I recently asked an old friend what they found most interesting about me. Her reply was “you have no fear.” I laughed.
Oh, yeah. I have fear. A LOT of it. The difference between who I am now and who I used to be is that I’m not afraid of my fear. I used to think that it meant that I shouldn’t, or I mustn’t, or that I was small and weak and stupid. It means none of those things. It is just my mind and body telling me that there is a challenge I must act upon or prepare for. Fight, or flight, or proof of concept. A chance to be what I really am, and burn away the imperfections or tear away the masks. If I use that adrenaline to train with, study with, drive my mental or physical actions, fear turns into power.
For instance…I used to be afraid of sparring, an actual phobic response resulting from childhood abuse. I had no advisors to help me, no father or brother or uncles to tell me that EVERYONE feels fear, so it turned on me like a snake, and made every martial arts class hell. But what I learned to do, finally was put up a heavy bag, imagined myself getting the @#$$ humiliatingly beaten out of me in front of my friends and family. And then…hit that bag. Beat it until I was exhausted, and tears streamed down my face, and the sick feeling in my stomach turned into rage. And then keep going until that rage turned into pure energy, into technique, into stimulus and response, the pure survival drive older than thought, or complex emotion. And then, when sweat and tears were indistinguishable, I would curl up next to the bag and cry some more, until there were no more tears. And then take a shower and try to wring more tears out of myself, aching for the little boy inside me who was so hurt, felt so abandoned, wondered if he was so hideous and weak that no one wanted to be his daddy, no one wanted to protect him and help him. And swear to that boy that “Daddy is home”. Imagine him cowering behind me, knowing that I would die to protect him afraid or not, weak or not, that I would bring 100% of who I am and what I am.
And you know what? That is all that little boy inside me needed to know, and when I stood up, sobbing in the shower, he told me he loved me with all his heart. And his love and energy joined with my willingness to die to protect him, and gave me more than courage. It gave me faith. Faith that the world doesn’t ask more than we can give. It often asks for more than our egos can handle, but when we love something larger than that ego, we find everything that we need.
The martial arts are where I learned that lesson, one painful day at a time. But I’ve found it also in my writing, and in my family life. All based on the willingness to do whatever it takes to protect that little boy inside me.
We love each other like crazy. Jason and Nicki are, in many ways, just externalizations of that, a way of testing the reality of that commitment. As is my adoration of Tananarive or my sister Joyce, or my dear first wife Toni, or my nieces and nephews, and my extended family and closest friends…and students and clients and business associates and neighbors, an expanding circle of love and connection going out to the world.
Every single day I connect with that boy inside me, the one who began this journey. And the old man I will be on my deathbed. When I face a challenge, as we all do, every day, I expose my heart to the elements and feel that fear, tell myself the truth. I AM AFRAID. AND THE FEAR MEANS THAT I AM ALIVE, AND GROWING. I must work. Must love. Must prepare–the challenge is coming. I must be willing to stand and roar I AM HERE!
Do my very best. And if I do…if I honestly do the best I can, then win lose or draw, that little boy will hold me, and hug me, and love me, and say: “you did your best, Daddy. What do you always tell me? Just do my best. That’s what you did. For me. I will love you forever.”
And when it comes right down to it…that’s all I need.