Tag Archives: memories

The Gift of Fear and Remembering

I suppose it would take something like a kids basketball game to shock me into remembering that fear is also a gift.

IMG_6493Most of you probably guessed I’m not exactly a sports super-fan. But basketball is just about the worst. For proof, if that’s needed, consider the amazing imagination it required to invent a game of throwing a ball into a bucket.

The entire game feels like a crudely-conceived relic of the Bad Old Days. Some bored wingnut decided to torture his students, and the students, who didn’t have the good sense to tell whoever-it-was that it was kind of a stupid game, said something helpful like, “Shucks, we should give players a big court to prance aroun’ on like showboatin’ divas!”

And that’s how basketball was born.

To the rational, none of this needs explaining. The ridiculousness of the game is obvious. But until someone makes libraries more attractive to the kinesthetic types, we’re probably stuck with it.

So why bring this up? Because on Saturday, I took my 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to her first team sport experience—a basketball game. Of course it’s crystal clear now how dumb this was—how did I not see it coming?—that two half-hour practices could prepare her for this. But I have this wonderful ability to rationalize brainless ideas and tell myself, No, this really isn’t that crazy.

But even halfway there, the larger part of me suspected this could get mentioned in a future therapy session.

IMG_6500We got there fine, found the colossal gym and headed to the table where they read (shouted) the team room assignments. We hurried fast around the pounding games in progress to the back hallway, found the room with a big table, and the other parents and girls and coaches all arrived in their snazzy outfits.

Charlotte turned from the table to find me and gave a shy wave while the buzz-headed coach briefly explained the court rules, the process of warm-ups, the colored wristband system of pairing up defensive and offensive players (yeah, totally caught all of that), and what something called a “screen” was.

My own heart began to dribble around my chest.

After a hasty prayer for a good game or something, everyone shouted and we all filed out to follow the coaches through the world’s most overcrowded hallway. I was never in ‘Nam, but the noise and bodies pummeling me made me feel for Charlotte’s little hand and grip it like a lifeline. From their excitement level, you’d think they relished the chance to lose their hearing while being trampled to death. I held her for dear life and happened to glance down just in time to see the tears burst from her eyes.

Not that I blamed her. I was barely holding it together myself through the assault. But I knew if we stopped now we’d die a gruesome death, so I pulled her behind me, dodging and ducking the endless stream of congenial yuppies and shouting offspring.

Someday, I thought to myself, Someday, I must learn what makes people enjoy this.

This isn't even half as crowded as that hallway was.
This isn’t even half as crowded as that hallway was.

I tried to console her as we jockeyed to the court. “It’s okay, honey! It’s just warm up. You can do it!”

Her voice was barely audible. “I don’t…(hic)…want to play.” Her cheeks were already blotchy.

“You don’t have to play if you don’t want to.” I wanted to scoop her up and get the heck out of there, but pushing yourself and bravery and not quitting was all hammering me at once. “It’s okay!” I smiled and tried to play it off, acting the concerned parent for all the wondering looks and blank stares as we headed to the seats.

“I can’t…(hic)…stop,” she said.

I knelt by her chair and put my arm around her, wishing I could shield her from the noise and tell her who she really was, an amazing, sensitive girl with incredible self-awareness and as brave as any kid I’d ever known. I knew how overwhelmed she was because I was too—I could feel all the parents and coaches watching, and I just kept smiling. I told her I was sorry, that I smile when I’m uncomfortable.

“That’s…(hic)…okay,” she said.

The sweet female assistant coach came over “I get nervous too,” she said. “You want to come warm up?”

Charlotte shook her head and clutched me.

Nope, sorry, she’s never even seen a basketball game before.

2004726_origAll my fear of sports came back to me in that moment. I’d avoided all this, happy to stuff it and say I survived. Luckily, I’d been fast enough and reasonably coordinated, but not to participate would have been social suicide, so I sucked it up. Now, to be here, expected to perform and to realize There’s just no way she can do this, I could feel that fear like a hot branding iron to the brain.

Such memories wake you up, tell you who you really are.

Vulnerable. Small. Alone.

For me it was on stage at a piano recital. I forgot my memorized piece and stopped twice. The thunderous silence of the giant church, all the eyes scanning me, the people thinking, wondering, waiting.

Feeling them all knowing how unprepared and terrified I was, that was the worst part I remember.

But my little girl going through it, that felt worse.

And yet it was afterwards, after we sat it out and watched the game and she calmed down and we finally left (never to return), I realized this intense fear wasn’t only a liability, it was also an essential gift.

It had brought an intense self-awareness and shown me who I’m not. I’m not a performer. And not because of the fear. The fear is a result. The cause is how I was made, personality-deep.

However it comes to us, the capacity to step outside ourselves, to disconnect and reflect on ourselves and gain perspective, it reveals us to ourselves. And maybe most importantly, it eliminates the false images.

Intuitively, we know it’s an important experience and maybe until something painful like this forces us to, we don’t realize we have this ability at all. But maybe with practice, it can become a tool we can use.

And I know it’d be so easy to forget about those clarifying memories in the common busyness. Just this past week I got distracted and forgot. I got cranky and started seeking my own way. I needed beauty and mystery in a fierce way and I hadn’t played music or pursued my novel for many days on end.

What brought me back was seeing my kid cry, whimpering terrified on the basketball court. I remembered that feeling, the irrational fear of playing piano on stage, and I realized I got twisted up this week because I’ve let fear distract me from who I really am. How do I expect to move forward in who I want to be unless I pay attention and practice habitual awareness?

As kids, we don’t need this discipline, but now we have fewer opportunities for reflection, and we’ve got to get in the habit. We stay in our mental cages more often than we’d like to admit.

This weekend, I was reminded and taken outside myself to see again. And the me I’m trying to be, the one who’s aware of his gifts and talents, I remember that’s who I wanted to be. And that’s who I get to be now, to help Charlotte be herself as well.

Maybe she not going to be a baller. But she’ll be who she wants if we can take the time to look for it.

If you’ve gotten distracted, go back and remember who you wanted to be. Use your gift of insight again. And imagine who you might be next year if you could just begin to remember to do this in the moment more and more…

Start an imagination habit and remember what gift your strongest fear taught you, as a writer and as a human being.

And let that fuel your pursuit of the higher purpose.

Mick

The Writer’s Commitment to Freedom

“Spring always new forms of life, from the soul of man
that is joined to the soul of stone;
Out of the meaningless practical shapes of all that is living or lifeless,
Joined with the artist’s eye, new life, new form, new colour.
Out of the sea of sound the life of music…
.”

T.S. Eliot

Many thoughts you have to let go as soon as you have them. They aren’t useful. A few involve more in having them and you know you need to let them work on you to change your point of view or improve your outlook, or whatever. Yet, they’re still utilitarian mostly. But then there are others that are like eternal spaces to live in and hard as you might try, you know it will take more than you currently are to be worthy of them, and you sense you’d better not sneeze too hard or move too fast when you’re in them for fear of bursting the membrane and making them dissipate, so fragile and holy they seem.

I had one of these thoughts yesterday when I rediscovered the road of my dreams.

It was hidden in a forest of trees, just a side road, one of the many we passed in the car on the way home from a day at the beach.

children running on beach

The girls had run and we’d flown kites and played in the sand and it was warm and wonderful. And when we left, I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular. I wasn’t looking for that road―I didn’t even remember it was in my head until I saw it, and I can’t recall now why it had become the road of my dreams. But it did at some point, and very clearly. And though I’ve lost the specifics, the feeling it left is powerful.

I must have been very young.

We passed it so quickly, and as I looked and remembered, the feeling washed over me in that rush of memory’s silent tidal wave and I could no more help it than I could help the feeling of calm listening to the sea. I sat watching the highway we were on, trying to remember where this feeling originated, but the farther the side road slipped behind us, the more I knew it was gone.

It wasn’t especially sad. I was happy to have been reminded of this, even if it was mostly gone now. And for some reason, it brought to mind the challenge I face and have now grown accustomed to every morning. When I sit down to write, even when I want to, part of me doesn’t. Even when I begin well and I’m enjoying it, that other part is wishing it was over, waiting to begin what I think of as my “real business of living.” And when I don’t want to write, which is most the time, I still want to. Part of me wishes desperately I wanted to, and it’s like there are two of me, split right down the center.

“What I want to do, I don’t do. What I don’t want to do, I do.”

Is this always the way it is? Or is it just me?

And then I think, is this split personality, this double-mindedness healthy?

The road is stretching out, cars passing, and something tells me I’m not the only one. I’ve known so many writers working desperately to finish books who haven’t yet. And so many more who don’t seem to try very hard who are finishing new books all the time. The ones who try hard and get stuck suffer more than the ones who don’t try so hard and seem to have several other things going while writing. For the finishers it seems like finishing a big chore or a business deal, and not to demean it too much, but with so many things going at once, their devotion seems inarguably less single-minded.

Could single-mindedness be a handicap?

blurry scenery

The mossy green forest streams by and I remember how I’ve just talked about balancing input and output for a coaching class. Yes, that’s right. I must have some imbalance happening. My habit is to get too intense, too focused. And that narrows my scope to the point where I’m insufficiently tuned into the rest of life, the input. I need to ease into this memory of the glade, let the calm serenity envelope me in the still coolness that would hold me if I let it.

The overgrown trees could just as easily choke out any light as create a perfect tunnel calling me into a nearly forgotten childhood memory. I have no idea where or when I saw it, but the impression transcends that and speaks of comfort beyond any other. It’s an invitation to adventure, a home greater than my own. It isn’t the glade itself so much as what it represents. But the desire for it is so strong I know if I took that road, it’d be nothing as wonderful as my dream.

With the shock of cold water, the insight connects: this is why I don’t write.

When I’m writing, the words are never as good as my dream of them. And when I don’t write, the longing to get out my thoughts eats me alive.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Isn’t the unexplored place required for truly great work?

If it were too easy to write, I might not push for greater words. I could be satisfied with a formula that people and publishers enjoyed, the replication of a previously-trod path. It could be such a welcoming, wide space.

But it wouldn’t be the glade. It’d be a smooth, paved road without the same adventure of discovery. Too familiar.

I’d soon long for the freedom of that foreign way.

Wishing I “took the path less traveled by…”

Commitment was needed to even find a way to what I could call my writing. But to recall the glade and give it my attention when no one else but me can sense it? That’s a different commitment. My family might think I’m crazy for pursuing this, if all they can see is the costs, the sacrifices and my absence.

Maybe it is foolish to take the unfamiliar path. All the commitment it requires, what advantage could it really hold?

I’ve committed to the work, to suffering, to pursuing slowness, but I’ve needed this commitment to freedom as well, this understanding that surpasses commitment. I sense a need to accept the anguish of letting go the easy way, the familiar road, to take the road less traveled.

I know I resist in part because this isn’t comfortable. It makes even me a stranger to myself. But rediscovering a truer path once again, that’s a journey that never gets old.

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods…”

sign in the woods

I don’t know what’s down that path. But yesterday I vowed to find out, come what may. And when I find it, the darkening path rediscovered, its use will be unmistakable. All I need is the commitment to an unbridled respect for freedom.

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with.”

There’s purpose beyond committing to what’s purposeful, what’s “respectable.” Sometimes rejecting time-honored practices and established roads is necessary. For its only in freedom we rediscover unestablished paths that no one has ever seen.

The freedom to take an unexplored path establishes the vital space for a full life.

And like any artist, a writer requires both commitment to his duty and to freedom, both paths are needed.

It’s never been an either/or proposition. It’s both/and:

Get your chores done. And go explore.

Take the way unexplored. And come back to the main thoroughfare.

Honor your heritage. And follow the wild goose.

Follow both paths and live!

“Religion as a word points to that area of human experience where in one way or another man comes upon mystery as a summons to pilgrimage; where he senses meanings no less overwhelming because they can be only hinted at in myth and ritual; where he glimpses a destination that he can never know fully until he reaches it. We are all of us more mystics than we believe or choose to believelife is complicated enough as it is, after all. We have seen more than we let on, even to ourselves. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of our lives, we catch glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by; only then, unlike the saints, we tend to go on as though nothing has happened. To go on as though something has happened, even though we are not sure what it was or just where we are suppose to go with it, is to enter the dimension of life that religion is a word for.”
 ―Frederick Buechner

Mick