Why does fear paralyze us? It can take a completely rational person, who is facing a seemingly rational decision and turn them to metaphorical stone. Frozen in time, by their fear.
That fear could be anything, from starting your own business, to taking a new job, moving to a new city, loosing weight or…oh, I dunno…completing an Ironman.
I am terrified of Ironman. Have I mentioned that before? I know that most of this fear is unfounded but the unknown is scary stuff.
I know it will be hard, but how hard? I know it will hurt, but how badly? What if I get injured? Or even worse, what if I fail?
Did this fear keep me from registering? No. Though it did force me to drink a beer and reevaluate my sanity before I did.
I was thinking about fear and what it really means to me when I was in Big Bend. I stayed an extra day thanks to the epic ice storm that attacked Texas a couple of weeks ago. My traveling companion had left and I found myself with a whole day in Big Bend National Park, alone. It was COLD outside. 16 degrees. I spent the morning huddled in my room waiting for it to warm up some (it didn’t) because I was going to tackle something that genuinely terrified me.
I was going hiking. Alone.
I’m not opposed to spending time alone; as a bonafide introvert, I need my alone time. But maybe not in the wilderness with the mountain lions and the bears…know what I mean?
That’s where I found myself that last day in Big Bend.
That afternoon, after lunch I grabbed my hiking pack, filled it up with water and drove to the trail head of a popular trail, known for its bear and mountain lion activity. I’m sure it would have been packed on a regular day, but on a day when it was 16 degrees…not so much.
It was me.
I found myself in the parking lot staring blankly at the “what to do if you see a bear or mountain lion” sign, trying to muster the courage to take the first few steps onto the trail.
“Avoid carrying odorous food or toiletry items.”
I couldn’t help but think of the emergency peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I had stashed in my backpack. Visions of childhood Yogi Bear cartoons flashed through my head.
“Hike with others when possible.”
I looked at the empty parking lot.
Take a deep breath, Joni.
Certainly, the mountain lions and bears were cuddled up in their dens trying to stay warm like all the normal people, right?
Yeah, just keep telling yourself that. I gripped the can of mace in my pocket and started walking up the trail.
Remembering what I’d learned in Yellowstone…never sneak up on a bear…I spent the first mile wishing I had a bear bell, and making as much noise as I could without annoying myself.
“Hello bears. Go away bears. Nice bears.”
The further from the road I got, the more scared I became. I tightened my grip on the mace.
It was a 2.5 mile one-way trip up one of the shorter peaks in the Chisos Mountains, a 5 mile round trip. No. Big. Deal. One step at a time. I put my head down, put one foot in front of the other and was determined to make it to the end of the trail.
About halfway up the mountain, I went around a bend and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. What was that?!
I froze, looked around, and listened carefully. Then I saw it again. No, it wasn’t a mountain lion, it was coming from the sky.
It. Was. Snowing. Not a lot, just flurries, but it was SNOWING.
When I looked around, I noticed that a lot of the trees were white and covered in ice. I’d been so focused on the trail, and so worried about the wildlife, that I hadn’t even noticed. It was falling from the sky, and falling off the trees as it accumulated on the branches.
I stopped for a bit and marveled at the thought of snow in the desert. It relaxed me and reminded me to slow down, and enjoy the moment. The climb got tough toward the end. Even though it was a well worn trail, it was steep.
An hour after I left the car, I reached the summit. And holy cow, the view was AMAZING.
Where it was windy down by the road, gusting 15-20 mph, it was dead still on top of that mountain and completely silent. I stood there, my eyes fixed on the valley below, listening to NOTHING. No wind blowing. No people chatting. No footsteps crunching in the dirt. No birds chirping. It was so quiet that it was almost overwhelming.
I’d been standing there for about 20 minutes when I heard a crack and rumble. It was loud, as loud as thunder but the sound was different. It was the same type of sound you’d hear if you threw a rock off a ledge, then it hit another rock and rolled down a hill.
It made my heart stop. I thought about all the large boulders I’d ever seen at the base of a cliff.
I don’t know how close it was, sound travels so well in the dry air that it could have been miles away, but it felt close. I wondered, how many other people heard it? How many other people have ever heard that sound? Certainly, not many.
I felt like a voyeur, peeking in on one of nature’s most intimate moments.
It made me smile.
Overwhelmed by the experience, I forgot completely about the mountain lions and the bears.
I took one more look around, etching that amazing view into my brain, so I could summon it later when I need courage or peace, and slowly started making my way back down to the car.
As I was walking, I started thinking about fear.
What if I’d let my fear get the best of me and I’d never gone on that hike?
I never would have seen the snow. I never would have seen the view. I never would have heard that amazing sound. Fear would have robbed me of all those experiences.
I started thinking about the phrase “be fearless” and what it means. Is being fearless good? Does it really mean, to do things without fear? No, it doesn’t. If something truly scares you, even if you face it with courage, you’re never going to do it without fear. You’re always going to be afraid, and that’s okay.
All the good things in life happen when you’re just a little scared.
I won’t let fear rob me of growth. I won’t let it chase me into the comfort of something familiar, instead I will face it with courage and follow it to see where it leads me.
Fear will be the thing that gets me into Lake Woodlands on April 28. When I start to loose my courage I’m going to close my eyes, think of the view from the summit of that mountain, and remember what I learned there. I might fail but fear won’t keep me from trying, fear will be the reason I try.
I’ve had this post completely written and scheduled to publish for about the past week. Sunday, when I went to church and listened to the priest’s message, I nearly fell out of my chair. The key takeaway? Follow your fear.
God sometimes chooses to shout at you rather than whisper. Okay, okay. I get it.