Monday, June 2, 2014

Jumping the creek.

The destination was unknown, as it always is with adventures.  Trekking through the dry, dusty cornfields that surrounded my childhood neighborhood in neat rows of swirls and lines, our ten-year-old selves passed over land that was meant for a farmer’s boots alone.  I liked walking on the tractor prints, hopping across the raised bubbles of wet dirt on my tiptoes, keeping my hand outstretched to feel the crinkly husks against my fingertips.  We scurried under barbed wire fences and walked past no trespassing signs.  We ran through a pasture where cows stared at us with their beady black eyes and picked through a pile of junk speckled with bullet holes.  But then we came to a creek.  One about 4 feet wide.  I stood back and watched my friends swiftly leap over the gurgling water to land with both feet planted in the long damp grass on the other side. 

“Come on, Ker!” they chanted urging me to jump.  I did that thing where you start to propel your body forward then at the last second hold it back at least two dozen times.  Close to tears, I listened to them tell me how easy it was, and I shook my head vigorously.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.

“I will make a bridge for you with my body.  You can walk across me to the other side,” one of my friends offered generously. 

I agreed without a thought, and so she lay down, outstretched, her hands against one side of the creek bank, her sneakers planted on the other.  And I stepped onto her body.  Onto her back between her shoulder blades, down her spine, onto the squishy flesh of her butt.  And she sank into the cold water, belly first, my feet to follow.  We squealed and scrambled out of the creek in a frenzy, my fear lingering in the air above us, chilling my feet, her body, the entire march back home.

The fear I felt on the creek bank that day as a child was real despite the fact that even if I had jumped, the worst outcome would have been landing in the water like we did anyway.  It was real for me in that moment, a feeling I let paralyze and trick me into sacrificing my friend just to feed it.  That day, after we made it home, I didn’t think much more about the creek and my fear.  And in fact, the next several hikes we did, I managed to somehow avoid jumping whether it was leaning on my friends or walking the long way around to a narrower spot.  I succumbed to the fear and didn’t ask questions and simply moved on.

Over the course of my life, I have collected all kinds of fears.  They are moments, feelings or experiences I store in little capsules, some in my body, others in my heart, many in my mind, a few small but potent ones in my soul.  This year, from 32 to 33, has been quite a pivotal year in my collection process because this year, I have ripped many of my fears from their comfortable resting places.  I’ve shuffled them, tossed them in the air, torn them open, dumped them in front of myself, and waded through the mess.  It is the start of a long piece of work, but I’ve started challenging old and new fears, interrupting patterns to pay attention and ask questions.  By no means have I conquered my fears, but I’ve created a (messy) map toward doing so.

Part of my journey this year has involved saying goodbye to my twenties.  I haven’t been there for a while now, but I was still feeling the spillover of the protective bubble.  In my twenties, I wouldn’t have ever admitted it, but I felt somewhat invincible.  Now, I am faced almost daily with stories that rattle me to the core.  Stories of infant death, school shootings, and abductions.  These are stories that are dangerous for a person like me who spends a lot of time in her head spiraling about this or that.  What I know now is that the protective bubble is an illusion and that pain is something that everyone feels.  And while we may do our best to avoid inner friction and pain at all costs, feeling it, truly allowing it in, may open up moments of clarity about our inner world we would have never known otherwise.  Pain has taught me valuable lessons in living in the present moment, something I struggle with every single day and every single time I am with my phone and kids at the same time.  Instead of fearing it, can we embrace our own pain?  Or the pain of others? 

In opening a painful wound and exploring it, I have learned about one of my deepest fears.  This is a fear of dying from cancer.  Of experiencing what my dad and so many others are forced to.  It has always lurked within, but it resurfaced this year after having a health scare I won’t go into too much detail about.  Within this particular scare, there was a period of “unknown,” as there is with most health-related situations.  Have the tests, wait.  Wait.  Wait some more.  During the waiting time, I found my mind spinning to the worst possible scenario.  It barely even touched on “everything will be just fine” and went straight to “holy shit, I’m dying.”  I stopped eating, writing, sleeping.  I holed up, clung to Angus’s body every chance I got, and prepared for the cruelest possible fate.  And then after the waiting time, I found out answers.  Answers that in no way were even close to what my imagination had conjured up.  And this is when the work began.  There was no way in hell I could live my life how I did in those two weeks.  I had to get some kind of grip on this fear because it threatened to ruin me.

Since, I’ve spent a lot of time with this fear, learning about why it might exist and who and what inspire me stay alive even while dying – a stranger being one of the most powerful examples.  I’ve chosen to talk about it instead of stuff it somewhere deep and let it eat away at me.  I’ve been open about my dad’s experience and understand that his process does not have to be my own.  I’ve been working on trusting my body, the same body that endured two natural childbirths and nourished two children, to understand its vulnerability but also its strength.  I am being proactive with the food I eat and the way I move, but trying not to make these things obsessive weapons against cancer but more a positive way of life.  In the opening and receiving of my own narrative and the stories of others, I have healed in many ways especially in understanding that this fear deserves to be acknowledged but does not warrant a leading role in my life. 

In facing the unknown, by inviting fear to course through my veins, I have grown to understand what fear looks and feels like.  I can recognize it a mile away.  And even when I don’t, when it sneaks up on me and takes hold, I can better negotiate with it.  Instead of moving through my days fearing what my kids will one day say about me, I am generous and loving with them and notice beauty in the simplest of moments.  I try (key word: try) not to beat myself up for having a bad moment or day, for exploding with rage when Calvin pees in the trashcan instead of the toilet.  Rather than letting the darkness of my past haunt me, I write about it or speak it to listening ears, small victories I can revisit and feel proud of.  I fear often that I will be misinterpreted through my writing as “too this” or “too that,” but I keep writing, because it’s what keeps me alive.  Even as simple as in my yoga practice, I’ve let go of some fears.  I’m most definitely not the inversion type, but through the meditative flow, I’ve pushed my body and mind to find new places of growth or fall into child’s pose without judgment.  This year has been about facing fears and getting real with myself, and it’s a massive work in progress.

Angus and I went to dinner on my birthday and talked (uninterrupted) about what this lifetime is for each of us.  “What do you feel your soul has to learn in this life?” we asked each other.  We both agreed that this feels like a significant lifetime.  (Goodness, I hope everyone feels this way.)  But beyond that, for me, this life feels like a passage to something else, a discovery of some kind my soul yearns for.  I have been given so much, and what I choose to do with it all seems significant.  The thing with adventures is that the destination is unknown.  I understand that there will be more barbed wire and warning signs and glaring bystanders and junk to sift through.  And that one day, I will come to another creek, a really wide one with water that rushes fast and loud.  And instead of letting someone else be a bridge or taking the long way around, I will take the leap and cross it myself.  


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