It sounds like the makings of a terrifying thriller…
It was an ordinary school day for the eight-year-old girl until she stepped into her garage and a chord of fear entangled her. She didn’t make it on the bus that day.
That little girl was me. But I must apologies because it sounds more sinister than it really is. I wasn’t accosted that day by anything other than fear, but it flooded my insides and turned them watery which is why I never made it on the school bus and chose, instead, to hide in the garage behind some boxes until the bus left, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice. (Now, with three kids of my own, I know that moms tend to notice things like that.) And after a long time trying to work out what triggered it, I’ve come up empty-handed. Fear doesn’t always have a source made from the content of a bestselling psychological thriller.
The crippling anxiety itself didn’t last long. I was back at school within a couple of days. But even though the appearance of normality returned, the fear that gripped me that day wasn’t about to let go. From that point on, I was the girl who rarely stayed overnight at sleepovers, and I never ventured far from home unless going on vacation with my family. So I expected to grow into a woman who always lived close to mom and dad, never venturing too far. My dream for a long time was simply to grow up and be safe. I was afraid of the world, and I was happy to have nothing to do with it.
… or so I told myself …
As a kid, I would sit on top of the fort my dad built in our backyard, gazing over the cornfields and day-dreaming of an extraordinary life … a life that I only expected to live inside my head (I was an expert day-dreamer). I believed that the reality of a life like that was for other people — people who weren’t afraid to take risks, who lived for adventure — and I was definitely not one of those people, even though I wished I was. And so I resigned myself to an ordinary reality.
I became braver in my teenage years and went with my best friend on a two-week vacation to visit her family … I was nervous about it but glad when I made it through without getting upset. And that was about as extreme as it got. For the most part, this was what my life looked like until the time came to leave for college.
College meant months away, even though the school was only about an hour from home. It was unknown territory, but by that point I had a little more confidence. So off I went — apprehensively, but I went — and I did okay. I even began toying with the idea of spending a semester studying in Los Angeles (I’m from NY state, so this was a big deal).
Little did I know what lay before me. The life I had planned out in my head looked nothing like the reality that was about to unfold. And the dreams of adventure that were planted in a little girl many years before, were about to begin to be unveiled.
I can’t tell you whether the morning was warm or cold, how much sleep I had the night before, or what I had for breakfast, but I do remember it was the day when everything changed.
I was in my third year of college, and I was headed out to class, just like every other day. I pulled opened the front door and found a sheet of paper stuck to the outside. It was an enquiry to see if anyone was interested in joining a trip to Nigeria over the Christmas and New Years holiday.
I saw it — ignored it (’cause I don’t do that sort of thing) — then, as I was walking to class, this crazy thought popped into my head … I could do that if I wanted. I had the free will to make that decision … not that I would … but I could … if I wanted … which I don’t … because I’m not one of those people that do that sort of thing …
But the thought would not leave my head all morning and was a mildly annoying distraction. I was surprised to find that the butterflies in my stomach were not a product of anxiety but excitement. Finally, to quiet my mind, I made a deal with myself — If that piece of paper was still stuck on the door when I got back home, I’d send an email and get more information … I was not saying I’d go, I was just willing to find out more.
That afternoon, as I stepped off the path and walked towards my house, my eyes were glued to the door. The paper was gone. What surprised me the most was the distress I felt, the disappointment.
Then I walked inside and spotted it on the table. I figured it was close enough …
As I sent off the email, I felt a certain amount of relief followed by a flood of emotions that included fear and excitement. This was way out of my comfort zone, but strangely not so far out that I wasn’t willing to move forward. What was happening! I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was meant to go on this trip …
Okay, now for a little fast forward because otherwise this post is going to go way too long …
I went on that 2 1/2 week trip to Nigeria and loved it. I came home with memories of baboons stealing sandwiches, Chocolate Fan Milk, and a Nigerian worship leader at a church we visited that looked like DJ Jazzy Jeff from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
It showed me that fear didn’t control me. And I’ve learned over the years that the danger of fear is the feeling itself. Think about standing on the edge of a gorge, looking down into a chasm. If you become fearful, there is a greater chance you will fall. If you struggle in the water, the advice is always don’t panic. Don’t get me wrong. We all need to have a healthy respect for dangerous things, but using fear as our warning bell only suffocates us.
After so many years of letting fear rule, I finally learned that it was the feeling of fear itself I had been afraid of the whole time. It opened my eyes and my heart to the idea that I was indeed brave enough to live life outside the box I had created for myself.
I don’t regret or feel bad about the fear I battled as a kid. It taught me how to be strong and resilient — how to keep living life, even if the world is scary sometimes. It also meant that when the time came for things to change — the floodgates were opened.
After that initial trip, it wasn’t long before my next. In my last year of college, the semester I was thinking of spending in LA, I chose London instead. That was followed after graduating to spending a year in Australia. It was a year that turned into many as I met my husband (another story I’ll share soon). And here I am, married with three kids, living on a cane farm down the road from croc infested waters and I get the best of both worlds because not only do I get to live the adventure, but I still get to have the ones inside my head and share them with all of you.