What raises your hackles may not even ruffle my feathers. We're all different. But we share this: there are times when personal growth requires we face our fears and step into them.
A month back, my husband scared himself when he seriously considered attending a weekend quilting class. He spent long years seeking to squelch his creativity. Since coming out 15 years ago, he has sought to nourish this aspect of self. He has taught himself to sew and quilt. The opportunity to receive formal instruction appealed to him, but he resisted. He would be the only man there, feel out of place, obvious, in the spotlight. He put off making a decision until after the registration deadline had passed. Whew.
Me, I faced fear recently when I signed up for a 10-week intensive writing class with two female instructors. I felt energized by this opportunity. I kept talking about it to my husband and to anyone else who would listen. I had big plans. Was going to do great work. Dive into scary places. Write into my vulnerable spots. Just you watch. Can't wait for the course to begin. Bring it on.
I suspect my husband heard my nervous energy for what it was. When I get afraid I can get verbose. This helps me pretend I feel more confident than I do. Behind all the words, I was afraid I would be shown up, fall flat on my face, have nothing to say, once again be outed as an incompetent blowhard.
That first day of class a nighttime dream woke me up to what was going on. I pay attention to nighttime dreams. I find them instructive. They do an end run around my conscious mind, offer me a peek into my inner life. May I relate this one?
I enter a small one-story house. Along with two other men I get on an elevator that will take us eight floors below ground level. Before we even press the "down" button, the floor of the elevator begins to shake and tilt.
"I don't trust this!" I shout. I fling myself up onto the half-wall that surrounds the elevator shaft. My companions follow suit. The bottom of the elevator drops away; my stomach goes with it. A black hole gapes below us. We three belly-straddle the wall; our feet dangle over the abyss. I feel panic, intense fear.
We worm our way to relative safety on the floor. Two women enter.
"Mind the hole!" I yell, even as one of them steps right onto the emptiness, walks across to us.
"We know the hole there," she says.
I awaken, feeling a mix of fear and relief. Respect, too, for what dreams can reveal. I don't know what you make of it, but I see this: Here I am, first day of a writing class with two female instructors and the opportunity to go down deep within, and I dream of a house with a downward passage and two women who safely navigate the abyss.
Message to self: I may be prating on about how excited I am to plumb the depths, but there's a threefold part of me that's scrambling to stay safe, prefers playing the worm to plunging in. I'm running scared. Afraid I won't be good enough, won't have anything to say, won't like what I do have to say. I fear what I might learn about myself, that I may have to act on it.
Message to self: there's also a two-part feminine energy within me that knows this interior landscape, can handle it. Now there's a confidence booster.
Out of the dream comes this way forward: rather than talk about my big plans, I can face my fears. Rather than worm-crawl the perimeter, I can run at what scares me, jump in, plunge 80 feet down, see what happens before I hit bottom. I can start writing. Just do it.
And I do. I write into what absolutely scares the bejabbers out of me. I do good personal work, learn more than I want to about myself. Find it's true, what I've been told: "Write into your deepest fears; that's where the energy is."
The sign-up date had passed, but my husband called anyway. Any chance he could still sign up for the quilting class?
"Love to have you," she said.
He went. This week he finished piecing together a queen-size quilt top in the shoofly pattern, a traditional Amish design. Now begins the difficult work of hand quilting the whole thing. One step, one stitch at a time, he tells me. One leap, one headlong plunge into fear.
This essay appeared in The Community Letter, April 2011