Fear and Spontaneity

“I’m at the gas station,” I said. “I’m leaving now.” The gas line clunked and the numbers on the pump stopped climbing. I pulled the nozzle out of the tank and clicked it back into place.

“Okay. Text me when you get home.”

“Bye, Mom. I love you.”

I unplugged the white headphones, rolled them up, and got back in my car. Pulling the address up on my GPS, I tuned to NPR and turned onto the 5 north, joining the river of cars and headlights all jockeying for position in the left lane.

A feeling bubbled in my stomach, but for once, it wasn’t fear or trepidation. I was calm—confident, even. I didn’t check the clock every 30 seconds or jump lanes like the native-born southern Californian I am. I stayed in my lane, second to the right, and followed traffic politely.

That day during my lunch hour, I’d happened upon an announcement for an event, a book signing in LA with an author I greatly admire. So, without any preparation or planning, and still wearing my slightly fuddy work clothes, I’d left the office, swung by the gas station, and promptly ensnared myself in the evening rush hour. As the two-hour drive endured, I munched on a snack salvaged from my too-full bag—I didn’t have time for dinner tonight.

Though it wouldn’t seem so from the outside, tonight was extraordinary.

I rolled along in stop-and-go traffic and sat in companionable silence with the radio, listening to news headlines and a political call-in show. I watched the sky darken to pale green and orange, then finally blue velvet and black.

I arrived to the event an hour late, but it didn’t faze me. I parked in the elephantine concrete structure and tucked my ticket into my purse. Following the signs to the elevators, I descended back down to street level, where I emerged into a glittering, upscale world. Pristine, pale stone buildings garnished with tasteful lights and expensive displays greeted me calmly, genteely. I was pleasantly surprised, if a little underdressed, and I found my destination in minutes.

The book signing was marvelous, but that’s not what made this night so unusual.

It was the fear. Or rather, the lack of it.

My mind has one radio frequency: worry. There are hours and days when I can tune to something lighter, a catchy, upbeat pop song instead of the usual gloomy dirge. But for the most part, that’s where I’m stuck.

The upshot is that new endeavors are almost always, without fail, tainted by fear. Unnecessary, needless fear.

But that night, I was unscathed. I moved through the world with a confidence that normally escapes me. I was free of fear.

Now, I know this anecdote will sound pathetic to some. In the grand scheme of things, I didn’t move any mountains or face any real challenges. But everyone has their comfort zones and their limits, and for one night, I managed to stretch outside of both.

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of driving to LA last-minute, alone, to an event I hadn’t thoroughly researched beforehand.

But this year, I did.

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