I received a shiny pink and white bicycle when I was eight years old. Problem was, I didn’t know how to ride and I was too scared to learn. I figured if I hid my gift in the garage, both the bike and I wouldn’t get all scratched and dented. I remember sitting on the cold cement floor, staring at my bike and wondering, “What if I wasn’t afraid?”
Then I imagined myself riding that bike around the block and up to the white church on the corner. If I was really brave I’d pedal over to the small grocery store near our home to buy some penny candy. I could almost feel the wind on my face whipping my hair back. I could almost taste that bubble gum.
Finally, I rolled that bike from the garage, steadied my feet on the pedals and took off. The handles wobbled and I forget how to make it stop. I wiped out. Before the day was over, I was covered in blood, sweat and dirt. Finally I found an inner sense of balance I didn’t know I had. I still remember the explosion of joy I felt when I finally learned to ride. I was flying.
Years later, I was shopping with my baby daughters at the mall and spied an author signing books. I loved to write. Problem was I didn’t know how to get published and I was too scared to learn. I figured if I kept my writing in the drawer, I wouldn’t get all hurt with criticism or rejection. Yet as I starred at that author from a distance I wondered, “What if I wasn’t afraid?”
Then I imagined myself sitting at a table signing books I’d written. I could almost see my first book cover. That day when I got home I shipped off a manuscript to a publisher. Eventually I collected a pile of rejection slips, but I kept writing and sending my work out. Then one day it happened. I still remember the deeply satisfying pleasure of reading my first byline on a published newspaper column, magazine article and finally a book. It was like flying into another world of possibilities.
Even more years later, I was listening to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. It made me weep. I longed to play the violin like that but I was fifty-two. I’d never seen any one my age take up the violin. I thought I’d missed my chance. I was scared I might be too dumb to learn. I wondered, “What if I wasn’t afraid.”
Then I imagined myself sitting in an orchestra gracefully gliding the bow across the strings. I could almost hear the music and feel my cheek resting on the polished wood. So I took lessons and joined an orchestra. At first I didn’t know how to hold the bow or position my hand on the strings. In the beginning I had to think very hard and tell my hand where to place each finger on the strings for every single note. I’ll never forget the first time I played an entire song without focusing on my finger placement. It was like flying in my soul.
Now when something seems impossible, scary or hard, I ask myself, “What if I wasn’t afraid? Then I try. I’m certainly not an Olympic speed bike racer, a famous author or an accomplished violinist but I’m gradually learning that all personal growth is mostly a matter of conquering our fears. When we let go of being scared to try, we can listen to that gentle voice who tells us who we really are and what we might do. Life is not about competing or comparing - it is about whether or not we choose to fly.