When the Countdown Suddenly Changes.

I have been dreaming about hiking the Appalachian Trail section of Maryland for years. At least five. Possibly more. And every year, something happens which flushes away that dream.

One year: rainstorms.

Another year: moving

Last year: Covid.

Felt like I was just constantly dreaming and planning and doing a whole lot of nothing except pedaling through maps and ideas and thoughts that amounted to emptyiness.

A massive blessing about my school is that we start early. Therefore…we finish early. Like before Memorial Day early. And even though I have volunteered to teach summer school this year, I have a block of time before the real summer heat hits and possibly even the through-hikers. To hike Maryland. 40 miles of ridge hiking that is way outside my comfort zone and nowhere immediately close to my house.

AT hiking is pretty safe. It’s absolutely wonderful and amazing. But I have always been close to home. Or at least in the same state. Several years ago, I realized that I was cementing myself into patterns that resembled safety and certainty. If I always did the same thing, I was guaranteed a good result. Or passing result. Or, at least, a non-disappointing result.

But that meant I was trapped in this centrifuge of routine and denial. My anxiety prevented me from stepping out and trying something new because I might:

  1. Waste money
  2. Not have a good time
  3. Get hurt
  4. Waste money
  5. Waste my time
  6. Waste other people’s time and money
  7. Inconvenience someone
  8. Make someone upset.

So that meant I snuggled even deeper into my sets of routines and stopped branching out or doing something that was different. Or new.

I don’t mind change. So long as I am the one creating it or at least know that it is on its way. But thrusting me into a new situation will make my stomach curdle and the doubts and the questioning begins.

What if I fall?

What if I don’t have a good time?

What if this is just a waste of ….everything?

What if I make the wrong choice?

What if I fail?

I try to pretend that failure is not the worst option, that I am comfortable with trying and failing. I’ve been rejected at least 120 times on my novel. I know failure.

But I hate it. I am not comfortable with it. Damn it. I want to win. To succeed. To be undefeated even though that means I have to fail. And so I retreat and hide away.

So I resolved to change. To drag myself out of my comfort and do new things and try new things. Like cooking. I used to love to cook. But life got in the way. My daughter didn’t always like to eat the food or, worse yet, I would see the look of disappointment or the meh on my family’s faces when I presented a meal I had created. So I settled into a routine of spaghetti, baked chicken, chili, pizza, hamburgers, kielbasa, split pea soup. And more pizza. Oh, did I mention pizza?

I love spices. I love unscrewing the tops and inhaling the varying scents of savory heat or the touch of exotic sweetness. I love the pop and sizzle of something cool and moist being set into a heated, oiled frying pan and the oil scatters while water droplets explode. I love how the scent of ginger floats. I love how bay leaves change colors when they are infused within a stew.

And so I subscribed to the New York Times cooking section and started reading and collecting recipes. And then, I started finding my old spices and old cooking tools and choosing not to be nervous or anxious or stressed. I could fail. I could cook something that wouldn’t be delicious and survive and it would not be a waste of money.

To bring this full circle, I am tired of anxiety keeping me from my dreams. I am not dreaming of flying by spreading my arms and jumping. I am not dreaming of becoming a pegasus (yes, I did dream that…I even prayed that God would transform me into a pegasus…when I was in second grade). I am dreaming about pushing myself outside my comfort zone, about being anxious about something new that I can’t completely control, and just pushing forward. I am dreaming about getting out of a shuttle service’s car (yes, another new thing for me) and stepping onto the trail and pointing my feet south and telling my dog “Forward” because she will be really busy smelling (and eating) the grass. I will be somewhere that is far from my comfort zone and its stiflingly wonderful way of tucking me into my neuroses and making them quiet.

I will be defeating those neuroses. I will be defeating the insecurities that tell me I can’t and that I shouldn’t. Instead. I will step forward and pray that I don’t fall (they don’t call me graceless without reason) and exult in my freedom.

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