People think of me as a pretty brave person. I suppose that’s because I do a lot of things that would scare most people. If you can’t imagine living your life loud and independent from a wheelchair, or telling your tender, intimate stories on stage in front of hundreds, well, then, I probably seem super courageous.
But fear is relative. When I see someone publicly throwing herself into a new endeavor, all gangly and awkward, I think, wow, she is so brave, because I don’t like being publicly gangly and awkward. It might really be no big deal for her. No courage required. But for me, it would be quite the stretch.
Still, we all have things that we’re scared of, big things, little things, things we should probably avoid anyway, and things we’d really benefit from getting over.
Take Aidan, my two year-old. Aidan is afraid of beeping sounds.
When he was a baby, he got the bejesus scared out of him by a ringing phone. A few months later, we had a very unfortunate encounter with a malfunctioning carbon-monoxide detector that scared him so badly he wouldn’t go into the dining room for weeks. Ever since, he’s been extremely sensitive to any kind of beeping sound, and he doesn’t like to be near things that he thinks might beep.
Given the age in which we live, you can imagine how problematic this is. From our phones to his grandmother’s hearing aids, Aidan’s world is FULL of things that beep. So, we’ve spent some time trying to help him cope.
For the most part, that’s been a process of acknowledging that, yes, some things beep and, yes, sometimes they beep unexpectedly. AND, whey they do beep, nothing happens.
Well, today, while I was making his lunch, Aidan pointed to the glass door across the room from his play spot on the floor just outside the kitchen and announced that something was beeping. It took me a moment even to hear it but, sure enough, something outside was faintly beeping. I told him rather nonchalantly that I heard it too and, when it stopped, I noted that for him. Aidan went back to playing.
When lunch was ready, I discovered a mess of puzzle pieces strewn between me and the table and asked Aidan to get the lunchbox he uses to store the pieces so we could clean up. He stood up and froze.
I thought he didn’t know where the lunchbox was, so I pointed out where it was sitting on the low table near the glass door, and asked him again to go get it. He started moving toward it but in infinitesimal steps.
I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, and I was just about to tell him to speed it up, when I heard him talking. Very quietly, under his breath, he was saying, “Nothing happens. Nothing happens. Nothing happens.”
And then it hit me. The lunchbox was right next to the glass door through which he had heard the beeping. And he was afraid to walk over there and get it.
My heart exploded. But I stood my ground because, unlike other times, when he’d clung to my leg, or simply refused to go somewhere, he was inching, step by step, willfully, intentionally, toward the door.
I didn’t have to be afraid of the door myself to realize just how brave he was being. I watched in awe as he slowly crossed the room, talking himself through each step.
When he reached the lunchbox, he turned back to me with a huge, proud grin and I let out a cheer. “Hooray!! You did it!” He stood there for a minute, smiling, then picked up the lunchbox and brought it back to me.
I’m immensely proud of my boy but, truly, it’s more than that. I am humbled by his courage. A few days ago, I made a big commitment toward my next professional step and I’ve been ever so slowly backing away from it since. And here was my two year-old, summoning the strength of an ox to walk into his fear headlong.
Thankfully, I am fortified by Aidan’s spirit. And his lesson is crystal clear: When afraid, keep taking steps toward what scares you, small as they may be, and talk yourself through, until you arrive. I’m sure it’s a lesson we can all use.
And I’ll tell you this, Little Boy. If you can do it, so can I. And in your honor, I promise I will.