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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Afraid to lose 'the Afraid'

The house was at the end of my street. An old dilapidated structure with boarded up windows and a rusty fence around the perimeter; a thing of nightmares to a child with a vivid imagination. When the wind blew through the house it would moan and whistle as the air rushed through an incalculable number of cracks and crevices. The thing would breathe.
Afraid to lose "the Afraid"To the left of the house stood an old watchtower that overlooked the Wabi River; a safe outlet from the rocky waters of Lake Temiskaming. The home and tower had been around since close to the turn of the century. Deep brush and trees grew around it keeping it relatively hidden from passers-by. But all the children in the neighborhood knew it was there; jutting out of the earth at a dangerous angle like a ragged tusk. The tower listed dangerously towards the edge of a steep embankment that dropped 40 or so feet into the river below. A disquieting eyesore to the adults on the block; an ominous challenge for every kid with something to prove. I was one of those kids.
Every day after school my friends and I would walk past the house and the conversation would dwindle as eyes would quickly move to scuffling feet, the cracks in the sidewalks and the birds in the trees. Anywhere…but the house with the tower. Then a thought would pass through the group.
“Please don’t pick me. Please don’t pick me.”
But inevitably someone would throw out the dare.
“Come on! Just climb to the top and wave out the window to prove you did it. What’s the matter? Are you afraid?”….and then the mob mentality would begin. Suddenly the group would join in chanting “Do it! Do it!”
That poor kid….the chosen one had to make a snap decision right then and there. Go into the gaping maw of that tower and risk your life or chicken out and make up an excuse that you heard your Mom calling you home for dinner.
Inevitably, it was my turn to be called out one day; to be dared to go into that tower and climb those rickety steps to the top---to make that life altering decision. Yes, it was life altering for a 6 year old. Being the hefty kid in the group I was an automatic target in the gladiatorial ring we knew as our street. I was tired of being teased and being called Chicken. I wanted the other kids to respect me for doing it. So I did it. I entered the tower and climbed to the top.
The details of my trip inside the tower are largely inconsequential. It was dark, musty and certainly not safe for a child. Things clearly had been living and sleeping there. The stairs were rotten and the building felt like it could fall at any point in time. After a precarious climb I made it to the top, leaned out the window and waved to my friends on the sidewalk below. And that was it. No monster came to eat me. The Tower didn’t come crashing down into the river. The most I got was a high five from my buddies and then I went home. The next day I walked past that house again and looked it up and down like it was nothing more than an ant. So did my friends. That evening we all took turns climbing to the top of the tower because it was no longer something out of a bad horror movie. It was just a set of stairs.
After that night the challenge was gone as was the mystery and sheer adrenaline-fueled panic that came with the premise that you could very well lose your life to that monstrosity. Truth be told….I missed that feeling. I didn’t really know it then, but I certainly know it now. I’m a grown man now and the house with the tower is a distant memory that haunts my deep dreams only from time to time. But it doesn’t hold the same fear for me that it once did because I conquered it and moved on to the next set of challenges.
Moving away, starting somewhere new, making new friends, having a crush, having my heart crushed to powder, graduating, leaving home, being alone, being independent, finding myself, finding someone else, finding each other, making a union, making a family, making a home. All steps in the chapter of my life that have been joyous and terrifying and awe inspiring. Throughout them all I was faced with one constant notion-----I was afraid. Afraid of not knowing what would come next; afraid of not being able to adapt or thrive. Afraid I would fail. We are all afraid of something. I don’t care if it’s heights, or clowns or the loss of a job. We are all afraid of something. And that’s ok. It’s ok to be afraid provided the fear doesn’t control you.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting that quite frankly bored me. My mind began to drift and I began thinking about that old house with the tower. Before I knew it the meeting was done. When I cleared the cobwebs from my brain and the stardust from my eyes I looked down at my notes and saw this…
There was nothing else written on the page. I didn’t think too much of it and went about my daily business. But on the drive home that night those 5 words kept spinning around in my head. I couldn’t let the thought go that perhaps they meant something more than just some absent-minded scrawls on the paper. The more I thought about it, the more I found meaning in those words.
We are afraid when we do not know what will happen next. We are afraid when we don’t have control of the environment or a circumstance and that makes us cautious and compliant and stationary. We don’t take action to change that feeling because we do not know how attacking that fear will affect us. We are afraid to lose the afraid. It is our safety net and when we challenge the feeling of being afraid, we’re forced to cut that net away. But it’s not the act of jumping that scares us; it’s knowing that there may not be a net to catch us when we fall.
If we take the leap and make it to the other side the fear is gone. That thing we were scared of loses its power over us and we are forced to move on to the next challenge. This means a bigger leap and potentially a larger fall and the cycle repeats itself.
That house and tower were torn down years ago or maybe they finally slipped into the river below the cliff…drowning the ghosts that inhabited them. Regardless of that they will always serve as a reminder to me that there is nothing wrong with being afraid. But being afraid to lose the afraid? Well….that’s just scary.

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