I wish someone had told me, when I was in my 20’s, that fear was a limiting emotion to be acknowledged and then ignored. I wish someone had told me that pain and sorrow come no matter how carefully we plan, that being cautious and conservative and walking with reserve is never a guarantee for a breezy, safe life.
I wish someone had told me that pain is only a feeling just like hunger or thirst. It’s unpleasant, but it doesn’t kill you. It’s a thing to be tended to, to be dealt with. It’s a sensation that doesn’t define you.
The girl ran barefoot through the dirt, back and forth the length of the house. She imagined, as the breeze stirred, that she was just like the wind. So fast. Inside her mother was doing the spring cleaning, flinging out dirt, debris, old things that needed to be gathered and taken to the burn pile at the edge of the property.
A searing pain stabbed through the girl’s foot and leg. She lifted her foot to find a piece of wood with a nail through it lodged into her heel.
At the hospital the girl cried because she didn’t want the tetanus shot. She wore an old memory of weekly allergy shots like under-armor, a defense against the prospect of pain.
“If you don’t cry,” the mother said, “we’ll go get you a treat afterward. A toy or some ice cream.”
But she cried anyway, one nurse squeezing her tight while the other nurse gave the injection which turned out not to hurt at all.
Wiping her face the girl said, “That didn’t hurt at all! Can we go to the store?”
“But it didn’t hurt. I didn’t know it wouldn’t hurt…”
“Our deal was that you wouldn’t cry and you cried.”
I wish someone had told me that bumps and bruises when you are twenty hurt less and heal faster than the ones you get when you are thirty. Or forty. I wish someone had told me that regrets for things we didn’t do hang with us far longer than regrets for things we did do. I wish when someone had seen me doing brave things, courageous and expansive things they would recognize them for what they were and not see them through a layer of their own fear.
“I wish you wouldn’t go. You don’t have to.”
Her mother twisted the dish towel around in her hands.
“Mom, I have to. I want to. It will be fine.”
“But where will you live? What about a job? There’s nobody out there to catch you if you fall.”
“I’ll be fine. If I fall I’ll get back up again. Don’t worry.”
“They have earthquakes out there.”
“They have tornadoes here.”
The mother sat heavily down at the table, understanding how pointless it was to convince her to stay. She could see her daughter on a path of destruction and was helpless to stop it. Bad things were coming and there was nothing she could do about it. Nothing.
These are the things I know now. I know them now when I’m weighted down by adulthood, by an accumulation of my past experiences. I know them when I’m driving to a boring job wearing jeans that start to feel tight in my waist and Sheryl Crow is on the radio singing about Steve McQueen. Good God, when was the last time I left anyone feeling breathless? When was the last time I took a leap of faith?
“You know the joke about you going around, right?”
He looked sideways at her, half afraid of what she was about to say.
“They say 30 years ago you arrived here with $1,000 in your pocket and a backpack on your back. And now look at you.”
He smiled and shrugged.
“I admire your courage and all you’ve made out of nothing.”
Finally after the silence he said, “You know the only difference between me and you? I’m braver than you are. That’s all. No other difference.”
I’m not sure I can remember the last time I leaped. Or if I could, I’m not sure I’d want to. It wasn’t yesterday. Or the day before that, or the day before that.
But maybe it will be today.
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