Fear, Black Holes and Woody Allen

This is going to be one of those times when I write a bunch of stuff that maybe I shouldn’t. And I wouldn’t, except I think maybe it’s important for you to hear. So here goes.

Just two posts into this new blog, and I’m afraid. Afraid that maybe I won’t have enough to say, or that no one will want to read it, or that I will fall into an endless black hole of nothingness. I realize that last one seems the most irrational. In reality, death by black hole would be pretty swift. Do you know there is even a special name for it? You see, if you entered a black hole feet first, it would stretch you vertically and compress you horizontally and you would be extruded into a long thin shape (before you snapped in two, that is). This process is called “spaghettification.” Seriously, that’s the scientific name for it. The upside is that you might look like Gisele for the last millisecond of your life, but who cares, since there would be no proof on Instagram (#blackholediet).

But let’s get back to our more earthly fears. There is no cool scientific name for the fear of failure or feelings of unworthiness, and that’s a shame, because those fears are where the rubber meets the road in our lives. I think learning to identify those fears and getting comfortable speaking about them is one of our biggest jobs on this earth. If we keep them in the dark, too ashamed to let anyone else see them, they can make us small, and pull us apart just like that black hole wants to do.

Several years ago, I had the honor of meeting Romeo Dallaire, a retired 3-star Canadian general who was the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda (If you don’t know his story, read this). He has been unflinchingly candid about his struggles with PTSD following his time in Rwanda, and is now an advocate for mental health services for the armed forces. When I met him, he said that although he wasn’t much of a fan of Woody Allen movies, the one thing that he liked about them was that the characters often talked to each other about their experiences in therapy (including their neurosis, unhealthy patterns and innermost fears) without self-consciousness or embarrassment. He said that he thought that we’d all live much happier lives if we could do the same. That has stayed with me. For years I thought about what Dallaire said, told other people about it, held on to it as an “important thing.” But I still believed that what he was saying didn’t apply to me. I was no 3-star general. How could I talk about my experiences in therapy and how much they’ve changed my life? I thought my fears and insecurities were too silly, or too shameful, or showed too much weakness.

Well folks, I’ve realized that it doesn’t work that way. General Dallaire’s strength did not come from his three brass stars or some military ideal of bravado. It came from his crazy courage in telling the world that he had been afraid, that he had been brought to the breaking point by fear and depression and shame, and that he needed help to find his way out; as we all do at some point in our lives. When I think back on the times that someone has really touched my life and my heart, I don’t remember people who “bravely” pretended they were not afraid. I think of the people who have let me see them at their most vulnerable, or who have seen me at mine and met we with acceptance, openness and truth. Those are some serious superpowers.

Yes, everyone’s fears are too silly and too wrong and too shameful until they’re spoken. But the minute that you trust yourself and the world enough to let them out, it takes away their power and opens up space for so much more in our lives. Speaking your fears is a gift to all of us. And I hope that is the gift that I can give you today. I give it wholeheartedly, and with all the love in the world. Thanks again for listening.


4 replies on “Fear, Black Holes and Woody Allen”

Thank you for sharing your trademark wisdom and wit. I admire your bravery with regard to speaking up about difficult topics that are personal to you. Looking forward to the next installation on Jenna’s Workshop!

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