I have many fears. When I’m out in the open, I sometimes fear that gravity will fail, and I’ll float off into space with nothing to grab onto (but really, if gravity failed, what good would it do to grab on to anything?) Each time I walk out the door, I fear that I forgot to put my pants on (I’ve never forgotten to put my pants on, but I dream about it all the time.) When my family is asleep, I fear that they’ve stopped breathing, so I poke each one of them until I see some obvious movement and then I freeze and hold my breath, hoping they won’t actually wake up.
On top of these niggling fears and hundreds more like them, there are four things that scare me to death, and I remember the exact moment when I became afraid of each of them.
When I was about seven years old, my little sister Hannah was four. At the time, our house had a porch with a concrete wall a few feet high going around it. Because our house was built on a slope, the drop from the outside of the wall was much farther than it was from the wall to the porch. Regardless, my older sister Rebekah and our friends and I would often play on top of the wall, climbing around without a care. One day Hannah finally decided to brave the wall. I remember her standing on top of it, walking boldly around the porch, and my eyes kept dropping to the ground so many feet below her. My first thought was, She could fall! My next thought was, I could fall! And I’ve been afraid of heights ever since.
Things this has kept me from enjoying: The climb up Mt. Kenya, climbing to the tops of trees with my friends, breathtaking views, and being around anyone else who is in a high place, ever, at any time, regardless of the circumstances.
Things I hope to enjoy in the future: Rock-climbing, skydiving, and climbing trees with my kids.
2. Small Spaces
When I was seven or eight, Rebekah and I were playing one time when she suggested we play a trick on Hannah. We had a sleeping bag, and she wanted me to crawl into the bottom. Then she would get Hannah to come and get in the sleeping bag, and I would scare her. So I crawled into the bottom of the sleeping bag. When Hannah’s feet came wriggling in through the opening, my first thought was, She fell for it! My second thought was, I’m buried alive! I freaked out and started yelling until I had clawed my way back into the open air. I’ve never tolerated closed spaces since then.
Things this has kept me from enjoying: A multitude of practical jokes, caves, and too much cuddling.
Things I hope to enjoy in the future: Spelunking.
3. Bodies of Water
When I was about eleven years old, my family was getting ready to go back to Kenya. We were going through orientation at Black Rock Retreat, and the youth (which I barely qualified as) had our own class. On one of the days, we went tubing. Everything was fine, until we came to a (very) small waterfall that we didn’t know was coming up. My tube flipped and dumped me under the water. I was probably only under for a few seconds, but it felt like minutes. I distinctly remember reaching out my hand toward what I thought was the surface and hitting solid rock. I felt trapped. My only thought was, I am going to die. I resurfaced shortly after that, and the rest of the tubing trip was uneventful…or would have been if I had finished it. I started to have a panic attack as soon as we started going again, so one of the adults had to walk me the whole way back. We didn’t have shoes, and I got stung by a bee. A few weeks later, my family went to the beach. My parents literally dragged me, kicking and screaming into the water to help me “get back on the horse.” Although bodies of water still scare me, my heart doesn’t start pounding at the sight of deep mud-puddles and shallow pools like it did between the tubing trip and the beach trip. Thanks, mom and dad.
Things this has kept me from enjoying: Being near rivers, being in rivers, driving over and/or through rivers, being near the ocean, being at the beach.
Things I hope to enjoy in the future: Scuba diving, going on vacation to the beach without staying up all night worrying about tsunamis, letting go of my child’s hand when I’m near a river, and not counting the number of people in the ocean obsessively to make sure no one went under (this includes not only my own family, but also everyone else in the water for as far as I can see…I inherited this lovely habit from my mother.)
When I was about twelve and in sixth grade, my sisters and I were home-schooled in Kenya. During that year, we spent a lot of time with a few of our neighbors, and we all made “pets” out of the spiders that lived in the web-lined holes in the ground. This involved sticking long pieces of grass down the hole and irritating them and baiting them until they came up to the surface and reared their angry paws at us. Much squealing was involved. Rebekah was always a little uneasy about our new friends. One time, I was using a slightly shorter piece of grass to coax a spider out. When it angrily came to the surface and lunged at me, Rebekah threw a rock on it and killed it because she thought it was about to bite me. My first thought was, She just killed our pet! My next thought was, Maybe it did almost bite me. Ew, that thing is gross.
Things this has kept me from enjoying: Life, if I know that a spider is in the house with me.
Things I hope to
enjoy be able to do in the future: Dispose of spiders by myself without hiding behind Yohannes and screaming, “Get it! Get it! Get it!”
But I have realized that Nati feeds off of my fears. Yohannes and I recently had an animated discussion about a mouse that ran across the floor. Yesterday, Nati heard a noise and thought a mouse was somewhere in the vicinity and insisted on being carried because he was afraid. I don’t want him to also fear heights and small spaces and water and spiders. I want him to climb trees and play with bugs and hide in the cubbyholes and (maybe) swim in some very tame streams. How can I put a lid on my own neuroses while still teaching him a healthy respect for danger?