Saturday, August 23, 2014

A mother's counsel, and following our fears...

Like two ants, atop the Deil's Heid...they followed their fears.
Hiking along the top of the sandstone cliffs overlooking the North Sea, where we had kayaked just days before, we came upon two climbers - on the very top of the Deil's Heid, a local sea stack. Very impressive! It led us to think about the directions in life we sometimes fear to take...

As a small boy, I was a little shy. I was also short, wore glasses, had freckles and curly hair, and was usually the last person chosen to be on any team, whether it be road hockey or schoolyard soccer. Given all this, I'm thankful to have had the parents I did. My father always seemed completely fearless - there was nothing, it seemed, he wouldn't dare to do or try. He had a great life, full of adventure. He probably never said, "I should have." - he just did it. My mother was quietly the same way. Growing up, her words of encouragement were often..."Duncan, if you don't try, you'll never know." She was right.

Their example taught one of life's most important lessons - we need to follow our fears and our doubts. Yossi Ghinsberg's moving account of his survival, against all odds, in the Amazon rainforest of Bolivia is a startling, raw, and graphic account of survival in unthinkable conditions. Having survived the impossible harshness of an unforgiving environment, Ghinsberg ended his book, Lost in the Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival, with these gentle words:

"May you find the courage to walk your own path. May you dare to venture into the uncharted domains of your heart. Here is my advice to you, the adventurers - fear will show you the way, walk steadily toward it. Have trust and faith to guide you like a torch piercing darkness."

I get goose bumps when I re-read those words. Usually we talk about facing our fears - but following our fears is so very different. In facing our fears, we can decide that they are too formidable and back away from them. Then we will never know if we have missed out on something essential, something that is life-giving and life-enriching. If we follow our fears, however, if we allow our fears to show us the way, we dare to go where we can confront their source and their true nature. Most often, the things we fear in life have a ferocious bark, but they rarely have much real bite.

I was thinking this morning about my father's example and my mother's counsel, "If you don't try, you'll never know." Our first summer internship many years ago could have been near home, in Toronto. It would have been easy. There was a sense, however, that we should follow our fears of the unknown which would mean cutting the umbilical cord to everything familiar. We were assigned to a remote and tiny community in Fortune Bay, in Newfoundland. We could have had the comfort of the familiar. Instead, we discovered the warmth and charm of wonderful people, indescribable natural beauty, and a deeply enriching experience. It was an "adventure" we'll never forget.

For years, I desperately wanted to learn to fly but there was always the nagging fear of the mandatory and dreaded "spin recovery" and then the first solo, followed by the cross-country solo. What if I couldn't do it? What if it didn't go well? "If you don't try, you'll never know." Despite the fears and self-doubt, it did go well and several years of living a dream followed - and no one ever got hurt. :)

We have loved everywhere we have ever lived. Every time we moved, however, there was the nagging worry that we might be making a mistake.To move always meant leaving people we cared about and places that had become "home". Despite this, there has always been the irresistible call, as Yossi Ghinsberg describes, "to venture into the uncharted domains" of the heart. After the usual agonizing, we usually followed our fears - and our hearts. Over the years, we know that it was always the right thing to do.

It is, admittedly always easier not to "launch", and to stay on the shore. The waves, the wind, and the currents can be so unpredictable and so contrary. And the shoreline is very beautiful, rich in diversity, and offers much comfort. The counsel, however, a loving mother frequently gave to her shy, freckled and bespectacled, little boy, keeps coming to mind. "If you don't try, you'll never know."

I guess I've just always needed to know - but never quite enough to climb to the top of the Deil's Heid!

Two climbers that "know".
When we become aware of the struggles our world faces, issues related to violence and injustice, hunger, disparity, and poverty, we often fear that we cannot make a difference.

And so we don't try.

It is in finding the courage to follow our fears, and all of our doubts in life, that we most often do make a our own lives and in the lives of others.

And besides, if we don't try, we'll never know. :)


  1. D, Good advice! I usually find my desire to do something will overcome my fear. Mostly it's the things in life that I have to do and don't want to that cause me my greatest fears.
    I'll meet you in the river soon. ;)

    1. Oh oh...the river, the dreaded river. Haha! Thanks for that, L. Not wanting to do something makes for a great excuse. I mean, heck, I'm not afraid to swim in a river...I just don't want to! :) Warm wishes, D.