I have a knack for instantly imagining worst-case scenarios, like when Ben launches Silas all the way to the sky to plummet down into the shallow end of the pool (where necks break) or shoves his little body onto a giant surf board in huge waves (where confidence is smashed and necks break). It's been a slow learning curve, but rather than speaking, I'm learning to leave the scene or stop watching. And when I hear myself say, no, no, they will never be on a diving team/join boy scouts/do flips/rock climb, and I know the real reasons are because I'm terrified they'll hit their head/be sexually abused/break their necks/be dropped by a moron who can't tie knots, I know I have to take a breath and probably go sign them up for one of those things.
I have a secret pact with myself not to avoid activities just because I am afraid of them (within reason). Risk and growth, they breathe together.
A few weeks ago, I played tennis for the first time in two decades and then skied in crappy conditions wearing boots too big for me. In both situations, I felt flat out bad at something.
Most days I urge the kids to do what they are bad at and to shake off the self-judgement that comes with it, but it's empty advice when I've forgotten what it feels like to be a beginner, to feel clumsy and like I'm making a fool of myself in front of an audience (even an audience of one).
I've structured my life so I'm not a beginner very often, and when I am, I'm a controlled beginner: "oh, I haven't written on this topic before" or "I haven't gone running in a year, I'll try it" or "Ina Garten says I can make that? Ok, I'll get the ingredients." These "beginner" experiences are night and day from, "oh, a lacrosse stick in my hand that I don't even know how to hold and a ball that, try as I might, I can only slap onto the ground a few feet from me? Ok, let's do that."
Trying new things is not safe.
I've been wondering about joy. Joy, rather than in happiness or kindness, seems to be in all this stuff I'm learning about sitting in pain, uncertainty, or unmet hope, and still hoping; seems in the moments when we're unsure of whether a single safe thing will happen, but know that our core, somehow, is and will be ok.
Today it's June, summer, which makes me think especially of reading with Silas and the summer when we read all of the Narnia books together. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, just before Susan, Peter, and Lucy meet Aslan they, too, reckon with safety:
"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he -- quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe? said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
"I'm longing to see him," said Peter, "even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point."
Maybe it's like Mr. Beaver said, and I've been longing for the wrong thing all along, and Peter's the one about to taste joy.