A short essay on the fear we all feel from time to time.
Whether it’s the first time or the fortieth time, going away to university or leaving to climb Mt. Everest, leaving home can give us all a sense of dread.
Nine years ago I was sitting on the Halifax tarmac on a Lufthansa flight bound for Germany. My stomach turned as we started down the runway and as the wheels were lifting off, I glanced out the window at the receding ground and thought, “Oh no. What have I done?”
I was 17 and en route to Hamburg, Germany for a year as a high school exchange student. The longest I had been away from my family was maybe two weeks, at a summer band camp, 45 minutes away.
The extent of my German was “Your house looks nice,” and “I’m hungry.”
I was terrified.
Until I landed. Then I was overcome with excitement at meeting my host family and discovering on our van ride back to the suburb of Bramfeld that most Europeans don’t like Air Conditioning.
It was August and the van was hot.
Flash forward from the summer of 2007. Now it’s 2016 and I’m 26. By many accounts you could call me a world traveller.
After Germany I went on another student exchange in Japan. I’ve road-tripped around North America, backpacked through Asia and Europe and speak a handful of languages.
In summary, you’d think I’d be a prime candidate for not blinking twice when an airline gate calls my name.
The thing is, I’ve never stopped blinking twice. Every time I leave, it’s exciting and scary all at once.
Tomorrow I’m headed off to the Philippines for a few weeks. It’s a trip I’m really excited about, but hidden amongst the excitement, as always, is that pinprick of fear.
It’s my buddy.
It says things like, “What if something happens? What if you never see Rob again?(Rob is my fiancée. I met him in university and I love him very much) Wouldn’t that be horrible?”
Yes. I’m allegedly a travel writer yet part of me never wants to leave my boyfriend, cats or apartment. It’s cozy here. I’m basically Bilbo Baggins before his Hobbit adventures.
When these feelings flare up I respond the same way I would to a kid reaching for a hot pot on the stove. I try to slap its hand away.
Stop messing around with my soup, fear.
It shrugs, glances up, shuffles its feet. “Iunno,” it says, “I’m just saying why, why, why would you want to leave any of this to go do something in the Philippines? We have it so good. Let’s just stay here. It’s so safe and nice.”
Then the curious part of my brain pops in and swoons, “But Mel, the WHOLE WORLD!”
In 1923 some nosy journalist was asking the legendary mountaineer Sir George Leigh Mallory why he would ever want to climb Mt. Everest:
“Because it’s there,” was Mallory’s famous response.
Flying to the Philippines is hardly climbing Mount Everest. No external oxygen required.
But be it the Philippines or the grocery store down the road, it’s the same basic question.
Why risk it?
For some people, leaving the apartment might require as much courage as it took others to climb Mt. Everest.
Certainty and uncertainty.
Darwinism hardwires us to reduce risk, especially as we get older.
New things are risky. Risk is unknown. Unknown is death. Avoid death. Propagate!
I find myself more timid to try things now than when I was younger because I have a much more developed sense of time and consequence. When you’re young and stupid, who cares?
As you get older and deal with harder things, you form a catalog of reasons to dissuade yourself from doing things.
But sometimes you have to close the catalog of fears and say, “Fuck it. I’m terrified. Let’s do this.”
Life needs a bit of risk for delight. This 1937 essay in the New Yorker tries to uncover the source of laughter and they come up with novelty. Something unexpected.
So part of me will always say, “Stay at home, Mel. Get a safe job. You have shelter. You have a mate. Uggah, uggah.”
And that’s cool. I hear that. BUT, if I always did what it said, I’d miss out on a lot of delight and wonder.
This time tomorrow I’ll be somewhere in the air, en route to Toronto.
The voice will pipe up, “Oh Mel. Seriously? Did you really do this again?”
To which I’ll reply, “You bet.”
“You’re crazy,” the voice will say.
“It’s okay. I know,” I’ll smile.
So good luck in your travels! And remember, it’s okay to be scared. There’s a little hobbit inside all of us.
Don’t let it stop you from doing something awesome.