January 15, 2014

Want to be Happy? Stop Being Scared.

Woody Allen, worshiped by some and severely annoying to others (for fearing everything but doing it anyway), once said:

“You can live to be a hundred and give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”

On the other hand he commented, “I’m astounded by people who want to know the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.”

Surely, geniuses like Allen, Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Leonardo da Vinci and William Shakespeare, didn’t let fear stand in the way of attempting the impossible while facing obstacles that might scare some of us to death.

Growing up I lived in fear as my parents told me there was no such thing as an accident—having children not included. My father is Jewish and my mother is Japanese. I often felt like a Geisha while forced to watch every documentary about Hitler and The Second World War.

I remember finally getting that shiny red and chrome Schwinn bicycle for HannuChrist, our combination of Hanukkah and Christmas. I was only allowed to ride it within a four foot area of a dark patio near the back shed.

Eventually my older brother took it apart one summer and made it into a sculpture—another genius! He is an accomplished sculptor today who is known for welding metal and chrome into moving robots with knives—talk about not having fear. He shows me his scars during Thanksgiving for fun.

I remember being told that any hurtful outcome could be avoided if I was only careful enough. Knowing that I was accident prone, I survived that statement without too many years of psychotherapy.

All kidding not aside, after years of bumping into walls, breaking dishes and even nailing my own finger into a two by four, I realized I was still alive, and had missed out on crazy excursions like inventing my own language or making friends with the bum in town that walked in circles like I rode my bicycle.

I still have nightmares of going in circles for infinity on that Schwinn. Of course the dream also involves a dwarf and pumpkin pie—I plan to speak with my Jungian analyst about that.

As I discovered this epiphany, relief and the realization of how many great years I missed out on, I cannot say that today I live a safe life, but a more exciting life, despite breaking coffee cups, wine glasses and at least a vase or chatchki once a week.

In order to fearlessly go where most fearful adults travel, I say to myself, “Self, a few accidents never hurt anyone,” as I attempt risky endeavors; wild escapades such as driving at night or reading too much history about the Egyptians, two things my mother cautioned extremely dangerous.

I have however avoided blatant dangers such as swimming with sharks or learning how to play Beethoven’s Fifth on the bassoon and can say without much medication thus far that I have faced life with great fervor, and sometimes even with a fever. Don’t worry , the 500 count bottle of Tylenol sits by my bed.

Becoming a parent has given me a different perspective to the subject, leaving me sympathetic to my mother’s cause or curse. With my first child I woke her as a newborn each hour to hear her cry so I could be sure she was still alive. Let’s just say that continual breastfeeding replaced roller skating as my favorite sport.

I suddenly found that with parenthood, I too feared accidents around each corner, even though I hardly left the house, except to take her to the doctor. Even worse, I instilled this fear in my first child; worrying incessantly she was too cold, too hot, getting too much sleep or not enough—it never ended. And I wonder today why she needs space from me.

I suppose this is what I could expect from being raised by a Japanese, Hawaii-born mother and a Russian-Jewish, Irish, Beverly Hills-born father. And you think you have issues? Let’s just say that my weekends weren’t exactly filled with wishes of “Mazeltov” over plates of lox and sushi.

And at least I have the courage to admit, “Yes, I come from a long line of worriers,” but now consider myself a “Samurai Warrior”. No twelve steps about it, I’m attempting with one fell swoop to take the “fear of accident gene” out of my DNA, proclaiming that diving into the pool of life is where it’s at, hopefully without sharks in the water, and a life raft , a friend who knows CPR and a warm towel nearby.

Admittedly, having daughters can make you want to draw up plans to build a bomb shelter and only hope for rescue. But alas, the rescue never comes, except in the realization that a life is only worth living if lived freely from one’s own fears, dangers and all.

Mark Twain once said, “Accident is the name of the greatest of all inventors.”

Parents can choose to be an inspiration, ailment or some mentor in between, when it comes to a child’s adventuresome spirit lasting through adulthood.

Children are naturally prone to curiosity but all too often this is replaced by nurture that cautions against everything that is unknown and yet well worth knowing about, leading ultimately to a life ultimately not much worth knowing about at all.

Each year I hope to get better at parenting as I try to say more along the lines of “Way to go, kid,” rather than “There’s no way, kid.” And the more adventures I support, the braver I get along the way, sending me on voyages even my mother never warned me about.

The worst fear she had was that I might turn out like my father—which I did.

Tonight I plan to bravely drink a glass of cheap Merlot and listen to Bobby Darrin and Dave Brubeck and maybe even some Dean Martin, if I really feel naughty. I might even spill some wine by accident, but how can you put a price on your kids knowing the lyrics to ‘Mack the Knife’, ‘Take Five’ or ‘That’s Amore’? Life doesn’t get much swankier than that.

The great writer and satirist Art Buchwald said, “The buffalo isn’t as dangerous as everyone makes him out to be. Statistics prove that in the United States more Americans are killed in automobile accidents than are killed by buffalo.”

This brings to mind that my mother doesn’t drive because she thinks it is too dangerous. Come to think of it we never had a buffalo roaming the house when we were kids either.

Buchwald’s words are music to my ears, because now I know that buffaloes aren’t nearly as dangerous as I might have thought after all, and for those of us who now prefer to roam the wild blue yonder, rather than stay inside, this is a good thing.

Five Pieces of Advice to get you Started:

1. If you try a new sport, the worst that will happen is that you may be horrible at it, or break a bone—but you most likely won’t die.

2. It’s okay to talk with strangers—not every one that approaches you is out to get your money.

3. Think of people you consider paranoid and compare them to people who seem fearless—which group seems happier to you?

4. The next time you are scared you may have an accident or get hurt in any way, just remember the classic book ‘The Little Engine that Could’ and say to yourself  “I Think I can, I Think I can” and pretty soon enough you will be saying “I Knew I could, I Knew I could!”

5. You only live once, unless you believe that you will be reincarnated—but either way, don’t you want the ride to be fun and exciting, rather than somber and fearful? Slow and Steady might win the race, but it is not nearly as fun or rewarding as energetic and spontaneous.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant archives

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