“I breathe in, I breathe out“Better Boat”, Kenny Chesney
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
I ride the waves I can’t control
If it’s working, I don’t know
When I get done the thing may not float
But I’m learning how to build a better boat…”
Fear. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Fear was my middle name. Fear is a terrorist. Fear is the opposite of love. Fear is the Anti-Christ.
It took me most of the first 60 years to even unmask fear for the shape shifter she has been in my life. A major life change will do that to ya. Finally make you stop and question everything you believe, everything you are, everything you think, everything you always thought you were working toward. It’s been a time.
Even now, sitting here, Fear is swirling into my every thought like smoke. Fear of getting Covid. Fear of losing my job in this economy and spending my retirement years in a Frigidaire box under the Liberty Street overpass. Fear that I will never be loved again (no, not in the friend zone, that’s all good… you know, the OTHER kind). Fear that when one of the Pack O Bitches goes, it will flatten me. Fear that I’ll never be able to repair the important relationships that broke in my life, before it’s too late. Fear that it looks like I’ll be spending the upcoming holidays, and most of this winter, alone in Covid-jail without those I love most. Fear that I forgot to shut off the stove before I left home. Fear that I’ll land in hospital some day, on a day that I forgot to shave my legs and wore the ugly bra. Fear that my damn car will die before I can trade it in; and that it will likely happen in the dark in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and somehow I’ll be driving in my underwear without my CAA card. Yes, Fear has made me her bitch. And I don’t like it.
“Take another shot of courage,“Tequila Sunrise”, The Eagles
Wonder why the right words never come
You just get numb”
I know the right thing to do. I know I ought to stare her black side down and send her packing with logic and reason when she is the Bad Witch. I know that all life decisions are made from one of two places… fear or love. I want to be in the latter camp. Because I also know that decisions born of fear are almost always untrue to our life goals and what’s best for us.
Hell, even my maternal Gramma came through and told my sweet Mama to step aside in my most recent medium session to shout at me “Girlie. You listen to me. This is your last warning, you need to step into the light. Every time we see you, you’re in the dark”. Lemme tell ya, you don’t mess with Nana Sylvie when she says shit is gettin’ real. She is a God-fearing, tobacco farmin’ badass who lived to 102 by being smart, living right, facing life head on and never failing to speak her mind.
“Yes, M’am” I said through tears, “But how? Please, show me”.
(And then, I realized that only I could be having an existential debate about life and the afterlife with my departed Nana on a Thursday evening…).
Aside from all that though, I really am working on this. I realize that sometimes, a little fear is a good thing, because it means you’re pushing your limits. Those times when I felt so afraid I thought I’d toss my cookies, but had to speak my truth anyway…that was ME owning Fear, not the other way around. The day I signed the financing agreement that left me a single 60 year old woman owning a cottage on my own….that was scary AF (but champagne helped). Yeah, I was scared but did it anyway. The day I bought a damn foolish vintage yellow boat because it was named for one of my favourite Eagles songs, and then had to figure out how to run an outboard, not to mention trailer it home (drenched in sweat with a steering wheel- death grip all the way to Orono, assured that some flame-filled disaster was imminent that would make me the top story on CP24)… yeah, that was me owning Fear. Going on my first “first date” in 40 years and surviving… yeah, I did that. So uh huh, much as I hate to admit it, sometimes that back-stabbing bitch Fear can be a friend.
That little boat has scared the crap out of me many times since. Figuring out how to trim her right on my own (much to the amusement of my cottage neighbours sipping cocktails on shore), negotiating her nether-region’s major pricey facelift, getting her on a trailer in a monsoon on my own. But she has also made my granddaughter squeal in delight and borne me to beautiful beaches. Shown me sunsets and fireworks displays from a whole new vantage point. Shown me that sometimes on the Friday night of a long-ass clusterf*** of a week that the best damned thing is speed and wind in your hair.
But, let’s not lose sight that Fear can also be the enemy. The one that keeps me from embracing, instead of dreading, a change that might just change my life in a GOOD way in the end. The one that makes me dwell on what I am leaving behind, instead of focusing on what I am walking into. The one that keeps me silent instead of reaching out to someone that I want to rebuild a relationship with, for Fear of rejection. The one that makes me anxious about taking the crazy opportunity that might just re-chart my life course and re-direct me to my unspoken dreams. The one that keeps whispering in my ear that I can’t, I won’t, I’ll suck, I’m not good enough, that all change is bad, that I just better not take ANY more damn chances because “you’ll fail, ya damn fool”.
So here I am. Letting Fear push me forward, reluctantly. But also sometimes letting her hold me back, dammit. But every day, I am learning to evaluate whether Fear is being my friend or my enemy. My frenemy. Remembering all the crazy-assed things that my parents and my Nana faced down and beat back. Those genes, they are in me too. Figuring out when to let Fear fuel me to my next exciting adventure, and when to slam the door on that bitch, stop listening to her bullshit and carry on without her.
I have found the most peace and direction in this journey from an old Cherokee story about the two wolves within us. The popular paraphrasing of this is that the wolf you feed will be the one who wins. But in reality, the story really ends this way:
“If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:
“You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and will always fight the white wolf.”
“But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities — tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking – that I have need of at times. These are the very things the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.”
“You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life.”
“Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowledge that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance.”
“Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.”
“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”“The Fight of Two Wolves Within You” , https://deanyeong.com/fight-two-wolves-inside/
Indeed, learning how to ride the waves I can’t control, knowing I WILL come out the other side if I just let things pan out as they will, the ones that are outside my scope of management… and at the same time, learning to own the things I can and use them to steer myself past her stormy temper tantrums.
Me and Tequila Sunrise – we got this. Sometimes it might take us a few tries, but we’ll get there right side up and on plane eventually.
May you all also find your better boat, to sail you over the rough seas to a beautiful sunset.
And PS…always check the stove before you lock the door, and remember to put on pants.
I’m a 64 year old aging hippie with a sarcastic tongue and out of control ginger hair. I am passionate in advocating for women “of a certain age”, especially we single ones, because we aren’t quite dead yet, in spite of the fact that we are often largely invisible and made to feel redundant on many levels. I hope to make you think, make you laugh, and mostly, feel like no matter where you are in life, you are never alone, and whatever dumb thing you think is going to sink you, won’t. Because heaven knows if that were true, I wouldn’t be here.