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As a kid, my family was always around water. We had a boat and, a dilapidated shack of sorts on the Mississippi river. We called the place, the Clubhouse, and it’s where we spent the bigger portion of our summers. But the intriguing part of this tale is that neither of my parents could swim.
Despite his limitation, my father had no fear of the water. He would drive the boat faster than he should have. I especially remember how he would make sharp turns to create a wake for those of us swimming nearby. The turns would cause the boat to careen in such a way, so close to the water that, it was as if, anything not buckled down, including the people, could roll out like marbles in an open bag. Although it never happened, I can still see the fear and disdain in my mother’s face as she tried to admonish him from the shoreline.
My mother was a woman of great fear. I don’t offer that with the same harsh judgment I once did, but rather as statement of understanding what better governed many of the choices she made in her life, both for herself and for her children. Although she too, spent many hours in the water, it was a relationship precariously balanced between her love for it, and her fear. Fear of water is not irrational, people do drown. But my mother’s fear was more of a philosophy than a reaction. Sometimes she sat near, other times venturing in with her life jacket, ski belt or more commonly, an inner tube. We had a stockpile of used car and truck inner tubes inflated as flotation devices that anyone could use to just lounge about the water. For my mother, they were literally her life preservers.
There were times over the years that she tried to become more engaged. She took a lesson here or there to increase her confidence. And sometimes it worked. But then life turns would take her away from the water for a bit too long and she would forget what she knew. Mostly, she forgot the confidence that her body was capable of keeping her afloat with just a little effort and a smidgen of skill.
One day when my mom was about 87 years old, she joined me and my boys in the pool at our home. My youngest son was about 5 and still trying to get comfortable with swimming into the deep end of the pool without his water wings. I was going back and forth from end to end alongside him trying to build both his confidence and endurance. My mom watched on from the shallow end clinging to a noodle despite a depth of only about 3 feet. After a bit, I tried gently at first and then more forcefully to get her to venture out into the deeper water. Annoyed, she snapped back “I’ll do it later”. And in a harsh frustrated and sarcastic tone I retorted “Mom! You’re 87 years old, just when do you think you’ll finally get around to this?
My mother died three years later. If my memory is accurate, and believe me, these days people should question that before assuming it is, I think that day in our pool was the last time my mom was ever in the pool. I started to write, “went swimming”, but I realized as I wrote the preceding line, she didn’t swim that day. She got in a pool. She stood in water. But she did not swim. She was too afraid to swim. And in a very real way she, at least partially so, knew how to swim.
I just did a google search on the word fear. 137 million entries in .29 seconds. It’s a pretty big deal fear is.
What are you waiting to do that you are afraid of? What are you waiting to do that you don’t even know about yet, because the fear inside won’t even let you conceive of the idea of that something?
When you think about things you want to do, what comes up? What are the stories that your head tells you that you cannot do and why? If I tell myself I want to be a world class ballerina, a myriad of stories are going to come forward. Stories about how I’m too short, out of shape or too old to achieve a goal that requires training I should have begun 40 years ago. These are not fear based nor are they judgments. They are simply assessments of reality as it currently exists.
But if I say I wouldn’t want to dance because people would laugh at me, that instead is a story based on fear. If I more cleverly try to disguise this by telling myself, I don’t want to dance because I don’t have time, then it’s a story born out of a seed of fear that is nurtured with the soil of convenience to help it grow. The improbability of becoming a world class ballerina does not mean I could not take a ballet class. It doesn’t mean I could not perform in a local recital. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t dance at home.
Fortunately for me, I have zero interest in becoming a ballerina, world class or no class. My fears lurk in other domains. Where do yours lie? Are you willing to pull them out, dust them off and have a thorough look at them? Are you willing to schedule them far enough in the future to assure they will never confront you?
Take a look backwards at your life for a moment. Look for the themes or patterns of events that may have been opportunities to get you started towards something that is important to you, that you have perhaps ignored. In the story of my mother’s reluctance to swim, opportunity had presented itself many times over her lifetime. How about you? Has opportunity invited you to join in the fun but you have allowed fear to persuade you into thinking it was calling someone else? Did you tell yourself it wasn’t the “right time” or circumstances? What are you putting off “’til later on”?
Are you willing to just make a list of those things for now? You don’t have to act on them. But even making a list of them gives the universe a little hope that, you are still interested. It says to not cross you off the list just yet.
In the next blog, we’ll get a little more personal. So for today I’ll end today with a couple of quotes of inspiration.
There comes a moment in every life when the Universe presents you with an opportunity to rise to your potential. An open door that only requires the heart to walk through, seize it and hang on.
The choice is never simple. It’s never easy. It’s not supposed to be. But those who travel this path have always looked back and realized
that the test was always about the heart. …The rest is just practice.”
? Jaime Buckley, Prelude to a Hero
For if the talent or individuality is there, it should be expressed. If it doesn’t find its way out into the air, it can be turned inward and gnaw like the fox at the Spartan boy’s belly.’