Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do it: Just don’t look down

Fear has been on my mind lately.

Of course, Halloween is coming, so there’s the spooky seasonal atmosphere. And this is the time of year when I have to start figuring out where the money for the Christmas presents will come from, and that’s always frightening.

But it’s more than that. It’s bigger.

Did you watch last weekend as that extreme athlete shattered a whole host of aerospace records? Did you watch as he stepped from a capsule 24 miles above the Earth and then fell for endless, astounding minutes while his body reached speeds of more than 800 miles an hour? Did you see him finish that extraordinary feat by parachuting serenely into the New Mexico desert and touching down with surreal, sure-footed calm?

Yeah, the Fortunes all watched that. We watched every second of it, huddled around the computer in a scene reminiscent of the days when families crowded in front of their black-and-white televisions to marvel at the moon landing.

“Do you think he’s scared?” one of my sons said as the man popped open the door of the capsule, inched forward and contemplated the view from 128,000 feet.

“I’m sure he’s scared,” I said quietly. “But he’s going to do it anyway.” And then I held my breath as that man dropped silently from the narrow step that separated him from 24 miles of nothing.

Three weeks ago, I flew to California. While I was there, my friends and I spent a day traversing a 12-mile Tough Mudder obstacle course featuring, among other daunting things, electric shocks, a jump into water from 15 feet up, sheer walls of timber, submersion in icy water and miles of towering hills so steep they felt nearly vertical.

In the weeks before that day, I made a prediction to the friend who had suggested this adventure: “I bet everyone else there will be dudes half my age and twice my weight.”

“It will be awesome,” she said. “You’ll love it.”

So I added some strength and plyometric training to my running routine, tried not to think too much about how much the course map terrified me and decided I could do it.

And it was fantastic. At the end of that day, I was battered and filthy, exhausted and sore – and utterly giddy. There is nothing like the elation that follows fear overcome. Nothing.

But the truth is, I don’t have to attack physical challenges to meet fear. My everyday life is full of things that scare me. I’m raising sons and juggling jobs and supporting a family that relies on me for everything from income and health care benefits to bedtime stories and homemade soup.

On any given day, I’m not sure I can actually do it all. And, in my more vulnerable moments, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it up.

I’m finding, though, as I consider the outlines of life in my 40s, that making friends with fear is the key to finding the strength to push always forward. It’s the key to making these words true: I can do this.

So when I watch people do things I am certain they find terrifying, I don’t dismiss them as crazy or reckless. I don’t even wonder why they’re doing it; I know exactly why they’re doing it.

They want to. They have to. They know they can.

Because we can.

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