Looking for awe

Written on September 10, 2014.

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I was never much of a brave girl, not even when I was younger. My parents were not crazies — you know what I’m talking about. The overprotective, constantly paranoid, five shades of neurotic kind. They didn’t bombard me with stories of terror that would keep me hostage late at night. They were kind and they were loving. They were, for the most part, cool.

But I grew up scared anyway.

My grandfather was an amazing man. A retired war colonel, he liked building things. On idle afternoons, he’d carve slingshots and swords which would illicit whoops and cheers from my boy cousins. For me, he’d fold paper airplanes. Together, we’d set them free in the sky.

My grandfather was notorious for being a trickster. His most infamous prank was in the 6th grade during science class. They were learning how to look at things with a microscope when he called his teacher. “Sir, come quickly! I think I found something bizarre!” His teacher hustled forward and looked through the lens.

“What is that?!?” he bellowed. My grandfather smirked. He had placed some of his sperm on the stage clip.

When I was 7-years-old, my grandfather sat across me one ordinary afternoon. We enjoyed talking to each other, though I don’t know what kind of conversation you can build with a shy young girl. That day he leaned forward as if to tell me a secret.

“Isa,” he said. “Beware of the butterflies. They have a secret powder in their wings that can blind you. Beware!”

I’ve been scared of them ever since.

When I see butterflies now, I’m found by an ancient panic. I know now that what he said isn’t true but I had believed the lie my whole life. It is proving difficult to unlearn.

Now that I’m older, the things I am scared of are much more founded in reality.

1. Dark/poorly lit alleyways.
2. Scary men.
3. Natural disasters.
4. My parents dying.
5. Rejection.
6. People thinking I’m ugly.
7. Getting stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing to save me.
8. Someone seeing me naked.
9. Running out of money.
10. Becoming irrelevant.

I’d love to tell that 7-year-old girl many things: that the world is scary enough, that she needn’t worry about butterfly wings and powder in her eyes, that she’d always be able to see, that the greater fear is not the loss of sight but the loss of wonder. I’d scoop her up in my arms, say: “See? Look, we’re strong!”, and take her closer to those colorful paper-thin wings.

Behold, I’d tell her. Behold. This is where courage starts.

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