Monday, April 28, 2008

Fear Shmear

True confessions: I'm afraid. All the time. My entire life, I have been afraid of countless things. Some of those things are reasonable and healthy. A dose of fear every now and then sharpens the senses and makes us more aware of our surroundings.

However, some of those fears are pretty irrational. And I've noticed that irrational fears, though sometimes entertaining, makes you so aware of your surroundings that you can delve into a pit of paranoia. Germs freak me out. My husband has had to hide the medical dictionary from me because I convince myself that I am suffering from whatever malady I have glimpsed in its pages. Not so healthy. There is also my huge fear of dogs, even small ones. I've been bit a couple of times, so that could explain that. Not to mention my irrational fear of cats, I'm pretty sure those are evil animals that will suck the soul out of you while you are sleeping. Thanks for that Stephen King. I used to make myself fall asleep during scary movies at slumber parties because I was sure that whatever I witnessed on screen would happen to me the next day. Yeah, I was always the first one to have their unmentionables frozen in the freezer. Good times.

But living in Ecuador has forced me to face a lot of my fears head on. First off, there are stray dogs and cats everywhere. Germs abound, you are advised not to drink the water because who knows what bacteria will build a home inside of you, and I don't speak enough of the language to feel comfortable visiting a doctor every time I think I have some incurable disease. I've just had to learn to deal with my irrational moments. Acknowledge, laugh, move on.

Having dealt with my other main fears here in Ecuador, I have recently decided to try to conquer the big one. Heights.

I have always been afraid of heights. Anytime I have ever been even a few feet off the ground my palms start sweating and I have to tell whoever is with me (mainly Dave) to stop talking. When I was younger and my father would take me skiing, I would make survival plans on the lift up the mountain.

If the cable snaps and the lift breaks, I will just grab onto that huge pole, or tree, or wire, and climb down. Uh huh. That would work.

Truth be told, I still make contingency plans whenever I find myself off the ground. I've been a firm believer that the seat cushion on a plane will float me down to safety, and if the ferris wheel breaks down while I am at the top I will just shimmy down the metal structure. Foolish, I know, but it is how my brain tends to cope with my irrationality, by making equally irrational escape plans.

Lately, I haven't been that satisfied with this fear taking up residence with me. I've been wanting to evict it for some time but didn't really know what to do so that it would take me seriously. This weekend, while I was at the beach with friends Cate and Sarah, a eviction opportunity popped up.

Yeah, that's right. I went paragliding. In Ecuador. (For only $25 by the way). I'm not really sure what convinced me to take the plunge, so to speak, but I can tell you that I am so glad I did. Cate, Sarah, and I had stumbled across the opportunity while eating dinner in Montanita one night. We were told that we could fly with the birds for twenty minutes or so for only twenty-five dollars. I immediately said, "no thanks." Sarah and Cate definitely seemed interested, but being the kind friends that they are, were willing to wait until their husbands could accompany them.

As our night went on, I just kept thinking about the fears I have hung on to for the majority of my life. I replayed the opportunities I had passed up, the adventures I had not experienced. Then I thought about the past nine months and all of the things I have done which I never in a million years thought I would. Moving out of the country, learning a new language, jumping out of a bus window. I thought to myself, "Well, those things took a bit of courage. What is so different about this?"

Next thing I knew, I was running off a cliff and floating over a piece of beautiful coastline in Ecuador.
I have to say, it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. As soon as the wind caught the paragliding extraordinaire, Alex, and I and we were soaring through the air, an incredible sense of peace and tranquility came over me. It has been the only time I have ever been completely off the ground and not been afraid. To say that I was surprised by how peaceful and awed I felt is an understatement. I couldn't believe that I felt so safe, happy, and content while I was so many feet above the safe ground. There wasn't even one moment when I closed my eyes, or felt the stirrings of panic. Only peace. I really felt like I could spend all day flying along the coast, watching the waves hit the shore, and sharing a bird's eye view of the world.

When we landed back on earth after a twenty minute ride, I couldn't stop smiling. I couldn't believe what I had just done, or how safe and relaxed I had felt while doing it. Now, I can't wait to be up in the sky again. I can't wait for the next adventure.