I was afraid to do. The first time I had to sing for an audition of Funny Girl, for example. I'm a terrible singer, anyway, and all the cool kids (well, as cool as musical theater kids can be) were there. I played the part of a confident singer, and on the outside, I probably looked fine. On the inside, my heart was pounding, my stomach aching, and my body threatened to run. I had to endure a persistent voice in my head that kept saying, "You can't do this. You CANNOT do this. I'm not sure you heard me, but this is really not something you can do." And then, and this is the case in every instance where I overcame my fear, I basically stepped outside of myself, shut my brain off, and let body do what it thought it couldn't. I had to take a leap of faith.

And thank God I did, because it led to so many amazing events in my life. Asking a boy out (what if he says no?), saying yes when a boy asked me out (what if he breaks my heart?), studying abroad (I can't be away from America for six months), moving to NYC with $1,000 in my pocket (am I CRAZY?), starting a family (in this messed up world?), and being the catalyst for our move across the country (what if I'm WRONG?).

Each and every time I just acted, pushed myself, taking that step off the cliff and just knowing that something would catch me. And something did. Every time.

But these are all rational fears. It's the irrational ones that I have more trouble with.

Car wrecks. How can I trust other people won't be drunk or high or just terribly reckless?

Kidnapping. How could I possibly let Stella out of my sight when someone might take her and...I can't finish that sentence.

Terrorism. After witnessing 9/11 from my apartment window, I still feel plagued at times by a fear that a bomb will go off at a crowded event or my plane will get hijacked.

And my most recent one: school shootings. Tuscon really shook me up. It reminded me how much hate is out there, and how relaxed our gun laws are. It made me think about how I'm an opinionated, outspoken liberal in an area where opinionated, outspoken liberals are considered by some to be disciples of Satan. It reminded me that some of my students hate my guts.

And just when I thought I was feeling better, I read about not one but two school shootings this week in California. These were much smaller than Columbine, thank God, but no less scary. The world is filled with hate, children are sponges for that hate, guns are plentiful and easy to acquire, kids get mad at each other and their teachers. Sometimes it just seems inevitable to me that it will happen in my life at some point, in some way.

I know. Irrational. Dave already told me. Especially when you look at how rare school shootings are. But that fear is there, regardless, and it's hurting me.

So now I have to play the part of the confident teacher, the woman whose only thought is how to instruct 13-year-olds to find the main idea of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, not peeking around the corner to see if someone's holding a firearm. This is a difficult leap of faith to make.

And yet, I will. Because I'm where I'm supposed to be, doing what I'm supposed to do. And, if you think about it, most any career can be deadly. Just ask my wise momma - she works at the Post Office.

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