Marguerite Duras wrote in her novel that “the art of seeing has to be learned.” That’s true for bravery, too.
This is my year of leaning in or rather it’s my life of leaning in, of going right at the things that I’m most afraid of.
I grew up in a house where fear was a normal state of being. My mom was afraid of everything, closed spaces, open spaces, heights, deep water, birds, spiders, dead animals, driving over a bridge, driving into a city, even cats eventually became terrifying to her. Jump scares happened daily and would be caused just by me walking into a room.
My older brother and sister inherited her fears. My sister was afraid of grass when she was little. She got over that, thankfully, but she’s still afraid of a lot. My brother is too. Birds make them nervous, heights, closed in spaces, so many things.
“You are not like me,” Mom said once when I was in fifth grade after jumping off the roof of our garage. “Or like the rest of us. You’re brave.”
I thought that maybe fear was a part of our DNA, our family. I thought it might be some kind of inherited disease that I could avoid by being fierce.
But I had it too. The fear. I just hid it better, fought it. At slumber parties when there would be some creaking radiator that all the fourth-grade girls would be 100 % sure was either a possessed clown doll with an axe or a possessed clown human with a machete and I would grab the closest weapon (usually a flashlight) and yell, “Come on! We have to face our fears!” We’d all grab hands and I’d march them off towards the source of the sound. We’d hold hands for so long. We’d be praying. We’d be shaking. But we always moved forward, holding each other up as we walked towards our terrors. We never met any possessed things.
“You’re so brave,” my friends would say because I was always the one in front, the one who’d be first to die via possessed clown doll, I guess. “So brave.”
I’m not. It’s just that we live, if we are to live at all, in a world full of noises, and fears, and possibilities for harm, violence, pain. “I don’t know what this world is coming to,” a man said to me recently in the grocery store parking lot, “but I mourn for us.”
He reminded me of my dad, plumber’s smile pants, kind smile and eyes full of worry. Cracked skin on his fingers from hard work and cold, dry air.
I live in on a large island in Maine. In the winter, our tourist community loses most of its people and color. Wind sweeps through winter-boarded restaurants. People meet up at the grocery store. People start going to our grocery store every day just to see other people. The world is white and gray and brown. The only color is the sky and an occasional scarf. Even the most of the people dress in navy blue, white, black, and gray.
And this is when I always feel the most scared, the most trapped, when the sun is a distant memory and warmth has been swept away on currents to much warmer places where the lights stream down. Every world event, every life event, every choice feels more dangerous and I feel more vulnerable, less tethered to bravery.
We all have times in our lives when fear gets the best of us, when we don’t know what’s going on in ourselves or in our world. Our thinking becomes catastrophic and everyone is suddenly an expert in the Book of Revelations and apocalypse horsemen.
That’s no way to live. Not even in winter in 2020.
My mother never had the life she wanted, never visited England, never explored the world and became a teacher, never swam with manatees or dolphins, because she was too afraid. When the events of our lives and the world combine to feel catastrophic, we don’t know if there is a design to it or chaos, but we can know what our reaction is to it. We can lean into the fear and hold up signs saying THE END OF THE WORLD IS COMING or we can lean the other way, towards courage and possibility. We can hold up signs saying, HOW DO WE MAKE THIS WORLD BETTER? Yes, even if there is only a day or two left of this world, we can still try to make our lives and the lives of others better.
We can breathe in, take a look, and ask ourselves, “What is happening here?” We can react out of courage, hold each other’s hands and investigate the noises.
Looking into the darkness and illuminating it, looking into the light where the ugly truths are illuminated? Both can be terrifying. But to move forward, to evolve as people, or society or as a species, that’s exactly what we have to do. We have to face the truths illuminated, the darkness of our fears. We have to hold hands and face our fears, lean into them, and see not just what they are, but what they reflect about us. Call attention to what we fear, what we see, what we do, because that is the only true way to fight the things that have to be fought.
Face your fears.
All day, every day.
Bravery like seeing — truly seeing the world — has to be practiced. You stagger a bit in the beginning, but then your own bravery can shock you, becoming a total surprise. And instead of seeking to have it, you’ve just become it. Brave.
Originally published at https://carriejonesbooks.blog on January 13, 2020.