Living With a Healthy Fear of Life
I’ve always had this thing with bridges. With water on both sides and under me, I get a little giddy driving across a bridge, especially when the road flattens and the sky creates this imposing dome that swallows the landscape.
I live in suburban New York, so often when I’m on a bridge, the New York City skyline is somewhere to be seen. As a passenger, there’s nothing I love more than to stare at that skyline, set against a gorgeous sky, and watch until it disappears behind trees at the other side.
But as a driver, I always feel this heady sense of fear, making sure to train my eyes on the road and not on the skyline. But sometimes I look up, and on the Throgs Neck or Whitestone Bridge leading to Long Island and back to the Bronx, I get this shock of fear through my system.
This happened to me recently: just looking up at that giant—the bridge’s steel superstructure—made me giddy, afraid, and excited all at the same time. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time, if I may paraphrase Darth Vader.
When I was in high school, I used to feel that way before my drama club’s performances, standing backstage in the utter darkness behind those curtains, squeezing hands with everyone, hearing people in the audience shuffling, chatting and finding their seats, and listening to your own crazy heartbeat in your ribs.
I got that feeling when I flew to London for a study abroad trip, the first time I was ever on my own on an airplane. I got it when I moved to New York City for two months to complete an internship—a giddy, afraid, adrenaline-fueled feeling.
I don’t know why a bridge I cross often should inspire in me that kind of fear, but it got me thinking about the kind of fear I run from, and the kind of fear I should pursue to the ends of the earth.
We all have heard the phrases “No Fear” and ones along the lines of “fear keeps you from achieving your dreams.” And while that may be true to some extent, fear is also a reality of life, a necessity for survival, and it’s also a powerful motivator to spur you onto achieving your dreams, not giving them up. No one was ever fearless when pursuing something they desperately wanted. We’re all afraid of something, as we should be. Fear reminds us that we’re alive, that we’re taking risks, that we’re not cowering in our comfort zone. Fear is a sign of a life well lived.
Another quote comes to mind, and another bridge:
“You are alive. And you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song, and that drive with the people who you love most in this world. And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite.”
That passage is part of Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower and it’s sort of crazy how much that scene in the book, where the main characters are driving under a bridge at night, mirrors my own experience. I thought of that quote when I got that frightened feeling on the bridge, and I realized how important a part that fear has played in my life.
Fear has been a foe—it’s true. Fear has sometimes kept me from taking risks or going after the things that I wanted. But fear is also a friend, because it has taught me to embrace it. Fear is only to be feared if we let it paralyze us. If we let fear in and embrace being uncomfortable, then fear can spur us to greater heights.
Embracing fear makes us feel alive, like that quote above, like what I felt on the plane, on the bridge, and every time I see the New York City skyline: something so imposing, so epic, so transcendent, can only remind us of our place in the world, of the transience of it all, of our relation to it, and that we’re both infinite and ephemeral. What we do with our lives should include fear, because without it, we would never reach higher.