By Dana Gornall
I have a fear of heights.
It’s not a crippling fear, like the kind where I can’t be in tall buildings or even go up in an airplane (although that in itself is another story), but my feet prefer to be as closely planted to the ground as possible.
As a kid, even the monkey bars seemed daunting.
While other children scaled them expertly, hand over hand, rung by rung, I felt drawn to the swing sets or would quietly wander off to the wooded section of the school playground in search of newly fallen leaves—the red ones were my favorite.
I’ve been called a scaredy-cat, a chicken and a wimp, and while these words would always sting and stir up feelings of frustration and sadness, nothing could get me up on those bars.
I always assumed this would change as I grew older. Grown ups weren’t afraid of anything and so I told myself that when I was an adult I would not be afraid of climbing things like monkey bars or scaling fallen logs. I would eat all of my vegetables when I became a grown up and know all the things that needed knowing and most of all I would be much braver.
What I didn’t know is that there is no magic transition that happens upon reaching adulthood. I waited for it. I turned 18 and then 20 and then 21 and then 25—all magical ages and magical numbers—and waited for change to just happen. I was always learning and experiencing and all the while there were little changes shifting.
But I was still looking for my braveness.
I looked for it when I was hiking in the low lying Blue Ridge mountains. Single file, following family members that I had recently married into, foot in front of foot, I carefully treaded the path. My eyes darted from either side of me, and once in awhile I could catch a glimpse of the rocky terrain that angled very far down and my heart jumped out of my chest. I tried to be brave, but I soon became frozen after just a short time and found a nice sturdy rock to sit on.
“You go on,” I told my husband and the family that I had recently married into, “I will just stay here and rest.” And so they did.
And I sat on my rock, looking around at the trees and the wildflowers—very content to no longer be scaling the pathway that seemed to be narrowing the more we walked along it. Maybe next time I will be braver, I thought.
I looked for it again while pregnant with my first child. I was going be a mother. Mothers are the epitome of what it means to be an adult, after all. They were responsible for a living being. They had to feed, clothe and nurture. They had to make all the right decisions and eat all of their vegetables and know all of the things.
As the time grew closer to the impending birth, I felt the familiar burn of fear circling in my belly. How could I do this? How could I bring forth a real, living baby out of me? How could I be responsible enough and strong enough? What was I thinking? I read all of the books and took all of the classes. And when the time came I set my head to the thought that I would be brave.
I would do this.
Except so many things happened that I didn’t think would happen and the pain was more unbearable than anything I had ever known. There were people in and out, and tubes all over the place and frantic looks on so many faces.
“His heart rate just keeps falling,” they told me.
And in those moments I found my hand gripping the rail of the bed and trying very hard not to cry. And I begged for them to just stop it all because I couldn’t be brave anymore. And so they did. They gave me an epidural and took me to surgery and I became a mother. Maybe next time I will be braver, I thought.
I looked for it when I began taking yoga. I felt somewhat confident at first, only to find I was weaker and less flexible than I thought I would be. My hamstrings grasped firmly to my bones—ungiving and stubborn as I tried to reach toward the floor or my feet or even my ankles. My arms gave way under the weight of my body as I tried to ease slowly down from plank position to the floor and I struggled to press myself back into cobra.
And when the instructor demonstrated a headstand and showed me the work I needed to do to prepare for going into headstand, I shook my head and scoffed. I placed my hands on the ground and pushed up into prep position, class after class. And month by month went by, and my teacher would tell me I was getting close.
“I’m not ready,” I said.
And the truth was that I wasn’t. Images filled my mind of my neck cracking into tiny slivered pieces, or my body clumsily going up and then smashing back onto the floor and I decided that a headstand was something I would not be able to do, at least for now. And so I didn’t. Maybe someday I will be a bit braver, I thought.
Except there is this nagging feeling that pokes at my insides and nudges my heart, just a little. It prickles beneath my skin, leaving me nauseated and somewhat darkened inside.
You are a scaredy-cat, it says. You are a chicken, a wimp. You are not brave—not brave at all.
I had tried to make all the right decisions (at least most of the time) and learned to eat my vegetables. I had tried to learn and know all the things.
Sitting on the cold floor of my bedroom I sat back and thought for awhile. I wondered what it would be like to be brave for just a little bit of time, at least. To scale a log, climb a tree, walk a narrowing path on a mountain or even just go up into a headstand.
The thing is that I just don’t know if I can.
Placing my forearms to the cold, wooden floor I press my body up into headstand prep. I feel that my shoulders have grown a bit stronger and my hamstrings feel just a bit looser. And my heart nudges, just a little.
Maybe, just maybe I am becoming a tiny bit braver, I think.