Here’s a true story: I was scared of lighting matches until I was twenty years old.
Twenty years later, now many books of matches under my belt, I find this both ridiculous and completely understandable. Ridiculous because matches are necessary and not really that difficult. And understandable because in order to light a match you have to put your finger practically on top of the flammable phosphorous tip, knowing it will start burning right underneath.
I honestly do not know how I do this now. Matches are insanity. Don’t tell me they’re called “safety matches.” There is nothing safe about flame.
By twenty, I didn’t care that I could not light fires. I didn’t advertise my cowardice, but I also had no burning (ha! burning!) need to change it.
Except then, in my junior year of college, I moved to the developing world and landed in an apartment with a gas stove and no pilot light.
When my landlady showed me the kitchen, and the convenient box of matches on the shelf, I groaned to myself. I was going to have to actually learn to light a match.
But it wasn’t just actual matches. That whole year was an exercise in facing fears: travelling alone, living without a safety net, soul-parching loneliness, sounding like a nincompoop, and giving oral exams whilst sounding like a nincompoop.
Every day was a match against my finger I had no choice but to strike.
Fear is a funny thing: it feels so terribly real, so physical, like a reinforced steel wall, yet it is, by definition, only in our heads. But writing our fear off as if it were not real is a mistake. To really disarm terror, you have to take it seriously…
I was over at SheLoves Magazine yesterday, talking about one of my first baby steps towards courage. Won’t you join me there?