Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are You Afraid?

Really, all things considered, its best that my middle name isn't adventure.  Not living up to one's own name would be such an awful let down, after all.  For the outsider, realizing that I'm not naturally gung-ho might be a bit shocking, since I've sampled quite a wide swath of life in my 30ish years atop the twirling globe.

Despite my frustrations with and sometime disgust for, Sigmund and the Psycho(Analyst) Bunch, I think they got it right when it comes to fear. Childhood is the usual petri dish that brings forth our later inexplicable terror of unrelated items like the ocean, airplanes and inflatable boats.  Yes, I said dinghies. 

Rubber rafts, inflatable rowboat, dinghy, no matter its name, I'm not a fan.  In the early years of the 1980s, when I was still a solitary child in a world of adults, my Mama, Mema and Papa took me to the Gulf Coast for a week of surf and sand and most likely, sunburn.  With delightful intentions my Papa purchased for my amusement a small raft that could be rowed out beyond the surf zone.  Early in the visit, early in the morning, Mema, Papa and I headed out, raft in tow, to launch ourselves into the great blue yonder.

Despite being a remarkably intelligent, mechanically oriented man, my Papa seriously miscalculated the physics of getting my little 30 pound self, Mema and himself safely aboard our vessel.  I'm sure the formula is weight X distance X frequency / seaweed squared - Aqua-net.  His math may have been a tad off, or Mema had forgotten her hairspray that day, but ultimately all I got was slammed into the sandy beach by a rogue wave.  Bad enough that the red mark stung for the rest of the trip, poor Papa was so upset he took that dinghy back home and gave it to some random guy for his kids to use as a kiddie pool. I don't doubt that a part of him seriously considered dinghycide.

I developed a fear of the ocean, or more specifically whats in it, after I saw Jaws on late night satellite at a friend's house sometime around the tender age of 8. No, my mother didn't know and no, she wouldn't have been okay with that.  Late night satellite TV in the 1980s was actually a treasure trove of adult knowledge that hastened my learning along quicker than my mama realized. Maybe it still is, or maybe the high tech craze just lets little tykes download that stuff right to their very own mobile devices. Isn't progress grand?

Anyway, so there I am in 1989ish, a cemented fear of inflatables, nursing a growing obsession with sharks, and contemplating what infinity actually means.  (For the record I don't recommend that last activity, at any age, as its bound to lead to a hankering for strong drink and mournful country songs. Trust me.)  My next fear acquisition would be of my own making, persistent and frankly, the largest impediment to a normal 21st century style life. I'm talking, of course, about my fear of flying.

No doubt it comes as quite a shock to y'all that I was a tad precocious in my youth and tended to read several grade levels ahead of schedule. I pilfered anything and everything off my Mama's bookshelf, secreting them back to their spots before she could notice. One of these illicit novels, Judith Michaels maybe, featured a heroine who becomes a pilot at a young age, and I was smitten.  Flying would be my thing, my adventure, my skill. Unfortunately, I also chose that time to start reading Lewis Grizzard while visiting my summer home (Mema and Papa in Atlanta that is).

Lewis Grizzard was my very first literary hero. He was from Georgia (like me!), loved baseball (like me!) and loved to put pen to paper (totally like me!).  I tore through every book of his I could get my hands on.  All would have been fine had I simply not picked up on one of the prevailing themes of his work : flying terrified him.  The specifics he shared gave way to my own dread of the aeroplane; a dread that only became cemented as time went by without my experiencing flight.

Now, I have flown and I will continue to do so, but no amount of nerve pills have been able to stop the vapors from sneaking up on me at 37,000 feet. No, I've had to combat my terror using the one thing that's ever had the power to change my mind: the printed word. 

The more I fly, the more aeronautical info I digest.  Going zip-lining? Better check out those accident stats.  Headed out to SCUBA, sail, rock climb, spelunk, whitewater kayak, or ride the Chicago El?  My info cup runneth over. Ultimately, Google saved my life. For some ignorance is bliss, but not me. The more I know about how the airplane stays up, the less likely I live in terror of it coming down. Additional knowledge about triple and quadruple safety features on elevators just makes me willing to head up the Sears Tower. 

Eventually my fear of sharks and planes, serial killers and snakes in a toilet will all be a memory, but no way am I gettin' in that damn rubber boat again. And handily, I won't really fit in one anymore anyway.

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