I’ve learnt in this season of discontent, that’s it’s best for me to spend a lot of time outside, not only to find some clean air to breathe, but also so I can literally look for dragonflies; I’ve been looking in all their usual haunts over the past few weeks, but I’ve seen not a single wing. This has made me feel low, fearful and grounded in all the wrong ways.
Perhaps I need to get over my fear of heights and get off the ground to see where dragonflies actually hang out. If they won’t come and rest on my shoulder right now, perhaps I need to do spread my wings and go and seek them out in higher planes. Perhaps there is no perhaps.
Getting myself outside (let alone off the ground) is an ongoing battle, and perhaps I’m not spending as much time outside as I would have myself believe. Although I realise being outside is the best self-medication, a bad day can see me procrastinate a range of hurdles that body-lock my will power and intoxicate me with an alien love of ironing and a fixation with dusting down redundant cookery books.
Once actually outside (if I make it) my fear of making pratfalls is still so great that it makes me fearful to take even one foot off the ground, and ironically this makes me clumsier still. In my experience my pratfalls are always boobs over bum, usually involve stairs and always take place in peak-time public. I have amassed a catalogue of cartoon comedy crashes over the years, all involving dented pride, my red face and an aftermath of bruises to remind me how clumsy I can be. You would think by reaching Grade 5 (sounds kinder than ticking the over 50 box) I’d have at least learnt to tie my shoe laces properly and to avoid ice, wet floors and, most embarrassingly, some rampant spilt coleslaw on the floor in Waitrose, but it seems not.
For if a student leaves their school bag lying defiantly by their chair, rest assured my feet will find it and I’ll lurch across the classroom, trying to pretend (as I face palm theatrically into the whiteboard), that I was leaping to record class feedback anyway.
The more I anticipate falling, the more danger I start attaching to dragonfly hunting.
In an attempt to control the controllables this week, I rushed to address some flagrant school uniform issues with a student who had Miami-viced her school blazer by rolling up her sleeves and who had additionally customised her school trousers so that her carefully fake-tanned legs would guarantee an audience. In my hurry to address such hormonal rebellion, I caught my kitten heel in a paving slab, thus tripping out of my shoe and launching myself into said student. I anticipated the inevitable fall by reaching out and searching for something on which I could steady myself. Unfortunately I targeted the student’s clip-on school tie, and in slow motion felt myself super-manning forward as the tie came away in my hand, wiping out a good portion of the lunch queue in the arc of my trajectory. Dusting myself down, I acknowledged that I’m just not getting my show off the ground in the way I would wish to in public.
So it appears that like everything on this journey, I’m going to have to jump start some momentum. I’m going to have to terrify myself out of inertia and at least engineer some falling with style. If FEAR stands for false expectations appearing real, then I need to frighten the living daylights out of myself and remind myself that at least I can provide some amusement as I free-fall through these giddy months. I need to not take myself so seriously. I need to fall as if no-one is watching, or at least fall for a good cause.
In timely form, my dear friend arrives to talk to Year 12 about the charity she forged after the untimely death of her 16 year old son*. I’ve heard her story many times before, but each time I hear it I feel ashamed at my own naval-gazing. No pratfalls for my friend, just sheer, gritty bloody mindedness and a promise that she will be the best she can be in her son’s memory – and engineer life changing experiences while raising money seeking a cure for meningitis. Though this flight is certainly not of her choosing and is completely out of her comfort zone, she is flying with style and will at least select the direction of travel.
As she speaks to the students I latch onto what she is saying and hear her share news of a charity sky dive in September. I see how high this dragonfly is tracking now and realise why it’s not been visible recently. In front of a room full of witnesses, I hear myself telling my friend to add my name to her list of sky divers and I’m terrified.
I remind myself that on the other side of fear could be all the best things in life – it would be a shame to not experience them because I’m too scared to go outside. Even if I fall with my eyes shut, even if I fall only when pushed, at least I will discover whether it’s true that the point of maximum danger is also the point of minimal fear.
For once I’m counting on an audience for my fall – that year 12 audience who heard me promising my physical support for this sky dive; they’ll ensure I don’t renegade on my promise and they might even sponsor me.
So there, it’s in writing now. I’m getting off the ground, like it or not.
- A Life for a Cure