finding fearlessness

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Today the new year is upon us. In the Maslin house, the coming of the new year is not January 1st, but a day of truly new beginnings: TC’s alive day. Four years ago today I woke up alone in my bed. I had no idea my husband lay on a neighbor’s porch only 7 blocks away – in and out of consciousness as his brain bled from the inside. Our lives would never be the same.

This is the time of the year in which I tend to do my most genuine reflection – not thinking about resolutions necessarily, but what has brought us to this place and what life continues to hold.
 
What a glorious year it has been.
 
Last August, after lots of talking and lots of analyzing, we bit the bullet and decided to try for another baby. Were we crazy? Probably, we decided. Would this added responsibility cause our already delicate life structure to crumble and fall? It was a distinct possibility, we acknowledged. But after some tears and a few soul searching meetings with myself, I knew my truth: our family wasn’t complete and we (particularly me) couldn’t shake the idea that we might live in regret if we never took this risk.
 
A year later and our sweet Rosie girl is here. Her arrival has definitely upset the balance in some ways. Our well established routines have fallen to the wayside. Our attention is constantly divided. I really can’t tell you the last time Jack brushed his teeth. Or the last time my hair met a blow dryer. But we’re still standing (at least for the time being).
 
New babies have a tendency to make you rethink all things (especially your decision to welcome a newborn during the hottest summer of all time. On the planet. Like, ever.) This month I can’t steer my mind away from thoughts about fearlessness – what it means to be fearless, how we become fearless, and how we hold on to our sense of fearlessness during times of calm. After TC was injured I received so many messages that said, “I don’t know how you’re doing this. You’re so brave!” And I love compliments, I really do. But I knew I hadn’t earned this one, nor could I offer an explanation.
 
In the years since, I’ve sent the same message to other people in my life: friends surviving awful loss or going through illness or managing other insane stressors. I’ve paid them the same compliment, knowing that the only honest explanation for this type of perceived bravery is that we do what life demands of us. If life asks us to piece our hearts back together after a horrible breakup or make sense of a loss that was unexpected and senseless, we do it. If it asks us to hang tight while our bodies undergo chemotherapy or experience chronic pain, we send our cells a silent but stern message to please hold it together and keep us going for a little longer.
 
We do what life demands of us.
 
No addends. No frills. No beautiful choreography to lead us back into days of ease. We just do whatever is necessary to survive and we power through.
 
Sometimes I look back at all the chaos I’ve survived and I ask, ‘Who was that person?’ I can hardly remember the mental and physical fortitude it took to live at the hospital for three months, or testify in separate trials against TC’s attackers, or pack up all our belongings while battling strep throat AND planning a birthday party for a two-year-old. Life demands so much less from me these days that I can’t remember what it feels like to work so hard in return.
 
I don’t miss the struggle, of course. In fact, I fully anticipate its return one day and I’m always alert, ready to step back into my battle gear if necessary. But I do miss the sense of fearlessness from which I used to operate. When the worst thing has already happened to you, your perception of risk is drastically changed – and in a good way! It took three decades and a horrible trauma to cultivate the fearlessness I needed to survive TC’s injury and it’s a quality I’m working really hard to hold on to as the circumstances of my life lose their edgy grit.
 
Those of us who have lived through something Bad (yes, that’s bad with a capital B), possess an internal struggle: how do we let that Bad thing inform our life view without letting it completely take over? TC and I say over and over: we are not defined by brain injury. But that’s not to say we sure as hell haven’t learned some lessons from it. So, I guess that’s what our new year is all about: reteaching ourselves the lessons that are most valuable. And here’s what I’ve learned about fearlessness.
 
Fear is almost always associated with failure. We humans hate to fail, so we’ve built up some strong ass neuroses to help steer us away from any potential experiences with failure.
 
Failure is not the scariest thing. It may feel like the scariest thing, but once we’ve tapped into something even scarier (in my case, grief), it’s easier to take failure off the pedestal on which we’ve placed it and examine it rationally.
 
Being fearless is all about asking, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” and then answering that question honestly. If the worst thing that can happen is that someone will judge me or someone will decide I’m not likeable, that’s a risk I can safely take. If the worst thing that can happen is my probable death, then I likely want to steer clear. Which is why I’ve decided not to pursue most extreme sports. Or texting while driving.
 
No one is fearless all the time. Sometimes it takes a special occasion to rile us up. Sometimes it’s the critical reminder of the impermanence of life. I’ve lost some dear friends over the past few years in sudden and unexpected ways. One day they were alive. The next they were gone. Wherever they are now, I have no doubt they’d be kicking the crap out of all of who are here wasting time on this planet.
 
To be fearless, we must be aware of our self-worth. We cannot accept the myth that some people are destined to have happy full lives and others are not. Our brains lie to us constantly, perhaps as a way of trying to establish our place in the world. You are not as good as this person, or, in this way you’re superior. But the truth is we are all equally worthy humans, so when I look around and see people reaching ambitiously for certain goals, I have to to stop being threatened by their success and, instead, interpret their efforts as permission to reach really high for myself.
 

I’m writing this post as much for me as anyone else today. A new baby means becoming a new mommy again and I need this lesson to help root me in my identity outside of motherhood. It’s way too easy to get swallowed whole by the succubus of parenting (as evidenced by all the conversations about weak pelvic floors I’ve had lately), and while I love my kids, I am a person outside of them. Likewise, I recognize that the only way to raise kids that are fiercely fearless is by setting that example myself.
 
Maybe you needed these words as well. Maybe you even need a new year check-in to reflect and reset. Maybe the anniversary of your Bad stuff is the perfect opportunity. Or maybe you’d even like to borrow mine. Go ahead. I grant you permission. What’s the worst thing that can happen??


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Family photos by Eric Heisler at Chasing Light Photography http://chasinglight.net/index1.html

4 thoughts on “finding fearlessness

    1. As always, Abby, great writing. I love how you take the chapters of your own deeply personal journey, both the good and the Bad of it, and distill truths, blessings, and sage insights that we, your readers, can each apply uniquely to our kaleidoscopic lives, and each uniquely benefit, should we decide to listen and apply.
      I always need your words. Much love to you and your beautiful family.

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  1. So poignantly written, and right on. As a former neighbor from Capitol Hill, I couldn’t be happier for TC and your family’s recovery from this truly Bad experience. Since I’m raising a baby and renewing my year from my own Bad, which also dates to mid-August, I’m really with you!! Much love–

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  2. A wonderful post for happy life. Yeah if you want to do something then never fear and do you things. don’t care some people who always try you to fail.

    Like

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