Marie Curie, the two-time Nobel Prize-winning French physicist, once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” So often in life our fears restrict us from doing something we want to do. Whether our fears are rational or irrational, we let our fears control us.
For me, it’s bees. I’ve been terrified of them ever since I was a child. I’m not allergic to them, but when I was eight, I stepped on a bee. He was collecting pollen and my foot totally ruined his day. He stung my big toe, causing a bunch of other bees in the vicinity to swarm around my feet. I don’t know if they were curious about the dead bee or if they wanted revenge for his death. Either way, I ran for it.
Early this semester the staff of the North Wind noticed a wasp nest in the door frame of the door outside of the UC, the one by the bike rack near the parking lot. It’s the door the employees use, since the door leads to a staircase that goes right to our office.
When we first noticed the nest, I was fearful. It was an irrational, yet real fear. At first, I avoided the door. Eventually, I started using it, but I ducked every time, fearing a swarm of wasps would come down, attacking like a miniature air force of destruction.
We discussed telling someone or removing the nest ourselves. Instead, we left it alone. After a while, we became used to the nest. It’s strange, though – every time I go under it I look for the wasps who seem a lot less interested in me than I am in them.
This experience has led me to wonder why we let our fears limit us. I’m not eight years old anymore. I go through that door multiple times every day of the week. Why should a creature so small make me afraid? The wasps are just trying to live there.
We’ve all heard that old Jerry Seinfield joke. More people are afraid of public speaking than death, which means that most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. I have to say, more often than not I’m one of those people. Public speaking can be terrifying. Is that rational? Of course not. I think on some level, all of us know that. Yet even when faced with the complete irrationality of our fears, we allow them to control us.
The conquering of my fear was one of necessity. I had to face it because I needed to go through that door. Generally, I’m not a fearless person. I have other fears, of course, just like anyone else. But for me, being able to walk under that door without my heart racing and my palms sweating is a real step forward.
A friend recently told me about an exercise given to her in an art class. A student takes a piece of paper and covers it in charcoal from top to bottom. The goal then is to erase, rather than draw, until an image comes forth from the paper.
I think that’s exactly how fear works. Something may be dark and terrifying, but when you face that darkness head-on, you begin to realize that maybe there’s something beyond the fear. When it comes together and you’re able to see whatever you fear for what it truly is, the experience is wonderful.
I’ve begun studying the wasps when I see them. I watch them move along the honeycombed surface of their little home. Usually, there are only two or three visible. They don’t react when I walk under – don’t even to fly away. The door, which swings under the nest, doesn’t even make them move. Instead of fearing them, I think I can learn from them.
I want to be fearless, like the wasps I once feared. Maybe someday I will be able to say that I am unafraid. Until then, though, I suppose I’ll have to conquer my fears slowly, one at a time.