Some time ago, I was a mess. My plans were confirmed and my answers rehearsed, but I still wasn’t ready to face one on my biggest fears: speaking to a live audience, armed with unknown questions, about a topic I’ve only written about. Handling adversity.
I’d done all the things I normally do when I’m fearful. I’d asked myself the tough questions:
Why was I afraid?
Two things usually spark my fear. The unknown and being alone. This situation was steeped in both. As with all firsts, there were plenty of unknowns. The being alone, however, was more than just solitude. The loneliness I’m talking about is that you’re the only one feeling of isolation, when you think no one understands what you are going through.
Who could help me?
I decided to combat the loneliness by getting people in the boat with me, as my father often suggested. I talked about my fears with my close friends and family, including my readers. In my Scared Spitless email, I asked for support, prayers, and something I knew would help me reduce the unknown—practice questions. I cut and pasted the fifty-six responses (thank you, dedicated readers!) and began to prepare. Then I reached out to one of the best public speakers I know and asked for tips.
How could I minimize more of the unknown?
Still spooked, I focused on what I knew and asked for details. I knew there would be six of us on the panel, including the moderator. A quick conference call gathered us, reviewed the format, and confirmed the benefit of giving a detailed bio to each audience member so we could avoid our poignant, yet sure to be time-consuming introductions. The moderator then gave us a few questions in advance so we could start the session off with ones we felt comfortable fielding.
What else could I do?
When your mode of transportation is a power wheelchair, you have to consider the six-wheeled, 378 pound, motorized contraption as part of your presence. So I asked more questions. What kind of room would we use? How many people would attend? Would the panel be sitting behind a table? Often my wheelchair-elevated knees don’t fit underneath tables so I have to sit sideways—doable, but uncomfortable. The answers helped me get a clear mental picture: classroom-style room, thirty-five chairs, no table, I was told.
Had I done my part?
I’d practiced the moderator’s questions, but I still kept stumbling. Every time I mentioned the death of Forest, my seventeen-year-old brother, my voice cracked and tears flooded my eyes. It stunned me, how that loss from thirty-seven years ago still held that much emotion. Finally, I rehearsed enough. Or so I thought. But the night before, sleep didn’t come easily.
Was it time to let go?
Despite my sleepless night, when I met the other panelists, I felt more at ease. All had endured life-changing adversities. All had a spirit of survival. All were positive, kind, and encouraging. But when I wheeled into the classroom and spied the long table anchoring the front of the room, my heart sank. And when we discovered there were no panelist bios for the audience, a slow knot began to twist in my stomach.
“Where are you going?” the moderator stopped me as I had begun to redirect myself to the door.
“Oh, well I have to find those bios,” I said and flashed a nervous smile. I wasn’t going to leave, but I wasn’t going to come back without those bios either.
“No, no, let me get those,” she said, touching my shoulder. “And, are you comfortable sitting here?” She had quickly pulled out a couple of chairs from behind the table and was pointing to the spot beside hers. It was as if those deep brown eyes of hers had read my very soul.
“Well, okay. Yes, I will sit there. Thank you.”
She touched my shoulder again in a brief hug before she disappeared out the door. By the time I’d parked beside her chair she was back with the bios. But just before she began her intro, I whispered, “Please don’t ask me the first question.”
And she didn’t. But I soon chimed in. And yes, my voice broke when I said my brother’s name. But I did not cry. And once I got through it, the other answers began to come more freely.
I didn’t notice that the room for 35 now held 78. Or that fifteen had to be turned away at the door. What held my attention was the sea of eyes that locked in on our every word. And the heads that nodded with every reflection.
What we said seemed to connect, to help, and to comfort. I felt strangely energized, even joyful that somehow all the unexplained soul-searching experiences that had whipped through our lives had woven all of us together, creating a special bond.
Our struggles were affirmed, valued, but most importantly, shared.
Before this event I was a mess. But now, reflecting back, I am grateful. For those in my boat. For those who helped keep me focused. And for those who showed up to create this special moment of community.
Thank you for helping me face my fear.
So how about you? Have you faced a fear that energized you? Did it connect you to others in a way never imagined?