My fear is different because I gravitate towards it. When it calls to me in a breathless whisper, I, fascinated and terrified, run towards it. Often, the lines between fear and passion are so blurred that a white fog covers my thoughts. Every time an opportunity arises for me to speak publicly, I catch a split-second flash of what could be, and it shocks me. I am shocked not by what I see but by how close it is. Just a ‘yes’ away. Then a single breath and it’s gone. My rational, realistic, cowardly mind always makes the decision for me. Maybe because it knows fear better than I do.
This time though, it’s different. This time, it’s not just a simple monologue in front of the class, or a quick PowerPoint presentation for the teacher. This time, it’s a five-minute speech at an inter-school competition. Already I can feel myself rationalizing, making a pro and cons list in my head that will inevitably lead to the safe choice. The feeling is so familiar; I almost let it encompass me. Almost. Suddenly, I glimpse into the future of my weak decision, and I am blinded by regret. Regret of not seizing fear by the neck and crushing its arrogant head. This regret leads me to make one of the bravest decisions of my life. The inevitable ‘yes’ finally arrives.
As I wait for my name to be called, I think: they are just words. Words I need to form by twisting my lips, rolling my tongue, moving my jaw. Words I have repeated over and over, in my sleep, my mind, in front of the mirror. Words that need to untangle in my irrepressible brain and metamorphose from wandering thoughts to coherent speech. As I hear my name, I think: they are words. Words that have shaped history. Words that have saved lives and been a source of happiness. Words that have slowly become the crux of my existence.
Up the velvet steps. Across the stage. In front of the microphone.
The transformation is immediate. Sweaty palms. Thudding heartbeat. Inevitable shivers. It is too familiar, too recent. The silence is too long, so I begin. The over-rehearsed words rush out of me in an eager frenzy. I grip the cue cards as if they are the only anchor in a sea of torment, even though every word of the speech is memorized. A minute in, and I finally get the courage to look up for more than a split-second. In my head, Mama is saying, “They are just bodies. A mixture of flesh, blood and bones, just like you and me. And they will all be there to listen to you, to hear what you have to say. Don’t let them down. Don’t let yourself down.”
And I don’t. I remember the passion of writing the words that now occupy ever part of my mind, and for once, let it overcome the fear. As I talk, I’m not thinking about the bodies, or the shivers, or the sweaty hands. I’m thinking only of the words, and what they mean. I’m thinking of that split, evanescent moment after my decision when I was undeniably happy. I’m thinking of the countless friends, teachers and relatives who inspired me to write. But most importantly, I’m thinking of the joyous feeling three minutes in the future, when I’ll say, “I finally did it.”