I sat beside fear and she taught me not to be afraid

On the train to Chicago I sat next to a woman around my age who was taking a much longer journey to visit her son, his wife, and the new grandbaby. We chatted back and forth a bit and then, because I can not resist blurting this out to anyone within earshot lately, I told her of my plans to go to India. She became quite enthusiastic as she told me of her dreams of traveling.  I recalled how Joseph Campbell described being able to know someone’s bliss by the brightness of her eyes; my companion had such a brightness as she spoke of her yearning to see the world. “But I won’t go,” she said. “Think of that plane with all those people in it, and no one even knows what happened to them. I won’t fly. That’s why I’m taking the train.” Well, the fact was, I had thought of that flight, and others that have ended tragically. Many nights, after I decided to go to India, I woke up, wide-eyed, thinking of all that could go wrong. What was I doing? Why was I doing such a thing? Wouldn’t it be better if I just stayed home? The woman on the train told me how, at some point (I think this might have been a biblical reference) the world would be at peace again and no one would grow old and the fruit would fall from trees. That, she told me, was when she would travel. I know it’s popular to suggest that fear is never wise but of course, sometimes it is. Fear has, on occasion, kept me quite safe. But I think of this woman now when fear uncurls inside me like a cobra in the middle of the night. I didn’t make her up, but I might have, that’s how well she fits the archetype. She was a nice lady, just trying to live her life. I appreciate her being so open with me about her feelings. When I wake up, wide-eyed, I think of her and the dreams she set aside, and she gives me courage. In January, in the Midwestern season of ice, I will get on a plane and fly to India. I don’t know what I’ll find there.

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