Controlling fear is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do.
The other night I went to the Space Needle for dinner for my friend’s birthday. One of my other friends who was invited decided not to go. For those of you who don’t know, that’s not something you decide to turn down. The restaurant in the Space Needle is 500 feet above the ground, spins 360 degrees as you eat, giving you an amazing view of the city, and is fancy.
But our friend didn’t want to go. When I asked her over text why not, she said it was because she was too afraid. Of what? Well, I got a whole list. Some of the items included heights, elevators, small spaces, public bathrooms and restaurants. Seriously? Restaurants? Anyway, I kind of thought she was joking. That she was just complaining but was still going to do it.
Yet when I arrived at my friend’s house whose birthday it was, my ‘fraidy-friend wasn’t there. When I asked if she was coming, I was answered with a no. You can imagine my disappointment. I was told she had gone to the doctor that day and gotten even more dietary restrictions than she already had for her allergy test. I don’t know what else you can restrict when already she couldn’t eat fructose, dairy or wheat, but apparently there’s even more she can’t eat now. Part of her excuse was that she didn’t want to go and be worrying about what she was eating the whole time.
Anyway, it was a super fun night, and I’m sorry my friend missed it.
But it got me thinking about a time in my life when I was slave to my fears. Around second grade is when I remember it. First, a little before then I think, my dad finished reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to my sister and I. We were sent to bed, and I protested, “But I’m scared!”
To which my dad responded with, “No, come on Emma, it’s bed time.” He probably thought I had some sort of scheme to stay up later.
So I walked to my room. Before entering, I took a deep breath, reached my hand in the door that was just barely cracked open, and turned on the lights. Then I closed my eyes and opened the door slowly. When I didn’t hear anything, I opened my eyes. But now I had to go into the dark bathroom, which was even worse since that’s where the basilisk enters Hogwarts. I couldn’t do it.
I ran into my mom and dad’s room. “I’m too scared!” I told them.
“Emma, it’s fine, it’s time to go to bed,” they said to me.
Then I started crying. “No! I’m afraid the basilisk is going to kill me!” And that’s the truth. I was so sure it was waiting before me behind every door, and that I would look it straight in the eyes and die. Or that I would see it in my mirror and be turned to stone. And since I wasn’t a witch, I would be stuck a statue forever. For an eight-year-old, that is a very real and terrifying fear.
For some time after that, I would turn the lights on before I went into any room alone if there wasn’t anyone else already in the room. In fact, I was scared to go anywhere at night alone. If I had to go upstairs before dinner, I would run as fast as I could, and avoid looking up. I had nightmares and couldn’t go to sleep. My parents had to come lay with me until I was so exhausted that I fell asleep despite my rapidly beating heart and wild imagination. Finally, after the basilisk didn’t show up for two weeks, the fear faded.
Then a few months later I went through a phase of nightmares involving different people I loved losing an eye, especially my younger sister. This was because my teacher had told my class about a student her sister had had who’d carried a pencil sharpener with a pencil stuck in it, sharp end out. The kid fell and the pencil stabbed his eye. He had to go to the hospital and have his eye removed. Hearing that scarred me. (Writing that out now, it sort of sounds like something she told us just so we wouldn’t put pencils in sharpeners the wrong way. If only she knew how many stressful nights I had because of that). Again I couldn’t sleep and had nightmares and was paranoid.
One night, though, my dad told me something very valuable. And it’s changed the way I think about fear. He said, “You can spend all this time and waste all this energy being scared of something, but it will probably never happen. You can worry about a basilisk coming to kill you, but you could die any day stepping off a curb. So you can’t waste your whole life being afraid of death, because it’s going to happen. Instead you need to try to enjoy living and not let your fear control everything you do.”
Truly brilliantly said.
It took a while for that to sink in for me, but since those few weeks of terror, I’ve never had another series of nights spent hiding under the covers too afraid to stick my head out for a breath of fresh air. I’ve hardly spent any nights, or days for that matter, being afraid.
It’s a lesson I apply to everything. Tests, performances, big games, fears. I could spend my time obsessing over it, or I could enjoy my life, because it’s going to happen or it’s not, and there’s not much I can do about it.
We can let our fears stop us from going to parties at the Space Needle, or we can decide to acknowledge our fear and learn to live with it. Beyond it.