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Choosing Flight


When I was a kid, I was immortal. I could barrel down snowy hills with sticks strapped to my feet and feel no fear. I could go streaking down grassy hills slippery with dew, without even recognizing the possibility of a broken femur. Even when I broke my left arm in third grade, it didn't slow me down because I didn't feel a thing.

Remember that? Diving head first into whatever caught your whim because you didn't know what a broken femur felt like? Or a shattered heart? It's easy to barrel down a snowy hill when you don't understand the cost of failure. But everyone eventually learns what it feels like to fall.

September 11, 2001 was the first day I truly felt my own mortality. It's become an epic cliche, but I think we all gained a fresh sense of fragility the day the towers fell. I was 22 that year, after graduating from college the year before and leaving Manhattan for San Francisco. But I knew people who worked in the buildings or near them. When I managed to catch one of those friends on the phone that night, she told me how she had to walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge, limping in her high heels as thousands of people crossed the water in shattered silence.

That was the first time it occurred to me that one day I would die. That I - and my friends and family - can be broken. I was lucky to make it to my twenties before truly feeling that. So many kids aren't that lucky. Being sheltered can be good - all children deserve the opportunity to spread their tiny wings without fear.

But eventually we all learn that we're breakable. We can and will shatter and we'll have to put ourselves back together again. But wrapping yourself in cotton batting and protecting yourself from the world is more dangerous. Too much joy and too many opportunities missed. As a champion cocooner, I know I've lost out. So I'm learning to be fearless because hiding is no longer a viable option.

I went to the Salton Sea this weekend, to visit the ocean that lives in the middle of the desert. It's beautiful, but the salt in the water is death to anything that lives there. But if you brave the stench and the flies and a shore littered with fish corpses, you can stand and gaze out at something beautiful that shouldn't exist but does.

Last year, I went zip-lining over the jungles of Costa Rica. I went with a friend and, as I was strapping on my harness, he called me fearless. Something I'd never really considered myself. But after the first terrifying line where plummeting to my death seemed a not so much a probability as an inevitability, I learned to enjoy soaring over the jungle. Soon, I was twisting and turning and flipping upside down to zoom toward the horizon with my stomach to the sky.

You can teach yourself to fear less. Especially when doing so means you get to fly.