Lying awake in my bed, I am four years old. I look over the edge of the bed, and suddenly, an alligator is poking his long nose out from underneath. Next thing I know, he is sitting on the bed next to me, grinning his sharp, toothy alligator grin! I scream and hop out of the bed onto the floor to get away... but then the alligator is next to me on the floor, too. Back I scramble into bed as fast as I can to escape, but the alligator follows. No matter where I go, from bed to floor and back again, he is there, too. And all I can do is scream for my mother and father to come and get me.
Which they did.
I can still recall the feeling of that experience...a waking dream, a nightmare, call it what you like, for a 4-year-old child it was an exercise in terror.
Nowadays there are other monsters in the world to terrorize us. There are other, bigger, much scarier things we can be afraid of. And no mommy or daddy to come and pick us up and hold us and make it all go away, like magic.
As terrifying as our childhood imaginings can be, the grown-up world is a much more harsh and scary place. Everyday realities of our modern world are far more stressful than the monster in the closet, the ghost in the attic, or the alligator under the bed.
Out of control gas and housing prices: scary.
Trying to make ends meet on low wages, not knowing from month to month if you'll be able to make the rent or feed your children: ulcer-making.
Living in a place with sub-standard housing, no clean water, no job and no hope because a tsunami, a volcano, an earthquake or a hurricane have wiped out the world as you knew it: petrifying.
Knowing that there are people in the world who will not rest until you are wiped off the face of the earth, simply because they have been taught to hate you even though they have never met you: pure terror, by design.
As children, our fears often manifest in fantasy images, in dreams or nightmares, replaying scenes from a scary movie we might have seen. The things we fear seem simplistic and silly as we get older and look back. Thunderstorms. Big dogs. The bully on the school bus. Getting a pimple before a first date. But as children we know so little about the big world, and so our fears are proportionate to our physical stature and lack of worldly experience.
As adults, we know there are things out there to be afraid of, things that really CAN hurt us, or someone we love. And we know, deep down, that as hard as we might attempt to stop the bad from happening, we cannot control much of anything when you get right down to it. It is this knowing that can often stop us from doing things we really would love to do, because we can get stuck in worrying about "what might happen".
But maybe we'd be better off if we could reclaim some of our former childlike ability to ignore the realities of "what might go wrong" in order to enjoy LIVING. Maybe there are times when we need to take the leap anyway, regardless of our fears; to "feel the fear and do it anyway".
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." ~ Ambrose Redmoon
My nephew just got back from a weekend in Montreal, where he went on a road trip with 3 or 4 of his buddies. They're all 19, and their sole reason for going was to be able to drink in bars legally. We, the adults in his life, all had visions of him doing something really stupid and being locked up in a Canadian jail for the next 5 years; in fact, his parents told him they wouldn't stop him from going (they were in California at the time so it's not like they could physically force him to stay home) but that they weren't happy about him going and if he got into trouble they were not coming to bail him out. Yet it was clear that to him there was NO possibility of anything bad happening: all he could see were the possibilities of new experiences and good times to be had.
He called his mother when they were on their way home, just after they crossed back into the U.S. He told her he had "the time of his life". No fear. Just fun. And it reminded me once again of how easy it is, when you're young, to just go forward and ignore what might happen. It's not that you don't know things can go wrong, because once you have passed your teens you've had it drilled into your head by all the adults around you to "be careful", "watch out", "don't drink and drive", and "put on a jacket, you might catch cold". But you still have the ability to care more about the fun and adventure than about the possible consequences. And maybe that's not such a bad thing sometimes.
So maybe the monsters that terrify us most are not those outside of us -- those people or events or things that "might" hurt us if we let them -- but those on the inside: our own worst fears.
As Roosevelt said so many decades ago: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." I couldn't agree more. And I'm doing my best to live my life in a way where I don't allow my fears to get in the way of what I truly want.
But I still have no desire to see a real alligator. Under the bed or anywhere.