Heading down Highway 281 the other morning, I scared myself. And I think it was deliberate.
I was driving downtown to drop Colin off at theater camp and then to work, and I found myself in a glut of traffic that prompted me to put my Camry’s sweet 270-horsepower engine to the test (it doesn’t often get used) to get out of what seemed like a sticky mass of cars going too slow. They were also hovering too close.
I felt a little thrill, a rush of air in my chest and a catching of breath when I pressed the gas pedal down forcefully, sped up, and passed another car. I was driving on a curve, far above the ground, over the gentrified streets around the Pearl Brewery area below, and it felt a little like flying. To add to the thrill, it was the exact location that Jason’s highly aggressive acceleration and passing tactics scared me to the point of tears, years ago when we were first dating. I think it’s a now a permanent sense-memory.
But the scariest part wasn’t the speed, really. I wasn’t even going over the limit, or if so, not by much. It just happened that, at the moment of action, I thought, what if a tire blew and we careened over the highway with our last breath in our lungs? What if these were the last few moments of our lives?
I have similar thoughts sometimes, in other circumstances—the what-if-something-awful-happened-right-HERE moment. It’s not frequent, but they come sometimes when I’m boarding a plane or something. It’s usually when I’m with Colin and Jason, which, in an odd way, is comforting. (At least I’m having paranoid thoughts about dying together.) I used to have them before we had Dylan, and I really had them for awhile after we lost Dylan, so I used to attribute them to a post-death paranoia of losing another loved one.
Typcially, after the fear passes, I always chastise myself for thinking such scary thoughts. But today I simply wondered, why did I do that? Why do I do that? And then, almost immediately, I remembered a line from a movie I saw recently in which one of the more memorable characters delivered this great line: “There is no courage without fear.”
And it struck me. I was generating courage by manufacturing fear.
I’ve had a bit of a courage void for a long time. I just haven’t needed to be that courageous for awhile. Nothing is posing a threat to me or my family. But lately, I find that I need an infusion of courage. I’ve been starting down some new paths and feeling anxiety over them. I started selling a jewelry line to try something new, push myself to think differently and potentially generate some extra income. I’m applying for new jobs and looking at ways of making a living that offer new challenges, maximize my time (i.e., get the best pay for the hours I can devote), and still allow me the flexibility I need to care for my family the way I want to. The job- or contract-seeking process brings with it the typical worries that my skills are not good enough or out of date. Or that I’m not capable of what I used to be before I stopped working full time to take care of Dylan. Or that I won’t make enough money. Or that I will make enough money but at the expense of the flexibility I’m trying to preserve. I have no idea where I’ll land with all these things.
So, I live nowadays with this low-level, persistent, niggling anxiety, which translates to a kind of fear. But it’s not intense enough to trigger a significant courage response. For that, you need real fear, like the nanosecond of fright caused by the idea of falling to your death with your son in the backseat of your car. All the Facebook memes, inspirational quotes, and YouTube videos of Jim Carrey’s commencement speech have not been enough to rev up my courage engine sufficiently. And I don’t have a pithy, sentimental or gratitude-laden resolution to this problem to make for a lovely ending to this post. All I’ll say is that I’m not asking for the London Blitzkrieg of courage-generators--just something with a little more oomph.
More on the Blitz in my next post, though…