Thursday, March 27, 2014

“…As Though I Had Wings”: Reflections on Fear and Happiness

Today is the second day of spring.  I am sitting on my little dock, which faces my murky little pond, with a cup of hot tea beside me and my laptop perched on my knees.  The frogs woke up from their underwater slumber last weekend, and I can hear a couple of them croaking to each other across the water.    A flock of starlings just swooped up into the sky in a swirling and elegant murmuration.  Some days, I can hear the highway.  But not today.  I just hear the starlings and the frogs and the dead leaves whispering to each other about the promise of spring.  

And gunfire.  I hear gunfire, too. 
I thought about leaving that part out. 
I’m (pretty) sure it’s just target practice.

We live on five acres at the end of a private road.  We have horses and cows for neighbors.  The sky is big.  Matt is building a chicken coop that we will paint bright green with orange trim.  We have fifteen chicks in a brooder in our living room, and right now my kids are out in the pen we just made for our ducklings, where kids and ducklings alike are happily imprinting on each other. 

Life is good.  And I feel—well, if you must know—I feel happy. 

I also feel terrified and a little embarrassed to admit to happiness.  My temperament is prone to melancholy.  My soul easily sinks into sadness.  But today—most days, really-- I am happy.  I am not completely sure why, but I have some ideas.   I am taking a cocktail of nutritional supplements that by some miracle has found happy’s sweet spot.  I am getting better about listening to my need for silence and solitude.  I live in the middle of trees and land and birds and sky.  Most nights after the kids are tucked in bed Matt and I sneak out to our hot tub, where we listen to coyotes and watch for shooting stars and track the path of the moon.   

I am a little afraid, though, of this happiness.  Just a bit ago I leaned back, stared up at the sky, and whispered, “I am so grateful.” 

And then my breath caught with fear.  I fought the urge to frantically look over my shoulder at what might be sneaking up behind me.  I had to fight the fears that flooded my mind:

What if cancer cells are clustered menacingly in my lungs or bones or blood?

What if I kill my kids in a wreck on one of my frequent trips to the city?

What if Matt loses his job and we have to leave this place?

What if a raccoon eats every single one of our chickens one night?

What if an eagle swoops down and snatches up our ducks?

What if…

I have lived most of my life stuck in the land of What If.  Oddly enough, I felt safe there.  It’s like the more “What ifs” I piled up around me the more I felt protected from them actually coming true. I stacked up the bricks of every possible “what if” scenario into a wall that I could crouch behind.  If my wall was tall enough, the “what ifs” couldn’t find me.  It’s a ridiculous sort of magical thinking, of course, but I have had years of practice in this paralyzing magical world. 

Except that lately, I find that I am not spending nearly as much time in that place.  Lately, I find myself walking in wonder through the real world.  I inhale deeply and walk slowly and gaze around me with a bit of awe.

Last month I turned forty.  A lot of people asked me how I felt about turning forty.  This is what I wrote the night before the big day:

“It's my last night in my 30's! I suppose I should feel something akin to dread, but quite frankly, I'm happier now than I think I have ever been--I don't think that's going to change when I wake up in the morning and I'm the big 4-0.”

And that feeling didn’t change when I woke up in the morning and I was suddenly in the next decade of my life.  That night, Matt gave me a birthday present, a flask, which made me feel both a little grown up and a little scandalous.  He had ordered it from a company called Liquid Courage, and he had it imprinted with the following Mary Oliver quote from her poem “Starlings in Winter”:

I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings

Those lines are my mantra, my wish, my new magical place.  Instead of crouching behind a wall of fear, I want to soar over those walls into a place that is
afraid of nothing.

I have found my wings. 



1 comment:

  1. Jill, I too struggle with a sense of fear about being too happy, worry that it's inviting some evil force to come along and crush my happiness. I read an article recently by a skateboarder who said that becoming a parent had made him a coward for the first time in his life.And I can relate to that too. It's so easy to live paralyzed behind the what ifs, especially as a mom, but I love your solution: to deliberately walk outside of them, in the real world. Thank you for sharing!