The boy was absolutely fearless. Climbing on top of large rocks four times his height, standing on the bank of rushing rapids, running off the trail to satisfy his young curiosity.
Absolutely fearless. So much so that he was oblivious to the more fearful strangers passing by who thought he might fall and break his neck, that he might fall in and drown, that the black bear sighted in the area recently would find him and eat him.
Absolutely fearless. He had not yet experienced anything to make him fear the outside world. No falling off a bike, no loss of control while swimming, no friends who had strangers try to lure them with candy.
My parents tell me I was like that, absolutely fearless. I would spend all day at the park district swimming pool or I would climb trees or I would want the swing pushed way up high.
What I remember contradicts what they tell me. What I remember is that I avoided the pool’s deep end and that I would only go so far up a tree before I began to shake and that I would stop in my tracks at the top of a long slide.
Absolutely fearless. Something I can never remember being.
Maybe humans are never meant to be absolutely fearless as we grow and experience the world. Do you ever see a cat avoid jumping to the highest heights, do you ever see a dog avoid attacking a rabbit? In contrast, human children learn to be afraid of heights if they fall and human children learn that maybe the rabbit they chased carries disease.
Sure enough, as my world expanded, so did my fear. Being laughed at in gym class turned into hatred of all things remotely related to exercise. Falling off an adult-sized bicycle the first time I tried riding one turned into a fear of bike riding. A few angry customers turned into avoidance of critical work-related telephone calls.
I suppose I can’t call myself absolutely fearful either. I think nothing of hopping on an airplane by myself to travel places familiar and unfamiliar. I speak as an passionate advocate for diabetes-related causes. And most significantly, I managed to rise past that hatred of gym class enough to find an inner athlete a few years ago when threatened by diabetes. Now, even in spite of more recent damage to my body, I continue to show that old fear out the door.
I may have been of those more fearful strangers following behind that boy and his family yesterday. But it was also me hiking that trail rising 700 feet in altitude over two miles, only a few weeks after major abdominal surgery (and the second such surgery in less than six months). It was me shaking off fear of hurting myself through aggravating the recent scars or creating a new injury.
If only I could so easily shake off the other fears that run my life – bike riding or making critical work-related telephone calls or the most feared of all, driving. By channeling that feeling of fearlessness encountered every time I embark on a new adventure alone or every time I speak passionately about diabetes-related causes or every time I walk (or hike) several miles, I could do just about anything.
I could shut down the fear factory.