Thursday, June 5, 2008

Challenging Fear

I am reminded of this blog I wrote after having read Montaigne’s “Of Practice.” As a preface to this, I have spent all summer for the past four summers swimming away issues and stress out at Lake Ouachita, the second cleanest lake in North America, swimming across and back as many times as possible without stopping. This is a first draft, never edited.

I think everyone has thoughts like these sometimes. I think this because I have to in order to stay sane. If I thought people didn't think like this, I'd think I was insane, and if I thought that I'd start to believe it and then I would be crazy and they'd lock me up.

I like things that make me feel close to death.

I'm not sure what this is about. Let's start with the fact that I have a substantial fear of heights. It's not debilitating or anything, but it does make me feel nervous, feel fear, and this problem with vertigo takes over if I get too close to the edge. So, naturally, I climb buildings. I hang out on rooftops; I go to the mountain tower; I ride roller-coasters and at the very top, while everyone's looking forward to see what comes next, I'm peering over the side at the ground below, positively ready to defecate in my britches. I think fear is the mindkiller (shout outs to those who read that and recognize) and I try to fight it at every chance I get.

And the only thing you should really be allowed to fear is death: it's the one thing you can't survive. Sure, I hate bugs - I'll kill a bug and put a cup over it and try and psych myself up to actually pick the dead thing up and throw it away but it takes days. Sometimes I think maybe my fear of bugs is the main motivator for my relationships with men - there's someone around to take care of it then. But a bug won't kill me, you see. Public performances? Oh I can't hold the paper without it shaking, can't even sign up on the open mic list without having to scout out the ladies toilet so I can hit it up seven times before they even get close to calling my name. But I'll live through it. And I do still kill bugs, and I do still perform publicly, because these things frighten me but I don't want them to control me - I want to control them.

Death, when you really break it down, isn't that scary either - not, at least, to me. I'm only twenty five, but I've been to eight countries. I'm bilingual. I've been to a couple of different higher-education-institutions. I've made friends all over the globe. I've ridden airplanes and trains and roadtripped. I've had a handful of really awesome lovers and can overlook the not-so-awesome. I really feel like if I died tomorrow, I'd have nothing to complain about. Sure, I'd have things I would have liked to have accomplished, but I honestly couldn't be sore over it. I've done more than my share already, and it's been freaking sweet.

I say all of this as preface to the thoughts I had this afternoon. I try to conquer my fears daily in my mind, and today while I was swimming, I thought about what would happen if I drowned one day. I've been swimming across this lake and back for four summers now, and I'm pretty good, so God willing it won't be an issue. But it's possible. And I think about being out there, swimming, on a Thursday afternoon when no one else is at the lake - no one on the shores, no boats - maybe one boat but far away. And I think about, as I swim across, what if... what if one of the times that water splashed in my mouth, I didn't spit it right out. What if I accidentally breathed in? What if a muscle seized up and I went under?

Well. I think a few days would pass before anyone knew. I wouldn't show up to work, but they'd chalk it up to a no-call no-show like any other job. Wouldn't worry until the second day, and who would they call? Maybe the girl I work with would call my roommate, but he wouldn't know where I'd gone. Some park ranger would come to the door of my apartment, or maybe even my father's house, who knows, knocking and asking why the car had been sitting on the side of the road for three days and somehow two and two would get put together.

And I'd be waterlogged at the bottom of the lake. I think about this while I swim and I keep swimming and keep swimming and keep swimming off the stress of the week, off the memories of travels, swim off all the past lovers, swim off everything, everything, swim off the fear. If I drowned at the bottom of Lake Ouachita, I'd say leave me there, put a stone near the shore saying Here She Dove and Did Not Rise; Here She Was Never More Happy.

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