How did I become fearless?
The answer is, I don’t know. It happened when I least expected it.
Since I can recall, I’ve had a fear of falling and a fear of death, specifically a fear of falling to my death.
When I was four years old, my parents took me on a toddler roller coaster. I screamed and cried; I was terrified. That was the first time I felt the pit in my stomach also known as fear.
Since that day, I’ve done everything in my power to avoid that sensation.
My father, with loving relentlessness, tried to help me conquer my fear. We spent time in my school playground after hours. I would climb to the top of the jungle gym, hold on to the top bar for dear life with hope that I would let go and drop safely to the sand. The attempts usually ended with my father grabbing me by the waist and lowering my blubbering body down to the ground.
I am anything but a thrill seeker and adrenaline junkie; I have no broken bones to prove it, except for a sprained finger I earned during an aggressive dodge ball game when I was eight years old. Every adventure I’ve experienced in my life has not been without the pit in my belly and the swirling anxiety in my mind.
After that, I couldn’t get on a plane without medication. I flew twice post 9/11 and then grounded myself until late 2008; I didn’t fly for seven years. I was paralyzed by fear. If it weren’t for my two daughters, I would have stayed grounded indefinitely, but I refused to be that mom—the coward.
So, I started flying again in honor of my fear. I didn’t ignore her, I acknowledged her. I took her along for the ride instead of allowing her to hijack my life.
My fear was right there with me as I took my first intercontinental flight and then my second and my third. I could feel her embracing me as I flew internationally.
As I did what I feared doing the most, I began to understand that what existed on the other side of the fear was more important to me than allowing my fear to control me and my ability to live my life.
Pre-realization, I was willing to give up life and experience to avoid my fear; fear was more important than my life. I forfeited many weddings, bridal showers, births, vacations, bar mitzvahs, even forgoing my dream honeymoon.
Three years ago, I inscribed the word Abhaya in Sanskrit on my right wrist. Abhaya means fearlessness.
It became a goal of mine to know the feeling of being without fear, even if just for a moment. I knew I couldn’t force it to come. That moment would arrive when I trusted myself more than I trusted my fear and when I recognized my fear was not in control and neither was I, something more powerful was—the unknown.
I knew when I was able to show up and trust the unfamiliar, I would know what it was like to be fearless.
That moment happened one week ago, today. I put on a purple jumpsuit and stepped into a full body harness. I boarded a tiny seatless Cessna, harnessed to a person I’d never met until half an hour before the ride.
The pilot opened the door to the airplane. I put one foot onto the ledge, then the other and I leapt out of the airplane 14,500 feet in the sky.
A few seconds into the jump, my instructor tapped me on the shoulder (the sign to open my arms) and I let go of the straps as my arms flew behind me.
For the first time in my life, I welcomed the unknown with a smile on my face and arms wide open.
I was free, completely free.
I knew peace. I felt it. I experienced it. I embodied it. Peace I didn’t know existed. Something was missing that day, on the ride up in the airplane and on the jump down to the ground—fear. She was gone.
As we drove away from the airport, I looked down at my wrist. My tattoo was no longer a goal, but a reminder of an accomplishment, my recovery.
I know fear will come back and I will feel her by my side many times again, but there’s one thing that will never happen again: I will never allow fear to be more important than life, because there is nothing to fear except regretting a life un-lived.
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Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photo: Author’s own