When I was little I used to pray not to be afraid.
All the people I admired were so brave. Fearless. (Or so it seemed to me.) I wanted to be just like them.
But you know what? If you are indeed fearless, I don't admire you anymore. Mostly I think you're an idiot, or else have some rare genetic mutation that doesn't allow you feel the things normal people feel.
The people I admire now are the ordinary schlubs who are scared to death to do so many things in life, and yet do them anyway.
It takes no courage at all to do something that doesn't scare you. Why would I give you a pat on the back for that? It would be like somebody congratulating me for eating chocolate.
Now, how you face your fears is a very personal choice. Prayer...iron willpower...whimpering in a corner until the bogeyman goes away. Whatever. Humor works for me. Somehow, laughter will un-paralyze me enough to function.
The first time I became consciously aware of this I was on television. I was in the fifth grade, and I had been chosen, along with two boys, to represent my elementary school on a local quiz show called "Who Knows the Answer?"
Quite an unexpected honor, since my classmate, Angela H*, was probably smarter. (Okay, more than likely smarter.) But Angela H was a nasty little beyotch, and frankly the teacher liked me better. Not that I was a smarmy little pet or anything, but at least I didn't throw tantrums in the lunchroom when they ran out of chocolate milk.
Honor or not, it was terrifying. Live TV will liquefy the bowels of people far braver than I, especially the 11-year-old version of me. And as much confidence as I had in my general knowledge of the fifth-grade curriculum, I just knew I would freeze up as soon as the cameras started rolling.
And I almost did.
My hands were sweating on the buzzer. My mouth was dry. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to push the words out, even if I knew the answer. But it would be SO embarrassing if I sat there like a dummy through the whole show and never even buzzed in. Humiliating, in fact. I couldn't risk it.
So I pressed that button on the very first question.
Which I hadn't really heard. Or at least hadn't processed.
As luck would have it, I was the first to buzz. When the emcee called my name, my heart started pounding. I knew if I didn't open my mouth fast I would just sit there for the whole show, like Bambi caught in a rifle sight. So (clever me!) I asked him to repeat the question. Stalling for time.
"Who was Priscilla Mullins talking to when she said, 'Why don't you speak for yourself, John?'"
I knew it. I knew I knew it. I SO knew that fucking Pilgrim's last name, I really did**. (Though I did not, in fact, know the word "fucking" at the time. That's just the adult me projecting backward.)
But it was...gone. *Poof* It had slithered back to some inaccessible part of my preadolescent brain.
So, I took a deep breath, plastered a half-confident, half-smartass smile on my face, and said in a voice both pure and untrembling, "JOHN." (What? I got partial credit.)
Thought the emcee was going to die. Took him a full minute to stop laughing, and the studio audience gave him plenty of backup. I should've been embarrassed, but instead I ate it up. Making people laugh was fun!
(Oh, and by the way, we won. Not by exactly as many points as my partial credit, but wouldn't that have been cool?)
The emcee came up to me after the show, shook my hand, and congratulated me for giving the most logical answer to a question he had heard in the whole time he'd been hosting the show.
That day I learned a valuable lesson about not being afraid to speak up, one I've since used over and over again: If you can't blind them with your brilliance, at least you can make them wet their pants a little. ;)
*Whom I sincerely hope never, ever finds this blog. But if she does, I want to assure her I mean the, um, other Angela H. Not her.
**Alden, if you're curious & can't remember. Personally, I will never forget it again.