I live in Alaska and I’m afraid of bears.
Summer has been slow in coming this year. It’s almost August, and we’ve had maybe a few days when it’s felt warm enough to say, “Yeah, this is summer.” The fireweed took forever to bloom, and I can’t imagine that berries are flourishing.
Which brings us back to bears. They’re hungry, and looking for food. Last week we saw a black bear running through the post office parking lot across the street. That same bear had also tried to climb into the hot tub on the deck of a first floor condo in our building. Some of our neighbors leave bags of dog food outside, and I heard that the bear polished those off.
Remember my plot in the Girdwood Community Garden? A few months ago, when I was first tucking seeds and starts into the soil, I was all alone in the garden when a moose came trotting down the only-way-in garden path. I had to exit the garden quickly via the boggy area between my plot and the church parking lot.
The community garden is very secluded. It’s surrounded by woods on two sides, by the bog on the third, and by the church and its parking lot on the third. When I’m at the garden, there’s rarely anyone else there, and the wind in the tall trees always sounds like an animal rustling in the brush. With hungry bears on the prowl, I’m having a hard time talking myself into tending my garden.
I spend a lot of time feeling bad about not facing my fears–including my fear of bears. I don’t like the idea of tent-camping in bear country–but I feel like I should just do it. Learn how to use bear spray. Learn how to be outdoors in bear country safely. Don’t let my freedom be limited by my fears.
But then last night a friend said, talking about a deep-seated fear, “You know, I just don’t want to do anything about it right now. And that’s OK.”
Isn’t it interesting how much shame we feel about not facing our fears? We have to work really hard to get to the point where we can say, “Doing X makes me feel really uncomfortable. And it’s OK that I have chosen not to do it.” The flip side of this is that it’s also really difficult to give ourselves permission to chase our joy. Maybe it’s a leftover remnant of the Protestant work ethic. Painfully hard work? Good. Sheer joy? Bad.
I don’t know what I’m going to do about the garden. But I’m grateful for the breathing room my friend’s comment gives me. I’m grateful for the reminder that facing fear and chasing joy are both choices I’m free to make, without judgment that one is always good, and the other always bad.