Piglet and I have something in common. More than our affinity for red scarves and the fact that I often turn his shade of pink this time of year. Piglet and I are often afraid.
I believe I was almost 25 when I first realized that fear had far too much say in my life and that I needed to do something about it. The calendar was inching box by box closer to that big quarter century mark. I needed to prove that I could move forward. I needed to be brave.
And so, with just a tiny bit of money saved, I flew to Europe alone. I found the bus that would take me to meet my sister who was studying at Oxford. A few days later I visited friends who had started a church in Glasgow, day tripped to Edinburgh, then hopped a cheap flight over to Rome to stay with friends before flying back home. No, I wasn’t backpacking alone across Asia, but even these baby steps to meet people that I loved, traverse new lands, they all took a new gumption in my gut and forward motion that was very unlike my Piglet self that longed for a Pooh Bear’s hand to hold.
Why does every platform look like you’re walking the plank? Every sign look like a Do Not Enter until you know where you’re going? Feeling lost can be so frightening.
As I stepped off a train onto the crowded platform in Edinburgh, Scotland, I felt disoriented, squished, afraid. But then, a smallish hand on my elbow and a woman’s voice in my ear said in a thick brogue, “Follow me out onto the street and I’ll show you where to go.” She wore a business suit and was around my mother’s age. She showed me from the street how to get to the best spots and what not to miss. “We should get you a hunky Scotsman to show you arrrround!” she said. I laughed and asked if I could buy her a cup of coffee as a thanks. She hesitated then agreed. In Seattle, that means I hand you your to-go cup and say thanks again and we part ways. Apparently in Scotland it doesn’t. We ordered and she carried her glass mug to the seats in the shop. We chatted and then like old friends talked about the family members we worried about, the struggles at work, life’s hopes yet unmet. We hugged when we parted. I walked the paths she told me not to miss, but I had already experienced my favorite part of Scotland—coffee with a new friend I’d most likely never see again. I bought a red scarf that day—the first of many.
Perhaps bravery is stopping to help someone who looks lost. Perhaps it’s sharing your story with a new friend. Perhaps it’s getting lost in a new part of the world only to find you have friends in every corner.
Thus began a new tradition. Each year near my birthday, I would do something that scared me. One caveat: The win was in the jump, not the landing. The attempt was what mattered. The next year I auditioned, American Idol style, for the 5th Avenue Theater in downtown Seattle. Terrifying. A year later I made my first online dating profile. And on and on it went. It didn’t need to be huge or costly, just a jump. A taste. A moment of meeting fear face to face and suddenly recognizing it as a new place to start.
Travel still scares me but not like it used to. As it turned out, I hadn’t feared the travel, but the being alone. And there I was in foreign spaces having gracious cuppas with friends.
Wake up and step out your front door into the open air. Walk the platform, a little too plank-like, but somehow the only path to adventure, life, friends, and the illuminating truth that you are not alone—that your Piglet heart need never be afraid.
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” —A. A. Milne