This was my first memory of being truly fearful.
One of my favourite things to do as a kid was peruse the dollar shop at my local shopping centre while my parents were getting groceries. I don’t know what it was that I liked so much about it. Perhaps it was the crazy assortment of items or that it was the only store which I could afford with my pocket money, but I would visit it almost weekly. Even though the items never really changed, the art supplies aisle was always my favourite.
When I was about 8 or 9, I was doing my weekly round of the art aisle, when a tub of orange paint accidentally fell from the shelf and crash landed on the floor. The lid exploded off, and of all the places the paint could have rebounded, a huge glob of paint landed squarely on my left eye.
The sting was instantaneous, and I immediately started bawling in the store. A pair of middle aged ladies looked at me with alarm. One even patted me on the shoulder, while all I could do was cry. I felt angry that they weren’t doing anything to help, and an intense fear bubbled up inside me when I realised I was all alone.
But not even ten seconds had passed, when I was suddenly picked up by a mystery adult and carried out of the store. I recognised the sleeve of their jacket – it was my father!
I’d later find out that he had recognised my cries from a few stores down, and I remembered being truly amazed that he was able to do that. It was as if he had superpowers. From then on, I thought my dad was like a superhero, swooping in to save the day.
By extension, I started assuming all adults were fearless and that I will, one day, be the same when I was older. That’s a pretty common misconception we have as kids. That the older people in our lives, our teachers, parents, brothers and sisters, have it all figured out. It’s only now that I’m ‘grown up’, do I now know I was wrong.
I’m not fearless, far from it. And when I think about what I’ve been afraid of in my life, my fear comes through in the ‘what if…’ questions that I’ve asked myself:
“What if I don’t get into university?”
“What if I move to NYC, and I run out of money?”
“What if I don’t find work as a freelancer?”
“What if the date goes terribly?"
“What if we never find a vaccine?”
“What if my family or my friends get sick, while I’m living overseas?”
“What if I fail?”
I don’t think we can ever really be unafraid or at least fearless in the way I used to think would come naturally when I became an adult. Life will always be unpredictable. We will ask these questions because of uncertainty – of not knowing how things will turn out. We all want answers and to be told that things are going to be okay.
I think back to the story of me in the dollar store sometimes. I think about the shade of the orange paint, the burning sensation in my eye and the looks from the women. But most of all, I think of my dad. I still see him as a superhero, but not in the same way as when I was little. I now know that he was probably as scared as I had been, only instead of running away or letting it overwhelm him, he tackled it straight on.
I know I’ll do the same the next time I’m afraid.
And maybe that’s fearlessness after all.