Monday, May 9, 2011

Face your fears

I have always tried to raise brave young men.

You cut your knee honey? You’ll live. Spilt your milk? Get over it. Afraid you’ll fail? Failure lies in not trying.

I want them to have perspective on their woes, and courage in the face of adversity. 

Of course, this requires me to lead by example. If I want them to face their fears, I have to face mine. Which is how I found myself in a mask and flippers, hyperventilating my way through a dark underground river in Mexico a few weeks ago.

My husband had already faced his fears on the trip. God bless him, he rappelled off an 85-foot platform in the rainforest. This is the man who cannot stand on a ladder without having a turn. He has many great strengths, but a head for heights is not one of them.

So when the boys thought it would be fun to swim through a cave, along a mile-long underground river, I felt forced to acquiesce.

I should point out here that I am not OK with fish. I have worked hard to overcome this phobia, and have made great strides. Bright tropical water with colorful Finding Nemo-type fish 10 feet below me I can do. Brown murky water with brown murky fish 10 inches from my face I cannot.

However, I was determined to set a good example. I snapped on my mask, donned my flippers, and kicked off in a nonchalant fashion. Fifty feet in, I put my head underwater, and immediately came back up, choking in horror. I was surrounded by catfish. And thousands upon thousands of teeny tiny black sprats. 

I clutched Mr Berman’s arm.
"I can't do it."
"Just keep moving"
"There are fish. They're all over me."
"Of course there are fish. It's a bloody river."

I paddled on in a panicky fashion, looking for a suitable exit point. Eventually I spotted a pinpoint of light in the distance, so I dragged myself onto the rocky bank, divested myself of flippers, and started to scale a trail leading upwards, checking my bathing suit obsessively for tiny black sprats.

I emerged, blinking, into the light, and forged a path towards what I hoped would be the cave exit. After a few hundred yards, a sharp piece of gravel embedded itself in my foot. I swore heartily, and stepped back into the only footwear I had available.

I waddled on in my mask and flippers, groping about in my bikini bottoms, in what I knew would become a lifelong search for leftover sprats. A group of passing travelers stared at me in disbelief. I smiled faintly and waved (with the hand that wasn't down my bikini), only to trip over a flipper. 

I staggered to my feet shouting "Backwards! I forgot to walk backwards! You should always walk backwards in flippers!" The passing travelers moved on quickly.

Heeding my own advice, I walked the remaining half mile backwards, bleeding profusely from my left knee, swearing loudly as I fumbled for sprats.

"Where the hell have you been?" yelled Mr Berman. 'We were worried."

"I faced my fears and I don't like them." I yelled back. "That's why they're called fears. I want a margarita."

Not exactly the lesson I had intended to impart, but a valuable one, nevertheless.

When courage fails, there is always tequila.

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