My mother married for the second time in her early fifties and moved to Nigeria with her husband. She was embarking on a new life adventure, and it was a good thing because only 15 years later, the early signs of Alzheimer’s crippled her whole being. Fear, not memory loss, was the first telltale sign. Fear of every decision she made. Fear of what she said, what we said, a fear that paralyzed her joy — the same woman who so boldly moved to Africa.
In those early years of her disease, after she moved back home and recognized the beginning signs of her own mental deterioration, she was still able to live independently for a time. A daily walk with her dog was the biggest adventure of her day. Often she would stop at the corner to chat with a neighbor’s child through the fence, a young girl in her garden. My mom would ask the young girl the same questions as the day before. More often than not, the mother would summon her daughter inside and my mother would later tell me, “she’s afraid I’m a crazy old lady talking to her little girl.”
Fear is a small habit, an unthinking reproach, but with daily reinforcement, it multiplies and amounts to a colossal lost opportunity. Some fears are beyond our biological control and others are well within self-management. It takes just a pinch less fear, a simple first step or gesture to break past one’s fear to start a new adventure or see behind the walls.
To see the world, things dangerous to come to,
to see behind walls, draw closer,
to find each other, and to feel.
That is the purpose of life.
– The Secret Life of Walter Mitty