The What If Wrestle with Fear

Fear is one of the greatest emotions that connects us across humanity. 

Somewhere along the line of transition into adolescence out of the innocence of childhood I developed more of a fear. As a child, the world was my playground and I was the queen of risks. You couldn’t find me without mud underneath my fingertips and some sort of skidded up knee from a fall or rug burn. There was much for me to explore and 

to try and 

I set out to

Climb,

jump, and 

enjoy whatever adventure was in front of me. 

But, as I grew older, my mind developed and so too did my fear. The thought-processes that were modeled out loud for me by many led me to slip away from blissful adventure and my friendliness with my fearlessness

I slipped away and slid downward.

I slid down the slide and began to choose not to climb back up the playground again. 

I grew too afraid of the what ifs. 

What if I fall and crack my head open?

What if my hand slips as I am climbing? 

What if I lose my balance as I slide my way across the tube? 

What if I do not land my jump off the swing? 

What if I cannot hold onto the monkey bars and I flip onto my back?

My what if lists grew with every decision put in front of me. 

Flashforward into the spring of my freshman year of college, I was more reserved and fearful than ever. 

—-

It was a quiet afternoon and one of those spring weekends where everyone was leaving town. I was one of the few students with a late afternoon Friday class and was also a student who craved the quiet. As an introvert who had almost survived her way through constant large social gatherings, I lived for these weekends. I was making my way up the dreadful Brumby hill— headphones on, backpack hanging low off my back, and my tired eyes leading my feet upward. And then, all of the sudden, out of nowhere I hear— “HEY!! Bailey!!! How is it going?” 

I was met with a familiar face and one I was slowly beginning to call a friend. She had far too much energy and excitement for this Friday afternoon, but her joyous presence was infectious. I tried perking up a bit, took my headphones out, and told her I was surprised she was in town. She didn’t give me much room to say any other words, instead, she had an eagerness about her movements. She began to say, “Yes, I am here!! Come with me to North Campus!! We’ve got to catch the sunset!”

internally I was thinking, “Dear Lord, I just want to lay on my futon.”

But, also, I was thinking, “this girl is cool. We’ve never hung out the two of us and I really want to be her friend.”

So, I said, “Okay, I will join. Lead the way.”

She quickly took a hold of my hand and we took off running back down the hill I had almost defeated. My backpack was still with me and my tired eyes were opening up wider and wider. As we were running I was trying to process how long she’d have us running… North Campus was no quick trip from Brumby Hill. I was regretting each step, missing my futon more and more the further we got away from where I was going to lay. BUT, Rachel’s energy was inviting and I did miss watching the sunset.

After I held back my panting breath and finally asked if we could walk, Rachel walked with me— no hesitation. But, an eagerness remained. It was as if she was the childhood me— in need of taking advantage of the adventure at hand. With each step besides her, a part of me was coming to life again. 

An ember I thought had no spark left in it, began catching flame. Rachel was the oxygen to the fire within

Finally, we reached North Campus and then I began wondering about where in the world we were going to watch the sunset. There were trees all around us and I couldn’t see much of the sky anywhere. 

As I was processing, Rachel grabbed my hand again, we picked up our pace into a skip and she planted our feet at the roots of a gorgeous Magnolia tree. And panic ran through my body. 

“No. No. No.” 

“We cannot be climbing this tree.” 

And, the what ifs began with the panic: 

What if I try to get on the first branch and I am not strong enough to pull myself up 

What if I make my way up to a branch, but fall

Flat 

On my back 

On my face 

On my head

And

I get 

Another concussion 

What if Rachel doesn’t want to be my friend when she sees my fear

What if she thinks I am a wimp 

What if I get stuck in the tree because my fear keeps me locked up there

Rachel definitely was not thinking like me. She starred up the tree and right away began climbing. It looked effortless for her to make her way up that first branch. Her legs and her upper body strength were more than I had ever known. As she was climbing, she was saying, “I can’t wait for you to get up here. This is one of my favorite sunset spots. You can see Herty field and so much of campus from all the way at the top.”

The top!!!!!????

“Umm Rachel, I can’t do this. I am, ummm, scared. I can’t climb a tree.” 

Though my words were honest and embarrassing to speak, I was still hoping she wasn’t fully aware of how afraid I really was. I didn’t want her to know that I was too afraid to get back on the swing I once knew so well. 

Rachel wasn’t like a young child who went straight to making fun of my fear. Instead, she was a calming presence. I could tell she wasn’t unfamiliar with the fear of others. She, without hesitation, began to climb down the tree that she just made it up to. Time was not on our side. The sun was setting as my fear was setting deeper into me— freezing me feet at the roots. Rachel hopped off the lowest branch and began talking me through the first steps up. Now, one of my what if fears was coming true. I had to reveal some of my weaknesses to this new friend. Now, if you know me, it doesn’t take long to see that I am competitive and one who is in a constant struggle with Pride. In this moment, my Pride was falling beneath the grip of Rachel’s soft hands leading me one step closer to the tree. She was patient. Seemingly unconcerned about the pink sky above us that she was missing seeing. 

Growing up I was a soccer player. The most my feet left the ground was to jump up and head the ball. I was never afraid of that contact and that jump. However, it was in those jumps that I found myself on the ground several different times, blacked out and in and out of consciousness. It was those hits that took soccer away from me and my identity. It was those hits that led to more fears crippling me. I couldn’t tell Rachel all of that right then and there. My words were not coming. Just the paleness of my face, the sweat of my palms, and my shaky knees. 

Rachel got down on a knee, and invited me into a sport I never went near as she prompted me to step into her stunt. My Pride was rising, fighting against my shaky knees, and I stepped into her hands and reached for the branch in front of me. I muscled up all the strength that I could. And I made it up. I made it up!! 

“No.No. No.” 

“I cannot climb anymore.” 

The fear came flooding back in, I was straddling this branch, like a weaned child in its mother’s arms. I was holding on for dear life, even though I was just about 8 ft. off the ground. If I fell, I’d be fine. I knew that. But, I didn’t know that. 

Rachel applauded my courage. But, I’d never name that to be courage. What I saw as a shameful moment, she saw as a moment worth celebrating. I took note of that. But, I couldn’t shake my shame away. 

She made her way back up the tree, rising to the top just on time to see the sun bid farewell to this day. I stayed straddling to that first branch and she sat perked up on the top branch. I could barely see beyond the white blooms and forest green leaves. I just saw her feet so gleefully dangling and moving back and forth as my feet used to from my playground swing. She described it all for me. 

‘Oh Bailey!! It is gorgeous! Cotton candy pink dancing along the horizon line. Clouds moving briskly, Hints of red still remaining. It is beautiful. Mhhh. What a day!” 

I was so drawn into her peace. Her attentiveness. Her words soaked in honey dripping from her lips as she speaks. 

What if I had more access to this peace than I think 

What if I too could let me feet dangle so freely 

What if there was a blissful sense of adventure still hidden within me 

What if I too could know this peace 

What if my nights were filled with Magnolia trees and Cotton Candy skies I bid farewell to as the night sky arrives

I wasn’t there yet. I didn’t know how to get back to my childhood playground again. 

I no longer lived in my childhood home that transported me into that fearless space of adventure. But, I was beginning to find new playgrounds and new freedoms away from the fear. My fear of missing out on what Rachel had was growing larger than my fear of falling. So, I took steps… 

My fear never went fully away. Fear is a natural part of being human. But, what did change more and more for me, was the role I allowed fear to play in my life. Now, every time I see a magnolia— I see an invitation. An invitation to take a risk in order to see beyond what I could only see if I climbed the tree.

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