Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013: Your Weaknesses Are Your Strengths

Me, Red Rock Canyon State Park, 12-30-2012

True story: the other day I was driving my poor twelve year old car to the muffler shop when my brakes went out. The day before I had returned from a camping trip to Death Valley National Park. All that previous week, my buddies and I had been driving in that poor twelve year old car up and down around and through mountains and mountain foothills and hills and twisty roads and long stretches of uninhabitable, desolate desert where wrong turns and breakdowns can have serious consequences.

One of my biggest fears is losing control on a steep mountain pass. I have nightmares about it. Sometimes when I'm driving on a road with a grade or a sharp turn, I have a panic attack. Sometimes I have to close my eyes or cover my face when I'm riding through mountains as a passenger. Sometimes, I just start crying my eyes out because I am so scared.

Despite this crippling phobia, I love going places that happen to be in, on, around, and near mountains.

A few days before the trip to Death Valley, I took my car to the mechanic to check its brakes because I heard a little noise, and my big fear cropped right up. I wasn't sleeping, thinking about going through those mountains not having checked the brakes one last time. The brakes, my mechanic said, were just fine. So, my buddy and I packed up our camping gear, and we hit the road.

The brakes went out. But not on a mountain pass or in the desolate desert. They went out on a busy city street next to a service station and a bus stop, and everything was just fine.

Heading into Death Valley National Park

It was wonderful to see in the New Year in such a wild and beautiful place and in such good company. As my friend and I drove in on 190 E down through the mountain passes toward our destination at Furnace Creek, it wasn't fear I felt, but something without a precise name deep, deep, deep in every part of me. And I did cry, because it was overwhelming. It was something like amazement, something like drama.

Let me tell you: there is nothing like this place anywhere on earth and possibly not even in your imagination.

That first day was cold and windy, and it had rained and snowed. On the way into the park, we stop shortly at Father Crowley Point. The wind was so strong there. It played against the earth and its crevices like a giant recorder humming deep notes.

All through the trip, the wind howled. With almost nothing to howl through, it was often just up there in the air, moving. At night, in and out of sleep, I would hear it and think, what a comforting sound, though there was something preternatural in it. Maybe it was just that it was the only sound.

We spent a few days camping with friends who drove in from Arizona. No cell phones, no computers, no Facebook. After sunset, we sang songs around the campfire and stared at the stars, and made meals, and cursed the cold, and told jokes. By daylight, we explored.

My buddies just chillin' on Mesquite Flat Dunes

I like camping. Most of the time is spent solving problems, simple problems of comfort. We have to figure out how best to cook a meal over a fire or how to get make coffee when the propane stove goes bust. We have to decide how to stay out of the smoke, how to stay warm, where to pee, if we're all getting enough water... The whole time we were out there, I didn't think once about my student loans or my job or the future. I didn't look at a clock. Time had a different quality.

Devil's Golf Course

I'm what you might call a naturally anxious person, and I've always seen this as a weakness. In the absence of big worries, there are always worries to fill the gap. What if a rattlesnake crawls into my sleeping bag? What if we run out of gas? What if we lose control and fly off the mountain? What if one of us breaks a bone at Devil's Golf Course? My anxiety is always with me.

On this trip, my friends and I played the "worst case scenario" game, in which I propose an activity, and they brainstorm the worst case scenarios until I'm giggling instead of fixating on what could go wrong.

Q: What could happen on Artist's Drive? 
A: We're all so overcome with beauty, we abandon the car to paint.

Bad Water

I'm not obtuse, I know my friends worry about my worry, then I worry about them worrying about my worry because that is what I do. It's a cycle, though not necessarily a vicious one. I was feeling a bit down about this anyway, worrying out loud if my worry was a total mellow harsher, when one of my friends started laughing.

She said that she was glad I was the person I was because I was always prepared. She knew, if we broke down, we would be fine, because I brought enough water for everyone, because we had food and shade and sunscreen. And, in real life, if there was an earthquake, she said, I'd be that person, the one with enough supplies to keep going. Everyone would want to be with me.

In all my years of worrying, I'd never thought about how it could be a strength. I only ever saw it as an obstacle that needed to be worked through or with or around, and in the space of a few sentences, my friend helped me to understand it could also be something really great about me too.

Natural Bridge Trail with Ing

Every year, I try to come up with a motto, instead of a set of resolutions. I think about this for a few months before and a few days into the New Year. There were a number of contenders, but 2013: Your Weaknesses Are Your Strengths is the winner.

This year, I plan to flip what I perceive as my personal weaknesses and obstacles right on their heads and look at them under a different lens instead of getting down about them.

Zabriskie Point at Sunset

True story: 2013 is going to be a great year!!!

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. I like your motto, your transformation, your repurposing of anxiety into something of value. And I was touched by the amazement, the drama that brought you to tears. I wanted more of that experience, somehow. Maybe for myself. One day.


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