“When I was outside, I was afraid every day wolves would swallow me up. In here, that’s no worry.”
-Mac Burnett & Jon Klassen, The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse
One of the great things about my niece is that, after she calls for me rather early in the morning, she suggests that I might want to read a book. And while I might think some silly things like “It’s too early,” I realize, a few pages into The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse, that I really would like to. Thank you.
The book starts with the mouse, who is quickly swallowed up by the wolf. Inside the mouse meets the goose, who’s still in bed: “I may have been swallowed,” says the goose, “But I have no intention of being eaten.” When the goose learns it’s daytime outside, he gets up, and invites the mouse to have breakfast. And so they go about making good lives in the wolf’s belly.
When what I’m afraid of actually happens, when its jaws go wide and swallow me down, it’s usually not as bad as my continual fear was at the beginning. One of my early examples of this was in kayaking: the idea of flipping over in the middle of a rapid was terrifying, until I did it. Then I rolled up, and it wasn’t so bad. Lying in bed before an important day, I can spin out of control thinking about how horrible it’ll be if I’m not rested for tomorrow; tomorrow, when I’m not rested, I go about doing what I can. The idea of getting rejected from a program I really, really want is far more crushing than the rejection itself. Years ago, my friend actually recommended all this as an exercise: when you’re scared, think what you’re scared of; imagine it happening; what then?
I don’t want to dodge all my fears–many of them are useful. I know people who simply will not text and drive because they’re scared of killing someone. I’d like to hold onto that fear. I also don’t want to presume that this works for all fears: my examples deal with relatively tame threats. Does the same thing happen with something bigger? I don’t know. I’m thinking about it.
We’ve made fear, made failure, into a nightmare bogeyman waiting behind every tree, and now we go running ahead of him. Burnett’s goose says that, once the wolf catches us, once we build a bed and a breakfast table in the pit of his stomach, we’ll realize that where we are is a place where we can go on living. There might even be time for toast, or a before-breakfast book with my niece.