Facing fear

What are you so scared of?


I just finished an entertaining memoir by a woman who dedicates a year of her life to facing her fears, one at a time, for 365 days. My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock interweaves tidbits of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life (which makes you want to read every biography of this firecracker) with humorous accounts of Hancock’s staring down her biggest obstacles: skydiving, flying, and climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, along with some of her smaller fears that were no less terrifying.

Frankly, it left me wanting not only to devour every biography of Eleanor Roosevelt but also to face down the everyday fears that stand in the way of truly experiencing life. Except skydiving. And climbing a mountain where the lack of oxygen could kill you. And performing live on stage. Nope. I’m all set.

However, I have been meaning to face the rock wall at my gym for nearly a year and suddenly, I’m ready to attack it. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of it, but I’m prepared for a challenge. Two good-natured impossibly young men thrill to the sight of fresh bait. I ask a lot of questions, partly out of curiosity, partly to deflect the fact that one is tightening straps around my hips and legs.

“Is it scary?” I ask.

“If you can climb a ladder, you can climb the rock wall,” the older one tells me.

I think about how I don’t much like ladders.

“Sure, the rope frays and there’s lice in the helmet, but it’s usually fine,” the jokester says.

Heh heh.

The older one shows me the easy path up the wall, which I admit does not look easy or like a path. It looks, instead, like a hodgepodge of mushroom-like footholds that seem too small for even my petite feet.

“Those only fall off occasionally,” the other one chimes in.

He’s a funny kid. I tell him so.

“Climbing,” I say, because that’s what you do when you start climbing, which seems kind of obvious, but I don’t want to piss the guy off who’s holding my safety rope, so I say it.

The first two steps are fine, easy to grip, and low to the ground. After that it gets hairy.

“Don’t look down,” the nice one says.

I make it halfway and wonder why facing fear is necessary. Isn’t it healthier to keep one’s blood pressure low and the heart in good working order rather than stressing it unnecessarily?

“I think I’m good,” I say, ready to descend.

“Come on,” says the nice one.

“Look down,” the other one tells me.

I do and freak out.

“Now look up,” he says. “The shorter distance is up.”

I take a few more tentative steps, less because I want to and more to get it over with. Great, great, great; I’m at the top.

“Ring the bell,” they say.

I tap the bell.

“Ring it like you mean it,” the nice one says.

And now I want to kill him too.

“How do I get down? How do I get down?”

This is something that should be covered at the beginning, I realize.

“Sit down and bounce off the wall with your feet.”

I recall an image of climbers on TV doing this smoothly, gliding down a cliff, and I feel the distance lessening.

Until I’m in freefall.

The good guy lets the rope out and I realize he’s playing with me. He saves me at the last second.


So, fear faced. I can’t say I felt triumphant as much as relieved. But I can say I don’t need to climb another rock wall anytime soon. Or a ladder. Ladders scare the hell out of me.


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