For my 33rd birthday a few months ago I made three goals. Has a nice ring to it, no? Three goals for my 33rd birthday. That’s how I wrote it in my journal. Anyhow, one of them was to take more walks. Not workout walks. Just walks. Strolling. Leisurely cruising. Like my uncle John does. I think he walks nearly every day. Heads out first thing in the morning (at, like, 5:30am – that was not part of my goal) and just meanders about, sometimes for hours. My grandpa, Walt, too. He also took a walk every day, up until the last year of his life. It’s good for my body and my soul, I think. It gives me space to think and I enjoy being outside, looking at people’s gardens, strolling around the pond by our house and just slowing down for a few aminutes. Since my birthday I have taken a grand total of 2 walks. In… three months. I think I need to up the ante a little! I’ll work on that!
Anyway, so I took a walk yesterday. And as I was walking I was thinking about fear and anxiety. I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with anxiety sometimes and have to work hard to focus on what is happening, rather than what might happen. And I’ve been doing well lately. I recently read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone in the mid 90s. It was a good read and she talked several times about fear. How she had to choose to be unafraid. That hiking alone in such dire conditions was treacherous and intense and she had no choice but to be fearless. It was the only way she could proceed each day on her journey and it seems worth emulating. I can to choose to be fearless and as I was walking yesterday this all kind of solidified in my mind. I was thinking back over the last several years of my life, how I’ve made good strides in this area, how I no longer asume that every person out there is a threat or somehow dangerous, how my default now is to generally trust that most people are good and kind and just trying to get by – you get the idea. It feels good and freeing to feel this way. And I can continue to make that choice, to choose to be unafraid, day in and day out, as fears and uncertainty get heavy upon me. I decided as I was walking that my new anxiety mantra would be “If it’s NOT happening, I’m NOT going to be afraid. If it’s not happening, it’s not worth my mental energy.”
So this all sounds fine and good, right? Look at me all enlightened and what not, right? But get this. As I was walking along thinking all these positive thoughts about how I’m not afraid and that the world is a decent place after all, I decided to walk down a street that’s just a few blocks up from ours. I’ve walked down it once before (on my other walk!) and it has some beautiful yards that I wanted to see again. Halfway down the block I was passing in front of a house and I noticed that the downstairs (street level) lights were on and there was a man standing near the doorway. I looked away and keep walking as I heard him shout “heeeeey!” Being the oh-so-carefree and totally-not-scared person that I am now, I assumed he was talking to someone else inside his house and kept on at my leisurely pace. But then he let out this long, low cat-call whistle. One of these… but longer. And not at all cartoon-like.
And then I heard his screen door slam so I knew he was outside, behind me. At that point, I started feeling uneasy. He whistled again as I quickened my pace and put my hands in my pockets so I could grab hold of my phone. I crossed the street, heart beating faster, and decided to just head toward home and take a different route for my walk. I didn’t hear much for a couple minutes so I thought the coast was clear, and I decided to head over toward the pond. But half a block later, I heard a car slowly inching along a short distance behind me and another long whistle out the window. Now feeling significantly scared, I turned left down our block and headed toward our house at a much faster pace. A couple cars happened to pull out onto our street as I turned so the car was thankfully stuck a couple cars back. The man whistled two more times out his window before I turned up the walk toward our house. Once I was safely near our porch, I turned around and his white van was just sitting there idling as he looked out the window at me. Then he slowly inched forward and drove away.
Now, obviously I’m not hurt and while I was shaken and a little teary when I got inside our house and relayed the incident to Jason, I am completely fine. I know that I live in a relatively safe neighborhood and there are so many horrible things done to women every day around the world and this is not even a blip on that radar. But seriously? What gives? As I’m taking a walk thinking about overcoming anxiety and conquering my fears, this happens? Seems sort of unbelievable, doesn’t it? Jason wasn’t a big fan of the whole situation (duh) and ordered me some pepper spray this morning. And I’m ok with that, I guess, but I was kind of priding myself on NOT being that person anymore, you know? The person who is scared to leave the house and clutches at my mace when I’m downtown or on the light rail. I want to be a confident and capable woman. And I want my kids to see me that way. Not one who is fearful and cowering with her pepper spray waiting for her husband to come to the rescue. But I don’t want to be naive either. It’s all a little baffling. How am I supposed to embrace both?
I also feel angry. Why do I have to worry about this in the first place? Jason doesn’t. Why can’t I take a walk like Walt and my Uncle John, without worrying about some creepy man lurking? Do I need to change my clothes and wear baggy sweats if I want to walk at all? How do I balance all of those things I sorted out in my mind during my walk with my actual experience while walking? What do I do now? I’m not entirely sure. I’m still trying to figure it out. But I have decided that I am still going to choose to be unafraid. I’m still going to take my (admittedly infrequent) walks. And I’m going to carry on as the capable and confident woman that I am. I guess I’ll just have to be sure to carry my pepper spray as well.