I stood up in front of my class of Early Childhood Education students holding a cowardly lion doll from The Wizard of Oz. I lectured to them about the importance of courage. I told them they had to be brave enough to advocate for themselves. I told them they had to speak up for those who went unheard. And it struck me that I was a hypocritical chicken who was afraid of everything from woods to water! I realized I had to start following my own advice. So here’s what I did:
• When I was three, I walked off the end of a dock. My dad dove in and saved me. A little shift in my brain led to a life-long fear of deep water. I always said, “Oh, I can’t go swimming. I’m scared of water. I will probably drown.” I said this all my life. Then this summer, my son bought some blow-up rafts to play on in our creek. He urged me to come and try them. He was having so much fun! So I decided to summon up all my bravery and go rafting. I tiptoed in, gingerly holding the side of the raft. Then I wrapped my arms around the edge of it and let my feet float up behind me. And finally, I climbed right into the raft, sat on my knees in it, then sat down on my bum in it, and lastly lay right down on my back in it. The water carried me gently. The trees nodded approvingly. The sun smiled. I lived!
• When I was six, I went on a holiday with my family. Sitting around our campfire in Yellowstone Park, eating my oatmeal for breakfast, I looked up and saw a massive black bear lumbering towards me on his hind legs, heading straight for my bowl of cereal. I tossed my porridge, scrambled after my sisters and trembled in the tent until my mom chased the animal away. Another brain connection led me to an overwhelming fear of bears. I avoided woods and hiking, knowing deep down inside me that there were massive bears lurking behind every tree just waiting to maul me. But this past August, my husband and I took a trip to Vancouver Island. Our bed & breakfast looked right out on to the ocean. Pacific trails surrounded us. I read the warning signs: ”On these trails, you may encounter wolves, cougars and bears.” As I tried to find my inner boldness, I headed down the path. I was awestruck by the crashing waves, the windblown trees, the delicate hanging moss. I sat on a bench where the open ocean laughed and welcomed me to its shores. It was breathtaking. Any bears in the area chose to avoid my fellow tourists and me. I survived!
• When I was ten, I loved to dance. My sisters and I would play our 45 rpm records in the living room and we would do the jerk and the pony and the monkey. If we played “Sugar Shack”, mom would join us. My sisters and I giggled because we knew she couldn’t dance as groovily as us. But something shifted once again in my brain when some frightening experiences left me intimidated and fearful. My carefree boppy days of childhood were lost during my teens, and I could only dance with the shaky support of alcohol. And when I finally broke free of that addiction, I found all my inhibitions again. I stopped dancing. I said, “I can’t dance in front of people. I will look foolish. Everyone will stare at me.” But I was a bridesmaid this year at a fun and loving wedding. The ceremony was outside on a clear summer day and the reception was held in a converted barn. Rock & roll played inside and bluegrass could be heard outside in the parking lot. Guests milled around with cool drinks. Children laughingly chased each other through the prairie grass. It was a relaxed, easy-going event that loosened up everyone. I sat on my chair, watching people dancing to the live band. I guess I was gazing very intently at everyone. A friend grabbed my hands and pulled me up onto the floor and said, “C’mon…you know you want to!” and she was right. I did want to. I danced and laughed and danced some more. I was not embarrassed or self-conscious. And nobody criticized me. Everyone was having too much fun to even notice. I was fearless!
So at the end of this year, I can finally hold up that cowardly lion, and like him, know that I am full of courage. I can try new experiences. I can speak up. I can take chances. I am not a chicken.
Wishing you a year of small risks and bold adventures!
Peace. Love. Always.