On Fear

Image of a road leading through a dark forest by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

It’s May 1. That means we leave for Italy this month. The countdown on my kids’ whiteboard now says “19 days.”

I’m beyond excited. But I’m also terrified.

I’m scared I’ll lose my passport, or my phone, or my camera, or the keys to our Italian apartment.

I’m scared my kids are going to lose their beloved, can’t-live-without-them stuffed animals.

I’m scared there’s something I’ve already forgotten that I haven’t realized I’ve forgotten yet but will suddenly realize when we get there.

I’m scared I’ll get off the plane in Rome and realize that my five months of studying Italian have been totally worthless and I can’t even remember the word for bathroom. (It’s bagno, right? Or is that just when you’re in a house? Do public bathrooms get a special adjective or something? Does it even matter if I can say “bathroom” but I can’t remember the 8 different ways of saying “the”?)

I’m scared something will happen to my family back home and I won’t be able to do anything about it.

I’m scared something will happen to one of us in Italy.

I’m scared my dog is going to be sad because she misses me.

I’m scared I’m going to be sad because I miss my dog.

I could keep going like this for a while.

Poor, weird, high-strung 7-year-old Tara’s list of fears. (Sorry for the poor photo quality.)

I tend to be a worrier. Always have been. A few years ago my aunt found a book my second-grade class made in which all the kids wrote about their fears. Most kids listed a few normal phobias — snakes, water, the dark. My list was 17 items long and weirdly specific.

So this is just how my brain works. It’s a benefit at times — a knack for wild worst-case scenarios is handy for a writer. But it’s less handy for things like getting ready to hop on a plane and head halfway around the world.

Some of my usual methods for calming myself are helping: distraction, deep breathing, talking a walk and naming plant and animal species (strange but effective!), talking to friends and family, meditative prayer, slightly panicked prayer.

One of my methods, though, has hit a limit: preparation. I’m a dedicated preparer, a master of detailed lists, a keeper of organized itineraries.

We have all that done for Italy, and still my brain keeps churning with fresh and varied fears — because I know we’re heading into something I can’t really prepare for.

For all my careful planning, I’ve never been to another country before (other than Canada, which is basically Idaho with different politics and slightly more moose). I’ve never been immersed in an environment where the majority of people speak another language. Like I said last week, I’ve never even been outside of Idaho for more than 10 days.

I can’t quite wrap my head around what it will be like — and I’ve discovered I have to stop trying.

It’s time to embrace the uncertainty. So what if I can’t anticipate everything? I’ll learn to be more adaptable and creative in new situations. I’ll be forced to be more deliberate and mindful than I am at home. Maybe I’ll get better at accepting the lack of control I have anywhere, no matter how well-prepared I convince myself I am.

(And even if I can’t remember the word for public bathroom, I definitely remember how to say, “I want a gelato, please.”)

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