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Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Fear of Falling

My wife, Melanie, and I visit Virginia Beach once every four years.  This is our favorite beach and we began going there for vacation when our children were still at home.  We like it because the hotels, etc., are built back from the beach, and the beach is wide.  Between the beach and the development is a 3 mile stretch of concrete that is called a boardwalk.  Along the walkway are the hotels, a variety of restaurants and entertainment consisting of bands, magicians, street actors, artists, dancers, and you name it.  There is such a wide variety of things to do along the boardwalk that we never have to touch our car the entire week that we are there.

Needless to say, the boardwalk is filled with people walking, running, biking and skating throughout the day and night.  I like to watch the skaters, especially the good ones who turn skating into an art form.  They seem to float and glide effortlessly as they turn this way, then that way, wind blowing their hair.  There are couples who skate while holding hands, dancing on their skates to music in a nearby park; kids who race by like hockey players; lone skaters listening to their ipods.

So, I decided to try it.  "It's not like I have never been on skates", I explained to my worried wife. "I was an athlete in high school."   I didn't tell her that it had probably been 25 or 30 years since I had laced up a pair of skates, or that I  had never been on a pair of inline skates..

I could barely stand, and, as I was reaching for the nearest something, anything to hold onto, my feet flew out from under me and I hit the pavement of the boardwalk.  Falling at age 56 seemed to hurt worse than when I was 12.  So, I crawled over to the iron railing facing the ocean, pulled myself up, and baby-stepped my way down the concrete path holding the rail.

I could never seem to let go of the railing.  Each time I tried, I could see and feel myself falling and I would grab the rail.  People standing along the railing would see me coming and jump out of the way.  Where was the grace of this?  Where was the beauty?

And then I realized that the skaters I had admired were not thinking about falling.  They were not thinking at all.  They were in the moment; totally present; at one with the motion; not worried about technique or form.  My fear of falling was my foremost thought.  I was ruled by my fear.

And I never overcame it.  I sadly took the skates off and remembered the days I had spent at the skating rink with my sister.  What was different?  Maybe guys my age were not supposed to be on skates, I rationalized to myself.  But then I saw several who were my age or older on skates, gliding along.

Our fears hold us back, not just in skating, but in everything we do, whether they are real or imagined.  Our fears keep us from enjoying life the way it is supposed to be enjoyed.  They hold us back in our relationships, in our jobs, in our friendships, and even in knowing God.

Our biggest obstacles in life are internal; our fears that we are not worthy; fears of letting go of the past (even an abusive or dysfunctional past); fears of being ridiculed; fears of seeming foolish; fears of not fitting in.

The first thing that God asks of us is to "fear not".  When we fear not, we are free.  Free to experience God and life to the fullest extent; free to live in the will of God.  The spiritual life requires that we live in a different way, think in a different way, and see things in a way that is contrary to the material world.  Living a life dedicated to love, hope, forgiveness and peace will often attract the opposite- hate.  Being different requires great courage.

But, once we overcome our fears, anything is possible... even skating.

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