My dad had a gift for seeing all the possible things that could go wrong in any situation. He wanted to protect me so he gave me a rat ... a rat called Fear. He trained it to remind me, with its scratchings and clawings, that beyond the known world there be dragons. Our known world was small ... a white-bread, Kansas farm town, as humanly and culturally uniform as the geography ... safe.
By the time I left home, I hardly noticed the rat as it kept me contained within the borders of its protective field. It was only when I tried to go outside those borders, that I heard it scurrying and the eerie scratching of its claws. I was in my late twenties when I first caught a glimpse of the rat itself. I had moved to the "big city" with my husband and quit my job to start my own business keeping books for small businesses.
I had one client but needed more, which meant going out and talking to people, walking the streets of the big world. The rat went crazy. Every scratch carried a story of crime, mayhem, and a hundred possible ways I could be hurt. Leaving my office became a battle between my desire to find work and the rat.
I wish I could say I actually won that battle but it was merely postponed until another day when my first client offered me a full-time job. However, I had met the rat, had begun to know what he was trying to do, and could begin to think about his role in my life. A year and a half later, change beckoned. My husband helped me pack my car, taught me how to change a tire and use a CB radio, put a gun under the driver's seat, and sent me on my way as I headed out for a cross-country trip to find a job in California, at which time he would follow.
The rat eventually caught up with me, but was worn out by the trip and has never since had quite the same power over me. I always know he's out there, trying to narrow my world, but now I can scratch as loudly as he does. I'm grateful to him, he makes me think twice before rushing into a new venture, but I know what would happen if I let him have his way.
He's old now. He'd like to have a very small field to circle. He'd like to be able to sleep in the sun without having to keep such a close watch over my activities. He'd like to put me in a box so he didn't have to do anything at all. My job is to not let him run my life. It's a constant job. Sometimes he recruits the help of my friends and acquaintances. He's always dropping news flash warnings on my path, reminding me of the dangers "out there."
But, I have one life to lead and I choose to follow the path that calls me. I choose to trust the universe. I know that doesn't mean that I will always be safe. But it does mean that if I die, I will die living my own life. It does mean that if I should get hurt, I will figure out how to deal with it and learn the lessons that come with it.
Every day I breathe in Joy and breathe out Fear. I'm not sure it is possible to live without fear. It is probably hard-wired into us, and rightly so. There are lions and tigers and bears in the world. But joy, beauty, and surprising delights also lurk around every new corner. We just have to keeping taking one step after another on our own path. We can listen to our friend the rat but he has to be constantly reminded that he is not in charge.