Swimming Lessons – Part I

When I was a child, beginning at a very early age, I was enrolled, each and every summer in “Red Cross certified” swimming lessons. My mother was adamant about it, I remember well. I grew up in Napa, north of San Francisco forty or so miles. Perched on the northern most edge of the bay, summer mornings here are usually cold, gray, foggy and overcast. Did I mention cold? About noon, the sun manages to burn through the fog and it actually feels like summer should. I’ve been colder on summer mornings here than I have on winter nights on the east coast, or even the farthest northern reaches of Alaska. It’s a damp, penetrating cold, and there I was, a tiny, skinny, child, in a swim suit, tossed into a pool that couldn’t be heated enough to dispel the chill. Summer after summer, year after year, I learned to swim. I learned to float, I learned to kick, I learned to use my arms effectively. Most importantly, I learned to breathe.

Scarlette Begonia

And I swam. There was a neighborhood pool up the street. The adults on our block all pooled their money, no pun intended, and bought the lot up by the dead end. They formed an association, obtained financing, and built a fabulous pool, complete with a springy diving board. They sold memberships with a nominal monthly fee which paid off the loan, covered operation, maintenance and even provided for a lifeguard all summer long. The lifeguard taught swimming lessons in the morning, and kept us all supervised and out of our parents’ hair each and every afternoon. I swam. I swam every day, every summer.

With all those lessons, and all the swimming I did every summer, when I got to middle school and swimming was a P.E. class activity, I excelled. There were a few P.E. teachers at my middle school, Miss Harlow was my favorite, I thought she looked like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, but more than that, Miss Harlow was always especially nice to me, she knew my name and encouraged me to learn gymnastics, modern dance and to run hurdles on the track. The other P.E. teachers didn’t even know I existed.

It was in the eighth grade that Qwen arrived, an immigrant from Vietnam. I remember my home room teacher wanted me to sit with Qwen and, I guess, tutor her, that she may learn English and History more quickly. I had no idea how to make that happen! Qwen was in my French class, too, and, again, I was put on task to help Qwen. So, when Miss Harlow asked me to teach Qwen to swim, I wasn’t too shocked, and, more than English, History, and French, I felt like I could actually teach her something! I taught Qwen to float, to kick, to use her arms effectively, and, most importantly, to breathe. The school pool was slightly deeper at one end than the other. We worked in the shallower end for a few days, Qwen was short, I was short and super skinny, the shallow end was appropriate, we could touch the bottom comfortably flat-footed. I remember that our goal was for Qwen to be able to swim across the width of the pool, then the length of the pool, meaning we’d have to traverse the deeper water, where neither of us would be able to touch the bottom of the pool with our tippy toes. Within a week or so, Qwen was swimming across the width of the pool in the shallower end quite confidently. Miss Harlow really wanted to see her progress to swimming the length of the pool. I remember taking Qwen to the deeper end of the pool and trying to explain to her that she didn’t have to do anything different, just swim, just like in the shallow end. We slid into the water and hung onto the ledge. We both set off across the pool, in the deep end. I swam next to Qwen, it just seemed the thing to do. We got about a quarter of the way across, well out of grasp of the ledge. Qwen stopped, for some reason, Qwen stopped. She tried to find the bottom of the pool with her foot and couldn’t. She went under, then flailed wildly, her outstretched hand landed on my shoulder and in a moment, she was climbing on me, trying to get out of the water. I couldn’t touch the bottom, and though short, Qwen was larger and stronger than me. I’d had “junior lifesaving”, I knew you were never to jump in to save a drowning person because they’d pull you under trying to get to the surface. But, here I was. The pool was crowded with other kids, and I don’t think our plight was evident to anyone who mattered. All I could think to do was to flip over on my back and float and hope Qwen would calm down enough to do the same. Still she flailed and pushed me under, trying to stay on the surface. What I ended up doing, was bouncing, going under, hitting the bottom of the pool, and pushing off up and towards the ledge. After what seemed an impossible period of time, I managed to get us both within reach of the ledge.

We all feel like we’re drowning, at some point in our lives. Some of us more frequently than others. Some of us actually do, the waves of life crash into us until we can no longer hold our head above the water, and we slip under. This can manifest in health, both physical and emotional, it can impact all facets of our lives; family, career, friendships, relationships, longevity and quality of life.

If we can apply to life the basics we learn in swimming lessons, we stand a much better chance of floating right through the unavoidable challenges we face. The basics:

  1. Get in the water.
  2. Stay calm. Don’t be afraid. Don’t panic.
  3. Float.
  4. Kick and paddle.
  5. Build confidence.
  6. Breathe.
  7. Be aware. Have respect.

You absolutely cannot learn how to swim until you get in the water. Life is no different. You absolutely cannot learn how to live until you get out there and experience life. Jump in, don’t sit on the edge in fear and watch everyone else from the safety of the shore. Life, like swimming is far more enjoyable for the participants than for the spectators. Life is not a spectator sport, get off the lounge chair and get in the water!

As with most experiences in life, especially new ones, fear can be debilitating. Fear limits us. Like learning to swim in deep water, where you cannot touch the bottom of the pool, life has its risks, uncertainties and perils. Often in life we don’t feel like we can “touch the bottom”, and here, as in swimming, remaining calm is absolutely imperative. Qwen had the skills to swim in the deeper water, but because she panicked, she lost confidence and became fearful.

Learning to float is probably the most important lesson for a beginning swimmer. When you discover you can’t touch the bottom of the pool, when you grow too tired to tread water or kick and paddle, knowing you can float on your back, calmly, atop the water, is a great comfort. I remember the lifeguard who taught me my very first swimming lessons telling me, as I attempted to swim clear across the pool, “if you get tired, flip over on your back and float”. In life, when things get overwhelming, you can take a break and just float for a few moments, until you regain some strength, some energy, some clarity, and continue. For some of us, this may just mean a quiet night at home, a good night’s sleep, meditation, exercise, listening to soothing music, or spending time with friends and family. Whatever it is we do to stop kicking and paddling, to stop treading water, we must do when the time calls for it.

To get anywhere in the water you’ve got to kick and paddle. In a large body of water there may be a current that carries you for a ways, but at some point, the current will cease, or will take you in a direction you do not wish to go. In a pool, without kicking and paddling, you just bob. Or you sink. Life, like swimming, requires forward motion, propulsion, effort, if we are to make any progress.

From the very first swim lesson until the day we master every stroke, we build confidence. Without confidence, in swimming, fear sets in, we either fail to try new strokes, new skills, out of fear, or we panic and try to find a way out of the water. Life, living life, necessitates confidence. It is confidence we rely on when we face a new day, get out of bed, leave the house, and all the very basic things we do. It, too, is confidence we require to learn, to grow, to achieve, and to prosper. Confidence is gained through experience, both in swimming and in life. Confidence is gained in overcoming fear, in calmly pressing on, and with more confidence gained with each lesson, with each new experience, we become masters.

Breathe. In swimming, in most sports, as in life, breathing is critical. How often do we see folks in the water, paddling and kicking, with their face out of the water? Sure, they are making progress, slowly, but it’s the swimmer who breathes rhythmically with his strokes that covers great distances with efficiency and grace. By breathing, in life, I’m not referring to the involuntary inhalations we make that sustain us physically. I’m talking about the deliberate practice of breathing, deeply, rhythmically, calming the mind and awakening the heart. Whether you call this meditation, or practice this walking, standing, sitting, lying down, or during physical exertion, breathing is probably the most basic and beneficial life skill we can adopt.

Swimming, like many active pursuits, requires awareness and respect. Water is dangerous, awareness and respect are necessary. Swimmers need to be aware and respectful of the water itself, the depth, the temperature, the current. Swimmers need to be aware and respectful of their abilities, of the dangers, and of the consequences. In life, too, we have to be aware and respectful of ourselves, of others in our lives, of those around us. We need to be aware and respectful of our surroundings, our physical being, even of the thoughts that cross our mind. Everything influences our well-being, whether it is external or internal. Bringing awareness to all that influences us and building respect for ourselves is second only to breathing.

With swimming lessons we learn to swim, but there really isn’t a “Red Cross certified” series of life lessons we can enroll in. Much of life is by trial and error, by observation, by following examples, or advice, or muddling through and just trying to figure it all out on our own. Like swimming, or other things we are taught, by breaking our activities down, thoughtfully, into “lessons”, or skills, we can achieve the same level of success. So, go on, get in the water, don’t be afraid, don’t panic, kick and paddle, float when you need to, build confidence, and most importantly, breathe, be aware and have respect. Whether you’re in the shallow part of the pool or swimming in the surf, the skills you master from these very basic lessons will ensure your safety and survival. So, too, in life. Dive in.

Scared to Death of Death and the Dying

I had to have a physical, for work, something about that whole healthcare thing. I usually have a good, thorough physical and all the “girl stuff” every year. But I haven’t, in like, a couple, maybe a few years. I’ve had a “quickie” to satisfy the requirement to participate as an “older” adult leader for a Boy Scouting backpacking adventure a year or two ago, but no “girl stuff.” So. It was time.

The blood work was all good; a high overall cholesterol but only because my “good”, or protective, cholesterol was off the charts. But I still get grief from Mom about butter, eggs, that one piece of bacon I have on Sunday and the single bowl of ice cream I eat once a week. And when I answered the “fill in the bubble” survey for work, after inputting my total cholesterol number, I’m now getting some “Heart Insight” email about every 43 minutes in my email inbox. I had my mammogram last week. I still have another lovely, fun-filled, screening to schedule, the joy of turning fifty

So I get a call from a number I don’t recognize this morning, and then a voicemail. I listen to the voicemail and it’s my doctor, he asks me to call him back regarding some results. Now, I have my doctor’s number in my contacts, so it should have identified him, but the call came from some city in Washington. It was the same number with a Washington area code. I’m guessing that it has to do with the phone system the healthcare group uses and outgoing calls are rerouted in some manner for some reason that I’m sure no one can explain. If I’d known it was him, I’d certainly have picked up the phone. When I call back three seconds later, the doctor isn’t available. I sit around most of the day staring at my phone, which, of course, never rings. I have things to do, errands to run, shopping to do, hair to cut. I’m sitting in the parking lot of the hair salon and I just know once I am in the chair and cannot answer the phone, it will ring. I called the doctor’s office again, left another message, tried to explain that I was returning the doctor’s call, that he’d requested I call. He was with a patient, still, and I was told he’d call. My hair is all cut, I am home, four hours later and well after office hours, no call. So, if I die it’s because of convoluted phone systems and faulty voicemail.

I know. I’m being dramatic. But death has been on my mind a lot lately.

On my mind because it seems I’ve been sort of surrounded by death, the dying and devastating diagnoses recently and for the past few years, yes, those same past few years that I’ve managed NOT to have a real physical. I don’t dwell on it, it is part of life, but, perhaps because of my age, the age of my parents and my peers, there does seem to be quite a bit more of it all to deal with theses days. As I’ve always said, and firmly believe, I am not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. This is very true, those are my solid beliefs. Perhaps rephrased slightly. I’m not afraid of death, of being dead, I’m afraid of not being able to live life to its fullest. I am absolutely, positively petrified, to death even, of a long, slow, agonizing death and prolonged medical treatments, procedures and prescriptions. I saw my dad do this dance for decades. I see friends and acquaintances going through the same thing. I gallantly think I’ll just deny that kind of intervention, but it is so hard to tell how you’ll actually react until you are standing at the precipice.

I have a pact, a pinky swear and an oath with my kids, when I am too old/sick/tired to live the life I want, if I am ever dependent on a million pills to make it through a day, it is time to go snow camping. I am cold weather survival certified, courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America. Because of the training I’ve endured and the proficiency I’ve demonstrated, I am qualified to take other peoples’ kids out into the cold for prolonged periods of time because they know, with a fair amount of certainty, that I will return them a) alive, b) with all of their appendages and c) with no frostbite on any of those appendages. And d) with lots of REI dividend points! One thing I learned is that hypothermia is not a bad way to go. You are cold and uncomfortable for a while, you get a bit woozy, eventually, and feel all warm and comfy, then you kind of go to sleep and die. So, we’re going snow camping at some point in time, assuming I don’t have a faulty parachute or a bad whitewater kayaking day or a cataclysmic mountain biking fall or only a foot caught in a stirrup of a saddle strapped to a really fast horse at a full gallop up a mountain trail, the rest of me bouncing along the boulders along the path. If none of that happens between now and “then”, we’re going snow camping. I’ll just sort of forget to pack my down sleeping bag and appropriate clothing for the night. I’ll leave the tent flap a little bit open and, well, I described the rest above.

I know we must all, eventually, die. Of something. But I can’t imagine the horror of hearing those words, “you have cancer”. Or, worse, “you have cancer and we can’t treat it.” I have many friends and acquaintances with cancer right now or who are “recovered” recently. I have friends who have untreatable cancer. I have always struggled a bit with how to react and what to say to those who are facing death. I remember back in college, a young man I’d gone to school with since grade school was diagnosed with an “inoperable” brain tumor. They removed what they could and sentenced him to death. All I knew was that this fine, young man, one of the nicest guys I ever knew, was going to die. I took it hard, though we weren’t all that close. I’ve never handled the death of the young well. I still cry over the teens I went to school with who died in car crashes, even those I wasn’t all that close to. A couple of weeks after hearing about the young man and his brain tumor, I ran into him, literally, at a local bar. His head was shaved and he wore a fedora style hat to disguise it. I remember freezing in my tracks, mouth likely agape, for what seemed an eternity, before I was able to greet him. I managed a hello and moved quickly on. To this day, I regret my inability to stay and talk longer, my inability to know what to say, or do. I was such a putz. Am such a putz. Thirty some years and probably as many surgeries later, he is still alive. I have not seen him since, but think of him often. I like to think I have matured enough to embrace him and speak with him at length, if ever given the chance.

My friend who is dying of cancer, brain cancer, I have not seen in probably, nearly, thirty years. She is a uniquely strong, brave and courageous woman. In the face of her terminal illness, and other unimaginable adversities in her life, she reaches out to others with cancer and provides them with information and techniques for seeking out and acquiring appropriate care and treatment to prolong life if not cure the cancer. She hopes to live longer than her doctors tell her she will so she can inspire others to find the courage to face their illness, at all. A couple of weeks ago, a group of friends all got together and had lunch with her. I didn’t know about it or I’d have gone. I was told that it was a day of enlightenment and joy, in spite of what lies ahead, imminently. It was decided that another lunch will be held later this month, and monthly thereafter, until, well, yah. Until. I was invited to attend the next one and will, indeed, go. And I will find within myself the strength to overcome my own weakness and shortcomings, to show my support and compassion, which, like tears, I have no lack of.

There is one minor obstacle, now, though. My dear friend who is hosting the lunch just lost her older sister a couple of days ago. As an only child, I always looked up to my close friends’ siblings, sort of wishing they were my own. And so, though not close, and not near for many years, this is a loss that I feel, perhaps more than I should. It was unexpected in spite of many years of struggles and related health problems. I really didn’t expect this news. And, in the midst of gathering the courage to have lunch with a dying friend, I now have to further gather courage to comfort another.

I am bad. It is my weakness. Death and the dying. I certainly lack no compassion, in fact, I have too much. I feel very deeply and I overreact. This is the basis of my fear; not knowing how to act, what to say, and likely overreacting. I once wrote about how I cried more, once, at a funeral than the widow herself. A few weeks ago, the neighbor across the street was at the brink of death, a long, lost battle with cancer. She was in hospice at home, just waiting. I was never particularly close to her, they moved in about the time I moved away. But she has been dear to my parents, even while ill, for which I am forever grateful. My mom wanted to take her a cantaloupe she bought on sale, because the sick woman loved cantaloupe. Mom wanted me to go with her. I so did not want to go. Like a spoiled little child, I didn’t want to go. But, I did, without expressing my resistance, like a good girl. We knocked on the door and waited on the porch step. Just when it seemed no one would answer, to my relief, and we could just ditch the melon on the step and run, the door opened. We were invited in. We chatted for a full twenty minutes, in the living room, on the couch, with the husband, the daughter, the grandson. Twenty minutes passed before I noticed the hospital bed not twenty feet from us, in the dining room, with a skeletal figure sleeping.  I don’t hide my expressions well, so I really pray no one saw my face when I made that realization. At one point, the frail patient awoke, recognized us from across the room, smiled, exclaimed, “Oh!”, waved and tried to sit up to speak. Before this feat was accomplished she fell back asleep. There was joy in her face when she saw us and suddenly, I was grateful I’d come and I cursed the petulant child inside me that resisted. She died shortly after we left that afternoon. I don’t think she had any of the cantaloupe. I cried at her funeral, too. I hardly knew her.

My weakness, then are my feelings of overwhelming sorrow and grief, sometimes even before they are appropriate. At the first diagnosis of a friend or acquaintance, I am grieving, and it is hard for me to hide it, to be strong for their benefit. I am afraid for my own weakness, that I will be too emotional. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, and as I often quote, we must do something everyday that scares us. My challenge, then, is to overcome my fear of my weakness, my display of emotion, or to just be who I am, over emotional and still, just be there to support and comfort.

I did recently spend some time with a friend who is struggling with an inoperable tumor that resulted from metastatic cancer that originated elsewhere. It has been one tough diagnosis after another. At this point, thankfully, it has stopped, and a lifelong regime of a “new” pill-form chemotherapy promises, at the very least, hope for more time and at most, like the rest of us, to live until she dies. And for the time we spent together that weekend, with other friends, while there was discussion of the facts and the reality, there was only optimism and peace and I maintained calm, cool and collected over my own emotions. There is hope. For both of us, that she will lead a long, happy, productive and cancer free life, and that I can overcome my fear of overreaction to the facts of life, and that, for all of us, is that it will end. Some of us just sooner than others.

And, really, what is the tragedy? If religious, we believe, after judgment, that we will spend eternity in some utopian Club Med in the sky. And for those not so convinced, then we just aren’t anymore. Neither sounds like such a bad deal. I think the mourning, on my part, is more for those left behind to deal with the loss and the emptiness. I know for the funeral where I cried more than the widow it was because of the young son left without his terrific dad, a father who’d been sick and suffering with leukemia since before the child’s birth. A father, though so ill, still coached Little League. That’s the shit that makes me cry.

At every age we are likely to know someone dying or someone who has endured a loss, as we age, more and more so. If we aren’t comfortable with it, we’d better get comfortable with it. Death and dying is a fact of life. It is inevitable. This is my personal call to action. If we fear our reactions may be inappropriate or awkward, think through what we’ll say first, have a repertoire of appropriate responses to choose from. Those who are ill or who are dying, and those left behind after the loss of a loved one, will appreciate and remember our company, our visit, our intentions more than the exact words we say or whether we shed one tear too many. We can’t avoid them out of fear or discomfort because we will regret, absolutely, having not spent that time with them. And, if ever we are dying or have suffered a loss, maybe only then, will we more clearly understand the value of those visits, those words, those intentions, however awkwardly worded or delivered. Lest not wait for that clearer understanding

If death is the last enemy and we aren’t afraid of death itself, and we know that, even if we suffer inappropriate tears at loss, our companionship and support is still greatly appreciated, then all that is really left is our petty fear. As F.D.R. so memorably proclaimed, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Eleanor, on the other hand, suggests we just look fear in the face and get over it.

Prepare to Die

Prepare to Die – this is a phrase you might hear in an action movie or an old western. So, what could you do? Run, fight, or submit.

I’ve got really bad news for you. You’re going to die. While true for all of us, when the doctor tells us those words and there is some immediacy associated with them, what do you do? Curl up in a corner, huddled under a blanket and wait for the grim reaper? Or grab a friend and start crossing off those things from your bucket list?

Guess what? You’re going to die. I don’t know when, you don’t know when, but you are. What are you doing about it? Run, fight, or submit.

I know people who have been preparing to die practically since birth. I remember in my thirties, working with a woman a few years younger than me, she was probably in her late twenties. We were talking about snowboarding and she said “oh, I”m too old to snowboard”. Huh? There’s an age limit? I was just learning to snowboard at the time, was I breaking some rule? The good news is, her whole attitude has changed and she is now, twenty years later, an avid scuba diver. And I haven’t tried THAT yet!

My point is; are your preparing to die or are you crossing things off your bucket list?

I was on the phone with my significant other last night, I was talking about the Insanity workout I’d done earlier in the day. He said “you’re not twenty two anymore, don’t overdo, don’t hurt yourself”. Oh, but he loves my strength, stamina and agility. I smiled, knowingly, and just let that comment slide. I feel twenty two. I feel better than I did at twenty two. As a matter of fact, on Facebook yesterday, Shawn T (of Insanity) talked about visiting Charlotte University and working with a bunch of young people, hoping he’d inspired them to adopt healthy habits for life. Then he posed a question, “are you more or less fit now than you were then?” For me? Pretty darned close. Yes!

I’m turing fifty in a few months. Many of my peers are acting way beyond their years, tottering around the grocery store. I just moved back to my home town, and as I walk through Target and Whole Foods, I feel like I’m peering into every face, “do I know you?” It’s kind of confusing. Some of us are young and spry, others, old and decrepit. Some of us are embracing life, squeezing every moment out of it, others are huddling under a blanket, waiting to die.

My grandfather lived to be over 100. Fifty is only half way there. I’m not even half way there, yet. I don’t need fifty whole years to get ready to die. I got me a whole bunch of living to do. Anyway, at 100, Grandpa lived alone in his house, my grandmother had passed some years before. He fixed his own meals, often bacon and eggs for breakfast. He mowed his own lawn. With a push mower, the non-motorized kind. At noon, he’d walk several blocks to the convalescent hospital to have lunch, not with his friends, for they had all passed. He had lunch with his friends’ children. That is so going to be me! At 100, I’m hoping to jog over to the convalescent home, and after preparing lunch of salmon, quinoa and kale for my friends’ kids, I’m going to teach a Zumba class to the residents. Watch me.

How do you go up the stairs? Many of my peers, at the tender age of fifty, grasp the railing and laboriously pull themselves up, grunting and groaning like it’s going to kill them. When was the last time you ran up the stairs two at a time? That’s my preferred method, as long as no one is in my way, panting and pulling themselves along, in which case, I just politely wait at the bottom of the staircase until the path is clear and bound up the stairs. Obnoxious. I know. But it feels good!

Remember as kids? If you were in a hurry, and sometimes even if you weren’t, you ran everywhere. When was the last time you ran anywhere because you were in a hurry, or because it just felt like the thing to do?

When was the last time you balanced on a curb in a parking lot like a balance beam in the gym? I do that all the time. It’s fun. Don’t judge. I’m the weirdo who runs from the parking lot to the store even though I’m not in a hurry, smiling, balancing on the curbs with my grocery bags on my way back out to the car and bounding up the stairs two at a time at every opportunity. Meanwhile, many of my peers are cruising the parking lot for the closest parking spot to the store door and looking for the elevator once inside.

I have long said, I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. And so, I choose to live life to its absolute fullest at every opportunity. I am constantly looking for ways to improve myself, mentally, physically, intellectually, spiritually, so I can get the most out of every moment in life. This is a conquest, something I am driven to do and need like breath. Is there anything in your life that you are so passionate about? Passion is the essence of life. Without passion, we just exist. Without passion for life, we are just waiting to die.

Time is short, my friends. As I am perched at the top of this mountain, nearly fifty years behind me, and, God willing, at least another fifty before me, there is an interesting paradox. I can look back over the last fifty years and think, “wow, an eternity”, then with like the flick of a switch I think, “wow, that was quick”. I know as we age, time moves at what seems a faster rate. This terrifies me. I haven’t the time to be concerned with what people think of me as I bound up the stairs, run across the parking lot, balance on a curb, jump out of an airplane, board down a mountain, ride a galloping horse through a field, a mountain bike down a grade, a kayak through whitewater. I am doing what I know how to do and what I crave, I’m living. I am preparing to die by living life to its absolute fullest, every moment of every day, and with passion. Because when I do cross that magic threshold in the sky, I want to be satisfied with what I’ve done. I want to be nourished with my accomplishments, and I am hoping that through all of it, I am able to inspire others to live well and do well. With passion.

I am nowhere ready to throw in the towel. In fifty years I’m pretty sure you’re going to have to catch me and try to wrestle that towel out of my hand. And I may still win.

Fear This

Go on, what are you afraid of? I mean that, go on. Is fear preventing you from “going on”, going on with new experiences, going on with new adventures, going on with new relationships, going on with life? Is fear crippling you from learning, growing, accomplishing and experiencing life to it’s fullest?

Fear of failure is probably the biggest, personal fear most of us face. And the stupidest. We must fail occasionally, in order to learn. How many times did you fail while learning to ride a bike? Every time you fell off your bike was a failure. And yet you stuck with it, learned the nuances of balancing and keeping up your momentum and you succeeded. That success required those failures as a mechanism of learning. The worst failure, though, would be never learning to ride a bike for fear of falling off.

In failing to face your fear of failure, you are, in fact, failing.

Where does fear stem from? As I see it, there are two sources for fear, both equally devastating. Self-preservation. And ignorance. If we look at common fears we all tend to possess, perhaps we can begin to identify it’s grasp on our lives and take steps to remedy fear’s grip on us.

An example. When we are in a relationship, one of our biggest fears is being unable to preserve the relationship. We fear the end of the relationship. We fear change in the relationship. Fear of “being dumped” can, in fact, destroy a relationship. Dwelling on the possibility, the fear, of being left affects your attitude and your actions. This, of course, can impact the health and longevity of the relationship. So much so, that you are much more likely to be dumped as a result of acting out over your fear of being dumped. Think of the insecurities that build when you dwell on the possibility of being dumped. Those insecurities change your attitude, your perception of what is happening with the relationship. Often you act out on false suspicions, develop unrealistic expectations, and set yourself up for disappointment when those unrealistic expectations aren’t met. Be grateful for and fully enjoy every day you are together as though it were a gift. It is. This fosters an environment of gratitude and appreciation which is conducive to a lasting relationship. Learn to identify and then banish fear from your relationships.

I encounter a lot of people who marvel at my bravery for traveling, usually alone, to cities around the nation, for work. They usually cite something they’ve heard on the news that justifies their trepidation. Crime, bedbugs, the flu, the aftermath of a hurricane, gangs, the homeless, food poisoning, identity theft. Keep in mind that media news sensationalizes everything as a means to their survival. The media news is a business, and they rely on you to watch regularly. They secure your loyalty by feeding your fears. It really isn’t that bad out there. The media intentionally breeds fear, be cognizant of that. Consider this; network news is vying for your attention, for your business. The networks are in competition with one another. It is all about selling advertising during their time slot, revenue validates them, ensures their survival. You are the consumer, you can choose to buy their news, or not. By making you fearful, you are more likely to return to their high dollar advertising time slot to view all the sensational things that are happening everywhere. I’m not suggesting avoiding the news, to be ignorant and uninformed. I do recommend alternative sources for the news, if not solely, then in conjunction with what you see on TV, as corroborative evidence. Remember what sells on TV; violence, scandal, betrayal, conspiracy, uncertainty. These are the themes, the topics, that are considered in “newsworthiness” because they will generate a great deal of emotion in the consumer (viewer), which increases the likelihood of building an audience of routine consumers (viewers). We look to the media as our savior, keeping us from evil, warning us of danger, protecting us from harm – real, imagined or sensationalized. The result, a fearful audience, captive in their homes, staring in disbelief at “the news”.

While we’re on the topic of television, let’s discuss programming. How many crime drama shows are there on the air now? How many different flavors of CSI are there? CSI; coming to a town near you! Every geographic region has their own CSI series, it seems. There a number of crime “reality” shows, now, too, crime that seems more real than regular programming. Folks, it’s all entertainment. Crime happens, but certainly not to the extent or frequency that the entertainment industry leads you to believe. We watch television crime shows so much, again, based on advertising dollars, we have created a demand for more and more crime shows. What impact must this have on the average viewer; hours and hours each week, watching the dramatic portrayal of heinous crimes. Even if only flipping through channels, we will only see crime shows, news, or, thankfully, sports, and occasionally, American Idol.

Based on our media conditioning, we have become fearful of people, of society, because there seems to be so many bad people out there. Statistically speaking, there are very few really bad people, per capita. A lot of violent crime, again, statistically, happens in the home and is perpetrated by someone you know and trust. Are you fearful of your family? Your friends? Of course not! So you have even less reason to be afraid of people out in society because, statistically, they are less likely to harm you. But I don’t want to breed fear, again, I just want to try to illuminate how silly it is to modify your behavior, to limit your life experiences, based on what you watch on television.

If anything makes me apoplectic , it’s the “they” factor. They will shoot you, they will rob you, they will crash into your car on purpose, they will rape you, they will poison you by not washing their hands. They will give you the flu. Who are they? They are few and far between. Again, statistically, there are very few bad people, per capita. What does that mean? No one is likely to pounce on you when you walk down a sidewalk. And for those “bad people” out there, they are relying on the ignorance and stupidity of their victims. Just conquer them with knowledge and common sense. The real “they” you should pay attention to are the people who are warning you about “them”. They are feeding off of your fears to sell advertising time. They will scare you into becoming a phobic, shivering, mess, huddled safely inside your house, watching them live scripted, fake lives on TV. I especially like the innocuous “they said”. I like my sources cited and referenced, thank you, so I can do my own independent research and decide whether I want to take their advice. Or not. What authority or expertise do they have to advise you to change, alter, or modify your behavior, to potentially limit the experiences in life that could bring you growth or reward or satisfaction? Have you even considered that question? Better to experience what life has to offer and assume a little risk than to sit on your hands, rocking back and forth, while watching an intentionally scary, false world on television.

Many great people can be quoted on fear:

We have nothing to fear but fear itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Do one thing every day that scares you – Eleanor Roosevelt

You gain strength, courage and confidence by each experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind – Dale Carnegie

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood – Marie Curie

Do not fear death so much but rather the inadequate life – Bertlot Brecht

Peace is that state in which fear of any kind is unknown – Joh Buchan

Where fear is, happiness is not – Seneca

If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been – Robert H. Schuller

They can conquer who believe they can. He has not learned the first lesson in life who does not every day surmount a fear – Ralph Waldo Emerson

He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat – Napoleon I

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. – Plato

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality. – Lucius Annaeus Sennca

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. – Dale Carnegie

What we fear comes to pass more speedily than what we hope – Publilius Syrus

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is – German Proverb

How do you suppose these great people became great? By facing their fears head on and overcoming them.

What great person, responsible for influencing millions, for making history, ever sat at home, watching a false world, wide-eyed in terror? Step out of your comfort zone, pick a fear, step out of the house and march right through that fear. Be persistent for more significant fears.

If you subscribe to “The Secret”, or are knowledgable about quantum physics, you know that fear represents considerable energy. The law of attraction is a law of energy. Energy attracts a result, energy attracts a like energy. Fear energy, if you think about it, then, will attract that which you fear. Now, be scared of that! You truly do have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Quantum physics supports that.

Fearless does not mean foolish. Being afraid to step in front of speeding semi is a good thing. There is a definite difference between fearless and senseless. Use common sense, tackle common fears. Fear is a natural instinct designed to preserve us from harm. Fear is designed to make us pause before proceeding so that we may take into consideration our actions so as to avoid harm. Consider your actions, then proceed with common sense. Wait until the speeding semi passes, you can then safely cross the street.

Irrational fear is the fear we want to conquer. It is irrational to think that if you walk down a city street you will certainly be mugged. Yes, you do stand a chance of being mugged. You also stand a chance of being a victim of a home invasion robbery while sitting watching CSI on TV. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we are at risk for something extraordinary, something freakishly unlikely, happening.

Life can be lived so cautiously as to really not qualify as living. Inhaling and exhaling, eating and deficating, sleeping and waking, performing mundane daily tasks in exchange for a miserly pay and occupying spare time watching other people, fake people, actors, again, being paid based on the advertising revenue their show generates, live out their exciting, dangerous, fearful, completely scripted lives on television, is not living. And for the record, reality TV isn’t real, in reality.

You are only limited by your fear. There are handicapable people who exceed the limitations of their handicap because they choose not to be limited. Any person’s greatest handicap is their own limitations, usually based on fear. Fear of failure, fear of effort, fear of change. Get. Over. It.

If you practice a religion, have you given thought to whether your fear may actually prevent you from eternal life? That’s a scary thought!

We are meant to contribute to society in some meaningful way, whether you practice a religion, or not. We just are. What is your contribution? You may have to step outside of your safe, little routine to find a way to contribute. Name one person you think contributes to society in some meaningful way; a teacher, a preacher, a youth leader, a soldier, an advocate, a scientist. There isn’t a teacher, a preacher, a youth leader, a soldier, an advocate, a scientist on the face of the planet that didn’t have to conquer some fear, usually many, often on a daily basis. What are you doing? What fear is limiting you from contributing? Get. Over. It.

The bible says, I don’t know where, but somewhere, regarding the way to heaven; the path is wide, the gate is narrow. Now pretend for a moment you had to choose who could enter through the narrow gate. Would you choose the good and holy person who spent their life cautiously living, existing? Or would you choose the person who went out and boldly and fearlessly made a difference, who contributed in some tangible, measurable, meaningful way? Would you admit the person who made a wholesome home, raised their children well, performed their daily tasks to satisfaction and prayed at every meal? Or, given the limited seating, would you choose the person who raised their own kids and volunteered to lead a youth group? Who performed their daily tasks to satisfaction and took on additional tasks within the community to further good? Would you admit the person who prayed before every meal, or the soul who lived an extraordinary life, by example, who touched the lives of many and spread good will across the lands? I think I’d want to be the doer of extraordinary things, just to safely squeeze through that blessed gate.

The question should never be “what have you done?”, the question should be “what else can you do?” There is always more. More to contribute, more to learn, more to do, all requiring facing and overcoming some self-imposed limitation, overcoming some fear, whether trivial or numbing.

Fear is also the catalyst for great evil, for great harm. Genocide often has fear as it’s basis. The endangerment or extinction of many species resulted out of fear. Fear, out of ignorance, intolerance or self-righteousness, and unrestrained, is something to truly fear! And conquer.

Take a moment and write down some fears you have. Fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of large dogs, fear of large crowds, fear of driving in large cities. Think of as many things as you can and write them down. They may not come to you all at once, but when you encounter something, in real life or on TV, and you think “that would scare me”, add it to your list. Now, pick something off the list and think of a way to overcome it. Fear of public speaking? Start small, maybe join a book club or a Bible study, where, at some point, you’ll have to say something, out loud, to a small group of people. Then take it up a notch. Volunteer to read scripture at church during the service. Read aloud to children at a school. Take an acting class at the community college, or a public speaking class, speech and debate class. Join an organization like Toastmasters. Many highly compensated motivational speakers had fears of speaking publicly at some point in time. Many, believe it or not, overcame debilitating conditions like chronic stuttering. The only limitation was their self-imposed limitation, “I can’t do that, I’m afraid of speaking in front of large groups of people.” Once you cleanse yourself of those limitations, you have tremendous power to conquer fear and overcome perceived limitations.

Start to pay attention to your vocabulary. How often do you say something that translates to “I’m afraid” or “I’m scared”. Make note of what prompted that reaction and find a way to address it, meet it, conquer it.

“I admire those high heeled shoes, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to walk in them. I’m afraid I’ll trip and fall and make a fool of myself.” The alternative; never buy shoes you admire and likely trip and fall wearing completely flat-soled shoes. At least if you trip and fall wearing some fabulous high heels, people will understand how it happened!

I’m afraid of snakes. But not really. Rather, I say, “I don’t like snakes”. I have had many experiences involving snakes, yet, touch wood, I have never been harmed.

I think my earliest memory of being afraid of snakes came from my early childhood. As a child I had asthma. I don’t any more, and I have my opinions on those kinds of limitations, too. But, nonetheless, before I was old enough to take care of myself, I was treated for asthma. One of the treatments was a bronchiodialator or a steroid, or a combination, I think, but it had hallucinogenic qualities, at least for me. I remember sitting on my pillow, screaming in terror, and every wrinkle in my bedding appeared like a twisting, slithering snake. The pleats in my curtains were writhing snakes, dangling from their tails. Everywhere I looked, the common appointments in my bedroom had become animated snakes. My poor mother.

I once had a rattlesnake come trick or treating on Halloween. I had been living in the country where I knew there were snakes, yet, saw none. We had no trick or treaters on Halloween out in the country, so when I moved back into town, into a nice apartment complex, we were excited at the prospect of having trick or treaters. We had candy on hand and had even decorated. My (adult) daughter and her boyfriend were visiting and were manning the door while I moved some items from my car into the garage. I remember hearing the doorbell ring and the ritual “trick or treat” followed by the commotion of children obtaining candy and moving on to the next door. The ruckus didn’t diminish as I’d expected, I could still hear voices and exclamations. My daughter’s boyfriend (now husband) is an Eagle Scout, a wrestler, now in the Navy, by no means a wimp. But as the commotion continued and I began to hear my name interjected, I thought, perhaps, I should venture into the house to see what was up. My daughter and her boyfriend were across the room from the front door, pointing in that direction “there’s a rattlesnake in the house.” I peered toward the front door, and, indeed, there was a small snake there. Luckily for us, not the snake, it’s tail was caught in the closed door and it could not advance further into the house. Now, this particular Halloween fell on a Sunday night, meaning no agencies would be available to come to our rescue. I wondered what to do and did what anyone would do; I grabbed my phone, took a picture and posted it to facebook with a snarky comment about trick or treaters these days. Then I Googled it to confirm that it was indeed a rattlesnake. Finally, I called the County Animal Services agency and listened patiently to the recorded message. They did advise, that if it were an emergency involving an “animal” that one could call the sheriffs dispatch. First, is a snake technically an animal? Second, if the snake cannot advance further into my domicile, is it really an emergency? I chanced that it was, on both counts. I called the sheriffs dispatch. I prefaced my story with “I don’t know if this is an emergency, but …” They sounded far more panicked than I , and said they’d patch me right through to the fire department. The fire department answered, and again, prefaced with “I don’t know if this is really an emergency, but …”, to which I was met with an urgent reply “We’ll send someone right over.” Not a minute later, the biggest hook and ladder engine pulled up in front of my garage door and I had what looked like about thirty firefighters in my entry hall. So, I got out my phone, took a picture and posted it to facebook with a snarky comment about trick or treaters these days. The somewhat anticlimactic ending? They plucked the snake off the floor with a claw contraption like you’d use to pick up trash without having to bend down. They plunked the little snake into a PVC tube, capped at one end, fit a cap on the other end and left, presumably to free the snake in a more appropriate location. I was a little concerned that other snakes may have entered my house, unbeknownst, any time the door had been opened, so we all exercised some caution within the house, and when entering and exiting through the front door for quite some time thereafter. I no longer live there. Not on account of fear, the rent went up.

Not long after that, I was driving up the onramp to the highway near my home. There are a lot of open fields and new construction in the area, so I’m sure there are lots of field mice and other critters snakes like to feed on. And there are many hawks and other birds of prey that, in turn, like to feed on snakes. One such bird was flapping slowly towards the highway as I approached about the same spot. In it’s talons was a live snake, squirming violently, trying to free itself. I watched, and in the slowest motion imaginable, as the bird and I continued in a trajectory that would likely end up with the bird over my car within a few seconds, I saw the snake drop from the bird’s claws and spiral slowly towards the ground. The thoughts that raced through my consciousness; what if the snake lands on my car, what if the snake lands on my windshield, what if the snake lands on my roof, what if my sunroof was open? The snake landed on the shoulder of the road right next to my car. Ugh! I don’t drive with my sunroof wide open anymore. Ever. That’s not fear, that’s practicality.

When I tell folks about the snake in the house, depending on my whereabouts, a common response I get is, “why didn’t you shoot it?” I’ve shot a snake before, and it didn’t go well. But, more importantly, what would’ve happened to the tile floor had I shot the snake in the entry hall? I wouldn’t have gotten my deposit back, I’m fairly certain. So, I did shoot a snake in the wild, and even that I now regret. We were camping in a very remote forested area. We had been hiking down into the canyon our campsite overlooked, and upon our return, we spotted a snake in the dining tent. The snake spotted us and began a very surreal, and I would think physically impossible climb up one of the tent poles towards the ceiling of the screened tent. Horrified, I did something, intentionally, that startled the snake and made it drop back to the ground where it belonged, inside the tent where it did not. The screened tent had no floor, just a narrow flap along the perimeter. The snake, probably a good three feet long, stretched itself out, hiding completely beneath this very narrow flap, which, in my mind, qualified this snake as more of a serpent than a snake. We flushed it out of hiding with some long handled implement we happened to have nearby. I took the shotgun, I figured I’d have better luck with it than a nine millimeter pistol, and fired. Some part of the shot hit the snake, and in incredible slow motion, the snake spun through the air amidst the dirt and debris the shot kicked up. Twirling, whirling, spinning, up, up, up, then hanging for a moment, then down, down, down and “FWAP”, right on top of our brand new tent. Serpent blood and guts everywhere. And in the weeks and months after that, we were overrun with mice and rodents of all shapes and sizes. That snake had a job, and I appreciate that now.

So, snakes. I’m not afraid, just mindful. I don’t let it control my life; I camp, I hike, I backpack, I rock climb. I enter and exit my house from the front door. I enjoy myself, and I take the proper precautions to avoid an encounter with snakes. I don’t live in the jungle, so I know that snakes are not out there actively hunting me. They, in fact, are more afraid of me than I am of them. Their attacks are in self defense, for self-preservation, instinctual and never unprovoked. Snakes, are, in fact good. They control the rodent population, which keeps many diseases from spreading out of control. They are part of the balance of nature, part of the design, part of the plan. I respect that. I respect them. Caution is appropriate where snakes may be, fear is not. Caution results in seeking to avoid. Fear results in one of two things; refraining from pleasurable activities on the chance of an encounter or, the senseless and needless eradication of the threat.

So, go on. What are you afraid of? You have nothing to fear, but fear itself, and you, and only you, have the power to overcome that, as well.

On Living

We are alive, but are we living? Rephrased, are you LIVING, or merely existing? Certainly, your heart is beating, but are you truly living? Is your life by design, or happenstance? Does your day consist of waking up, blah, blah, blah, go to sleep? Or do you live each day with intent, excitement, the pursuit of new experiences, the pursuit of personal growth? Do you want to be more, or just be? Do you live with intention? Do you take risks? Do you take chances? Or do you live inside the cocoon of a routine that is tried, true, safe and predictable? Predictable in that it will provide you the exact same result you’ve had every day leading up to today. Isn’t one the definitions of insanity “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?” Or are you even expecting a different result? Do you truly want to exist in a lifestyle of complete safety and predictability? I suppose some do. Not me. I’d rather die. I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living. When was the last time you said to yourself “My God, I feel so alive!” For me, yesterday. And today isn’t over, I still have time to feel that way today.

We all know we are given the gift of 86,400 seconds each day, famous people say that in inspirational speeches, the lyrics of a popular song remind us of this fact on the radio. That’s it, though, 86,400 seconds each day. We are all vaguely aware that once a second passes, you never get it back, it is gone forever. Ponder that for a moment. Let it really sink in. With each second that passes, your life is one second shorter. The time you have to accomplish your goals, to achieve your dreams, to complete your bucket list, becomes a second less with each passing second. Tick, tick, tick. Have you taken a second to consider how many seconds a day you waste on useless things? I’ll let you define your own list of useless things.

My list of useless things includes many things people hold near and dear, like watching television for hours on end with no real plan. You know, sitting there with a remote control, cruising through hundreds of channels looking for something remotely interesting. I can’t stand that. I will occasionally plan on watching a particular program or event on television, but certainly not daily, or even weekly. The playoff games last weekend, there is one example, I planned to watch them, I did, the television hasn’t been turned on since. I will likely watch the SuperBowl. There are programs on television I enjoy, but I will never plan my life around the network schedule. I can catch it on Hulu or Netflix later, if I really, really want to, but I’m sure to be doing something else of value while the show is on. Slouching on the couch in a vegetative state is not something I’m willing to waste my ambulatory years on, thank you. I’ll plan for that when I’m on life support in a nursing home, having lived a full, exciting and adventurous life.

Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying “Do one thing every day that scares you”. Does breaking out of your cocoon of safe, predictable routine scare you? What if something unexpected happens? Well, yay! Whether the unexpected is good or bad, you’ll have grown and gained some courage from the experience, and fewer things will be scary from now on! Scary things are scary, why do them? If we don’t challenge ourselves, regularly, we fall into stagnate routines, we miss out on opportunities for learning, growth, adventure, excitement.

I had a job opportunity find me. I had a resume posted online, and though I wasn’t looking for a job actively, a recruiter found my resume and contacted me. The job he described involved significant domestic travel and public speaking. Both things scared me, I was a somewhat fearful flyer, and I hated standing in front of people and speaking. Out of economic enticement, I took a chance, figuring I’d stick it out for the three month probationary period, collect my pay along the way, and find something “safer”, more comfortable, more “my speed”, thereafter. That was five years ago.

Guess, what, the first few flights, I was nervous, but I got over it, and I have seen more of our country than most people I know. I have contacts and friends in every major city, I have seen famous attractions in person, not just on television. I have felt them, touched them, smelled them, tasted them, lived them. I will never forget them. I have enjoyed nearly every trip I’ve taken, because now I thirst for those experiences. People say to me “I don’t know how you can travel all the time like that.” And I reply, “I don’t know how you can stay in the same place all the time”.

The first time I had to speak in front of a group by myself, I was a bit shaky, but with time, I got the hang of it. Once I figured out that people looked to me for expertise and guidance, that they wanted to hear what I was telling them and that I could even make them laugh when I wanted to, I grew to love it. Talk about a self confidence boost! Two “things” that scared me became my passion and provide me an unbelievable amount of growth, experience and adventure. My life is forever changed in a very positive way. But I was scared. And I just did it. I overcame very quickly. Do not let fear limit you.

What do you want to do with your life? Really? Pretend you’re a little kid, again, and someone just asked you “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Well, what do you want to be? We don’t have to be satisfied with who we are, what we do, where we live, just because this is where we’ve wound up! Dream! Make a plan! Get moving! Seconds are slipping away! You truly can do anything you want, the only limitations are the ones you define for yourself. “Can’t” is a four letter word, so is “fear”, abolish them from your vocabulary.

Let’s try this; tell me what your day was like last Monday. Can you even remember it? How about three Saturdays ago? Is there anything momentous you remember in the past month? Past year? What was the last bucket list item you accomplished? Have you even attempted one? Wait, you haven’t even taken the time to make a bucket list? Too busy doing un-momentous things?

Try this out for size; take a few seconds RIGHT NOW and make a list of three things you want to do before you die. There. You have a bucket list. Add to it every time you think of something else. Now, pick one of the items you wrote down and do it. This week, this weekend. Do it. It will feel incredible. If your bucket list items require resources you don’t currently have, take one step towards obtaining one of the necessary items. Request the vacation time if time off is the issue. Open a savings account with $5 and set aside an amount each pay day until you have the money, if money is the issue. Commit. No excuses, the seconds are flying past! In the mean time, pick another bucket list item you CAN do right away, and do it. Now keep it up, for every item you complete, add one or two more. There is no such thing as a complete bucket list, keep at it.

How are you feeling about every second that slips away, now? Do you secretly mourn the time you wasted in the past? I do. I wish I could’ve banked it and saved it and could withdraw it for future use! I think life should be approached with a sense of urgency! I am often criticized for being too busy, never having any “free time”. What the hell is “free time”? To me, “free time” is the time I have to do something else I want to do! And I do! From the moment I wake up until I fall into bed at night, I am doing something worthwhile, constructive, amazing, fulfilling, rewarding, exciting, adventurous. Oh, sure, I do relax, but I relax with the people I want to relax with, doing something relaxing I want to do (a picnic, wine tasting, a leisurely meal, a nice walk, a hike, fishing, reading, writing, etc.).

You have the opportunity, every second, to redefine your life, to make it what you’ve always wanted. And ONLY YOU have that power. Your life is yours, it doesn’t belong to anyone else to shape, to dictate, to construct, control or live. Shed your cocoon, spread your wings. And live.