Wednesday, August 6, 2008
One Thing, Everyday, That Scares You
If you haven't heard the "song", you should listen to it. Originally an essay written by Mary Schmidt and published in the Chicago Tribune, it is written as though it were a commencement speech. (How many of those have we had to sit through in our lifetimes, and how many of them were actually worth the time it took to write, practice, and listen? I only vaguely remember the one my high school valedictorian gave, and that's only because I hated her so much that I was listening with the intent to criticize everything she said... there's no one you hate more than the girl who seems to have everything, is there? She was pretty and popular, talented and intelligent, and everyone wanted to be her, or wanted to be friends with her. Or they were like me, and wanted to punch her in the face... ok, so I'm not a nice person, we all knew that already. Moving on...)
I was listening to the song not all that long ago, and - as tends to be the case with bits like this - some of it spoke out to me more, or differently, than it did when I first heard the song back in 1999.
In 1999, I was newly married. I was still holding down an 8:30-5pm job at a Big Insurance Company. My husband worked at the same company, and we got together every day for lunch. We lived in a small city in western Virginia and did the laundry at my mom's house every weekend because our apartment complex's coin-op was terrible.
In 2008, I'm almost 10 years older, and probably more like 20 years wiser. In those ten years, I've lived through corporate layoffs, gotten fired for refusing to tell lies, stood up with my mother at her wedding, been in a life-changing car accident, watched the Twin Tower collapse in fire and smoke live on television, lost my last living grandparent, became a mother...
Do one thing, every day, that scares you.
Sometimes, waking up in the morning, scares me. Walking past my daughter's crib sometimes scared me... the mutant part of my brain that still wonders if some day I'll discover she died in her sleep. I'm pretty sure that's not what Ms. Schmidt had in mind... she meant... be adventurous.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
I don't think she really meant you should - on a daily basis - do something stupidly risky. Jumping out of perfectly good airplanes or take up mountain climbing on a whim, with no equipment or spotting buddy and try to scale up a cliff somewhere. She probably also didn't mean to drive too fast and cut people off just for the adrenaline rush.
I like to think she meant... take risks. Don't live as a prisoner to fear. Don't avoid something that needs to be done just because you're afraid. Tell someone you love them first, rather than waiting to be safe, after they've already said it. Make that doctor's appointment to get that lump checked out. Call your mother. Even if - especially if - you haven't spoken to her in years. Forgive an old enemy, even if they don't care anymore. Try something new, even if you think you'll fail. Especially if you think you'll fail. No one learns anything by succeeding the first time.
Yesterday, I decided to attempt a cartwheel.
I haven't turned a cartwheel in... oh, twenty years. I actually remember the very last time I did one... I was showing off my gymnastic skills to a guy I was sweet on... (In high school, I was pretty agile and could do handsprings and cartwheel off a balance beam and stuff like that...) and I forgot to tuck my shirt in before I flipped over. Or, perhaps subconsciously, I wanted to flash him a peek at my bra...
It was late summer and we had a boombox outside on a hill. Hungry Like the Wolf was playing. The lawn was green and fresh trimmed, and Allen had been blowing dandelion puffs at me. I still had little white seedpods in my hair. We were talking and joking around, and he insisted that I prove I could do a handspring. So I stood up, flipped my hair back, and did a cartwheel and two handsprings in a row before falling over and getting grass stains all over my knees.
Allen was impressed - or at least, he was faking it convincingly - and at some point later that day, he kissed me while we were sitting under a mesh of pine trees. It was one of those awkward, sweet kisses between two people who really have no idea what they're doing, but liking it anyway, the kind that tingles down from lips to navel, filling your stomach up with butterflies and sending spots of light flashing behind closed eyelids.
I haven't turned one since.
I was terrified. But I did it anyway. And for just a moment, just the tiniest second, I was that girl again...