Monday, 20 April 2009

The Fearful Hermit

Ann of Annarchy wrote yesterday about fear. She posted an excerpt (far more polished than this post will be) which inspired me to think about my own anxieties and fears.

I traveled alone from a very early age because my only parent lived 1200 miles from my foster home. When I was 9 I began flying by myself between Halifax and Toronto. In those days the plane landed at every airport between the two cities: Ottawa. Montreal, St. John, and Fredericton, and Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) flew people about in DC3's which had propellers and wings that almost flapped. Any kind of storm activity buffeted them about like lone Canada geese who'd flown off course. I was a child who suffered horribly from motion sickness. The manufacturers of Gravol can thank me for their solvency ... all those landings ... all those air pockets. The first thing I checked out when I sat down and buckled myself in was the pouch containing the air sickness bags.

The very first time I flew was in 1949. It was Christmas and I was seated with Commodore Adams who was returning to Halifax to meet his ship, Canada's only aircraft carrier, the Magnificent. He left us in New Brunswick to take the train the rest of the way because the weather was so bad. He offered to take me with him but the stewardess who was responsible for me on that leg of the flight couldn't allow it. I landed in a terrible storm where my father greeted me on the tarmac holding Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer in his hands.

You might think that that experience would have made me afraid of flying in bad weather. The truth is that it didn't. I have one of those fatalistic attitudes when it comes to flying. Once you are aboard you might as well relax. The odds are good that the pilot wants to get there safely just as much as you do and he is the only one who can possibly make a human difference. You certainly can't.

However, I do become anxious when I am traveling. I drop things. I get flustered and sweaty when I am lining up to check in my luggage. I worry about what will happen when I land in a strange airport. I fret about how I will get a taxi; how the shuttle bus system works; whether people will understand English. I wonder if there will be thieves and cheats hovering about looking for nervous white faces to prey on. This may surprise people who know me well enough to know that I have flown many thousands of miles to countries like Swaziland, Namibia, Mongolia and Jordan ... almost always by myself.

I don't worry about the flight itself, or about my well being as long as I have no responsibilities. Indeed I have flown on small planes whose seat belts were frayed, without working buckles or simply absent, where passenger seats held flimsy cages of raucous chickens and whose engine problems forced us to make unscheduled stops.

Once I was confined for half a day in a small waiting room because of weather. Not a word of English was spoken by anyone in charge. Every few hours someone would bring in a vat of tea that was far too small for the crowd. But I didn't worry. I just went about taking photos of the wall murals featuring herds of wild horses moving across a vast steppe. I was in Inner Mongolia ... on my way to Outer Mongolia. I was not supposed to be in Inner Mongolia at all, so I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the limited access I had to the place. I was more concerned about a man in the wheel chair who was kept separate from the rest of us than I was about myself.

Ann of Annarchy said, " Sometimes, recognition of who you are grows into acceptance. And if you're lucky, you figure out how to leverage that weakness."

I realize as I write about my fear here that I have learned something important about myself; something I have always hidden. I have masked that fear of being responsible for myself behind a facade of fearlessness; of being in control and damned glad of it. I have strutted and pounded my chest and declared myself a fearless hermit.

In reality I am scared silly when I have to face new daunting situations alone. I am frightened when my car breaks down or I can't figure out how to stem the water from a flood. I am immobilized by things like water damaged paint and ceilings because I am unsure of how to proceed or whether I have the skill, knowledge, equipment or strength to cope alone. Sometimes I just need to know that I can talk it over with someone. Other times I need their physical presence and their hands-on help. Sometimes what I need is for someone else to take over; to take responsibility; to keep me safe.

I do not suffer from loneliness out here. I am never afraid of going to bed alone with just Kenya in the house. But I am scared of being alone.

I am afraid of being absolutely alone with only myself to rely on.

That's a very important thing to realize about myself. Thank you, Ann of Annarchy. Now I will have to figure out how to use that knowledge of my weakness to make myself stronger.

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