Tim Ferriss is my favorite podcast host. Podcasts entertain and inform me as I travel down the highways. Several days ago I listened to Ferriss’ interview with author Anne Lamott. Lamott quoted Dorothy Bernard, actress of the silent movie era who said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
Several friends stated that I was courageous to set out on my journey after disposing of my home, my automobile, and many other possessions, and leaving the familiar, secure environment of Memphis where I’d spent most of my 68 years. After Sarla passed away, an abyss opened up at my feet. I didn’t feel courageous. I felt displaced. The abyss was deeper than a redecoration could cure, or a new home, a new partner, or a shiny new recreational vehicle.
I had a hunch that a malleable road map would place me in a classroom where I might become teachable. I needed to lean in to being afloat. I had no clue, no owner’s manual about how to proceed. I would fill my tank and step on the gas. Though I don’t formally pray, I bowed to the intention to be led through the darkness of fear towards a brighter place. The intention became the spark that ignited the flint inside of me.
Lamott gave examples of F-E-A-R as an acronym. One is “Future Events Already Ruined.” I considered that I screwed up by signing up for this nomadic test drive in the first place. I was overwhelmed by the size of my rig when I first came face to face with it. My anxiety flared at being behind the wheel for the first several thousand miles of driving. That fear manifested as an accident waiting to happen. My brakes would fail when driving down a mountainous descent, the rig would go over a cliff, and then smash into a tree. Shouldn’t I be driving a Smart Car instead of a 24 foot rig that gets 13 miles per gallon? I despaired about the dead end of coveting the narrower, shorter rigs of others that seemed so much more practical and maneuverable.
Lamott, an addict who cites teachings from the AA literature, also described another example of F-E-A-R as an acronym for “false evidence appearing real.” Though my chest was puffed large, inside I was afraid of the specter of uncertainty about where I was going, of the potential for aimlessness. I painted a picture of this suspense in a number of false ways. I was abandoning friends and family, I was cutting my own throat. I was abdicating responsibility. I would become a stranger on unfamiliar turf. I would run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. My dog, Lola would die.
I settled into being my own priority. My parents raised their three children to be socially conscious, to be attentive to the needs and interests of others. The manifestation of this lesson was to not ask what I wanted, but to ask how I could orient my life towards service. Though this parental guidance had merit, turning my attention towards claiming what I wanted has been a discipline. At times it has felt more selfish than courageous. Identifying and satisfying my own desires is self serving, but the interplay between self care and service to others is huge.
Lamott speaks of spiritual fitness. In my world, it’s when fear and anxiety abate. After almost three months on the road I no longer identify as an uncertainty junkie. Instead, I feel comfortably clueless about so many things, especially about the path in front of me. Not knowing isn’t a death sentence. The textbook of my spiritual fitness class is writing itself as the path unfolds. One of its key elements is the restoration of my sense of humor. Laughter is medicine. Letting the road rise to meet me is important, but it’s not exclusively serious. Lamott describes laughter as “carbonated holiness.”
Writing this blog is my way of making my world more spacious, where boundaries created by fear begin to dissolve. It’s my courage, my fear saying its prayers.