Ultimately worthwhile

I snapped this photo on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, May 2008

I snapped this photo on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, May 2008

“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile…initially scared me to death.”
Betty Bender

In most ways I’m a cautious person, riddled with anxieties about all sorts of things, but some people get a false impression that I am bold or daring.  I think this is because certain traits that run strongly in me — tenacity, curiosity, love of adventure, and being generally excitable, defiant and hotheaded — can masquerade as courage.

When we visited the Amalfi Coast of Italy, my terror of the winding, cliff-hugging roads and fast drivers was surpassed only by my awe at some of the most stunning sights I’ve ever experienced.  It reminded me of when we drove up Pike’s Peak, and I was such a nervous wreck by the time we got to the summit that I sought (unsuccessfully) some other way to get down.  Once we started the trek back, however, the panorama beneath us was so breathtakingly beautiful that I had no time to be afraid.

Fear in itself is a neutral trait, neither helpful nor harmful until we allow it to be one or the other.  If we use fear as a motivating factor to learn, prepare and take reasonable precautions, it is our friend.  But if we allow fear to chain us to an illusion of safety — and in the end, almost everything in which we trust for safety is at least partly an illusion — we will never really live, for fear of dying.

What scares you most?  Does your fear play the role of friend or foe?


  1. What scares me most? The defiance in the eyes of three men I had removed from my 757 (in separate incidents) during the first half of the year, 2001.

    • Pretty scary alright. I’m guessing your passengers were relieved to see them go also. I get nervous when people on airplanes act suspiciously or make a scene. I guess one perk of being retired now is not having to worry about such situations, or at least not as often as before. In any case, I’d say this is an example of fear being your friend.

      • You seem to understand all aspects of my “scariest issue”. Regarding fear being a friend, an excellent book is entitled “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin DeBecker. He wrote it before 9-11-01; and of course followed it up with writings generic to the events of that day.
        Tying in our continuing “dog” discussion, in “The Gift of Fear” he speaks of a stranger coming to the door, and the dog growls. Later, it is said “the dog knew he was a bad guy.” No, says Debecker, the dog didn’t know the character of the stranger at the door, but the dog knows you! He read your “sixth sense” and that’s the Gift.

        • In high school we had a self-defense class for one quarter in physical education. One of the things they taught us is to trust your intuition; if you feel wary in a situation, observe those “warning lights” going off in your brain, and get yourself out of harm’s way. I have never heard of the book you describe, but I will have to look it up; it sounds interesting!

  2. Mike Bertoglio

    Excitement is one thing- fear is another. Pema Chodron- Buddhist Priest has a saying-“Go to the places that scare you.” That is where you will grow. No way I could go on that Amalfi road. Terrifying. Heights are not my thing. I did go to the top of the Empire State building but it almost killed me.

    • I never did go to the top of the Empire State Building; I hope the view was worth the fear you had to endure to get to the top! I always preferred going to the World Trade Center because you could see pretty much all of Manhattan in one very long view. For some reason I am not as afraid inside buildings, although the elevator ride up that many floors makes me pretty edgy. I have to say that the Amalfi Coast is worth the terror, though. The towns are so charming and the views are amazing. The photo here really doesn’t do it justice except to show the roads. The best view are of the houses built into the side of the cliffs, as in Laguna Beach, only much more so. Still, one of a very few recurring nightmares I have is of being inside a car that goes out of control and sails off a cliff. Winding cliff roads terrify me.

  3. Sheila

    Julia, I get really dramatic over bees, worms, lizards, and snakes. Maybe not in that order! I guess that comes as somewhat of a surprise, since you know that we camp. I’m not in a tent….haha! I don’t think at my age that I’ll overcome it. By the way, we’re camping at Willow Tree this weekend. Thinking of you and the upcoming week. Sheila

    • Thank you, Sheila! I join you in your fear of snakes (or at least most of them) but I actually LOVE lizards and bees, and even like worms (sort of). If I’m walking and see one frying on the asphalt, wriggling and trying to get off, I will usually “help” it back into the grass (though not with my bare hands; I usually use a leaf or something). Hey, your way of camping sounds great to me! I think it would be so fun to have an RV. I hope you have a lovely weekend!

  4. Carolyn

    Julia, now that you are a grandparent, live will be so different. I had to look at the pictures again. A great looking family, where do they live now? Talking about being scared, I tell Terry that he can always find the most winding cliff roads to take me on. He loves to drive them. I remember Laguna Beach and the houses on the cliffs. The mountains are beautiful but the roads are not, I do agree, you can see some beautiful sights. Better close, give each other a hug and congratulation again..

    • Carolyn, they live in Decatur where Drew is finishing up his fourth year of a 5-year PhD program. Since Grady weighted 8 pounds 3 ounces, Drew called him “the Eighter from Decatur.” 🙂 I wish there was some way to see these beautiful sights that didn’t involve either winding cliff roads or a helicopter (which would be even scarier in my book). Thanks for your kind thoughts, love to you and Terry!

  5. I have never been one for “adventure” type things like skydiving but I admire those who do and I suppose given the opportunity I would do it. Lucky me, opportunity has not presented itself. I do find as I grow older things I never gave a second thought to worry me all the time. My children on drive up the highway, my mother taking a fall, myself in a parking lot with no one else around. All sorts of oddities. I worry about those I love and those I never met. Maybe I watch too much t.v. Anyhow, I just find myself whispering prayers and shaking my self. I try to remember those little sparrows and know that all things are in Gods control. I don’t let my fear keep me at home and I try not to ask my children to stay at home either even though I am biting my nails when they are out of my sight. Awww life, I guess that is what happens in many ways to a lot of us.

    • Amy, how interesting that you were featured in this post. Like you, I try not to let my fears hold me back. I do think it’s wise to ditch the TV, for a variety of reasons including the 24/7 “news” industry that has to scare people into watching all the time. I too got more anxious after I became a mother. Now that I’m closer to 60 than 50, I find myself less fearful in most ways. I can’t imagine how fearless I was about some things as a teenager. I used to love going up in Daddy’s old Aeronca (a fabric covered plane of the type he learned to fly as a young man; you actually had to spin the propeller to start the engine! One seat in front of the other). I used to love it when he would take us up – one at a time, since that’s all the plane would hold — and do stunts. I remember thinking my mother was silly to be afraid when he would fly us or their grandson (Eric’s son) around in it, and now I can’t imagine even getting in it, much less asking for wing-overs and stalls and other stunts. Young people have a sense of immortality, I think, that those of us who are more “mature” replace with good sense!

  6. Excellent post. Thought-provoking.

    • Thank you Barb! I have been thinking of you and wondering how you are doing. I need to get back to your blog. Hope all is well with you and your family! I imagine that you have had a busy summer! Thanks for carving out time to be here!

  7. I certainly share your fear of cliffs. I had to close my eyes just looking at the picture. 🙂

    • Looking at the photo, it’s kind of hard to believe I was willing to take the drive in the first place. If I had known what I was getting into, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But in this case, I even want to go back again!

  8. Rene

    Sharks and bears. I love the ocean & hiking, so I just try to not think about death by being lunch.

    • I never thought about sharks much while I was in Hawaii but I heard so many stories about them later that I wonder if I’d even go in the ocean now! I do know I’d be scared to sleep in a tent in bear country. My brother lives in the mountains and has bears that “visit” his home – he has security-camera footage of them prowling around his house! Luckily he also has a great dog who would be able to smell them before they got too close in person.


  1. As if I was not afraid | Defeat Despair

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