Fear on High Boil

I did not count on the fear.

I thought when I’d finally made the commitment, finally found the funding and signed the FCI enrollment agreement and sent it in, I’d feel more along the lines of: Relief. Anticipation. Excitement. Satisfaction. All these capitalized emotions would be buoying me up, bouncing me along the gentle wave of the weeks before I enter the Culinary Arts Program at French Culinary Institute. After all, I’d be following through on a long-simmering passion. I’d be starting a new “course” of my life. I’d be turning a new page. ( And I’d be mixing metaphors with wild abandon!)

Instead I’m feeling kind of nauseous. And scared. Very scared. What if I can’t handle it?

Parts of this undertaking—like rearranging my stay-at-home mom, homemaker and writing routine to include 3 weekly evening forays into the city (an hour drive each way) for classes; like whether I’ll be fit enough for the 5-hours-on-my-feet classes; like being in a class full of people likely to be at least 25+ years younger than me if not more; and worrying about having enough energy and mental acuity to pull off not only school, but my vision for the Mrs. Fabulous Feasts business I want to start after I graduate—are gnawing away at me, eroding my tenuous mid-life confidence.

As I said to my glazed-over husband during the 12th (or so) round of laments on this subject while accepting yet another a wad of tissues from him, “What if I can’t become Mrs. Fabulous? What if I’m no good?” Doug wisely adapts an aspect of civil law for our relationship and exercises his Miranda rights at times like these….“the right to remain silent, for anything you say may be used against you….” He pats my hand and looks at me in a meaningful way and nods his head. Most likely he is thinking about the basketball championship games and hoping I won’t want to “talk” while they are on. And it doesn’t matter what he says, because even when he does tell me You’ll Be Fine, and You’ll Do Great and This Is Your Passion it doesn’t really put out the wildfire of fear that is consuming any rational thoughts I might be trying to have on this subject.

Over the course of my life I’ve thrown myself off of many a cliff, dove into the unknown, taken an inordinate share of physical, emotional, spiritual risks. So…I’m asking myself…”what’s up with the fear and doubt now?” I was vaguely aware that when I made the commitment to go to school that the “growth process” would begin right away, (remember est?), and not on the first day of classes. I’m beginning to understand that there is something I’ll need to face to make this new phase of my life a success…some realization I may need to have in order to allow myself to be happy, satisfied, engaged…to be of service. Whatever that realization is my whole being wants to vomit just knowing it’s coming. I let you know as soon as I hear the angels chorus that signals my epiphany has arrived

Over the weekend I got a “push” along this path from the “universe” via an old college friend— a boyfriend I hadn’t seen or talked to in nearly 30 years until he contacted me through Facebook. He posted a bunch of old photos from 1975 or so..our “FDU Daze.” The photos brought back a rush of memories but also an odd sense of memory lapse when I saw one he posted of me when I was just 18. This younger version of me was staring straight into the camera giving, what he captioned the photo as “the look.” When I looked at her, this girl in the photo, I couldn’t remember her. I couldn’t feel what she was feeling. I wanted badly to know her and to talk to her and hear her. She was the me that was irrepressible, unstoppable, fearless. I wanted to borrow her bravado.

One could easily say that she had the recklessness and naivete of youth, that at 18 she could still afford to be wide-eyed and optimistic. After all, risk is no risk when you have nothing to lose. But was it true? Was it merely youth that made her so confident? Was it only youthful enthusiasm that took her to New York City after college to chase her dream of becoming an actress? Was it only boundless energy and health that had her waiting tables and bartending at night then taking the dance classes, acting classes, voice lessons and endlessly making the rounds to agents offices and cattle call auditions during the day?

Or was it something else? I looked at that picture again and again over the next few days. Who were you? The 52 year-old me wanted to know. This was no Pollyanna. She was not the pampered child of doting parents who could rightfully judge the world to be a safe and generous place to pursue a dream. Her father, an Algerian immigrant, had been raging, violent and sexually abusive to her. Her mother, a German Jew, was a Nazi concentration camp survivor, whose life was populated with grievous loss, poverty, abuse, neglect and pain.

One of the first things this young “optimist” did when she graduated college at 19 was to hire a lawyer and extricate her mother (and 15-year-old sister) from her 24-year-long abusive marriage. She found her mother a job, an apartment and a new life before this young girl went on to start her own. Not much about her upbringing would lead her to believe that life would deliver her happiness on a platter, but her actions—her strong, determined, fearless actions— meant she believed she had a right to that happiness and that was willing to do what it took to make it so .

She had courage.

When my own son faced night-time fears as a child I remember trying to explain to him that his fears would teach him how to be brave. They were a gift! Since he spent much of his days  imagining himself to be a Power Ranger or a Ninja Turtle, bravery was a commodity he was interested in. “If you aren’t afraid of something, then it takes no courage to do it. It’s as easy as pooping!” I could always get a laugh on toilet humor with my kids. “But if you are afraid, and you go ahead and do it anyway, then that’s brave.”

Somewhere in time I had courage in spite of, or maybe because of the hardships and dark secrets of my childhood. I knew what courage was and how to talk about it with my kids. So what happened? Why is fear of taking this new step, of taking on this new challenge about to derail me?

Thirty-four years after that college picture was taken, that girl has discovered that sometimes, many times, her best efforts don’t always take her where she wants to go.

Life doesn’t always say “yes.”

But I can. I can keep saying yes. That 18-year-old me would want me to just stare this new challenge in the eye and give it “the look.” And that’s how I’ll turn myself into Mrs. Fabulous.

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