- With Danger, OpportunityVirabhadrasana, Warrior Pose
When my house in Lesotho, Southern Africa, was robbed, lock broken and door left ajar, my Basotho neighbors threw a party to take back my space. We drank to dilute my fears, restore my stance, reinstate me as a member of the largest tribe. The villagers and my fellow teachers worried that the robbery might scare me back to the U.S., and if I wavered they encouraged me to stay. The wizard priest said to me: “You see where you stand? You have as much a right to stand there as anyone.”
Twenty years after Lesotho I rent a guesthouse on twenty acres of orchard in the hills of Southern California, the address Coyote Canyon Road. A colleague who lives in a condo in the nearby city of Camarillo asks me what I carry to defend myself against coyotes. I have been walking my dog empty-handed, arms loose at my sides, pocketful of dog treats, and in my head Emily Dickinson’s “My Life had stood— a Loaded Gun”—“Though I than He—may longer live / He longer must—than I— / For I have but the power to kill, / Without—the power to die—”. [End Page 9]
Before I feared being alone, I was afraid of lions. When the one-eyed guide through the Okavango Delta motioned me to stay close— we might see a lion—every swish was a lion running, every swirl of buttery light was a lion’s blurred fur.
At a party during graduate school a man compliments my very short hair, adding, “I think it’s brave.” I did not think of myself then or ever as pretty. I think of my looks as an acquired taste. One Halloween, half way through my PhD, I bought a lavender wig, and the sensation of hair brushing and swishing against my cheeks and neck followed me into my dreams. In the dream mirror, long dream hair framed my dream face. Prettiness spoke dreamily to me, let me see it briefly, on me. I began growing out my hair the next day. By the time I took my qualifying exams, I had a transitional haircut, long enough to etch out bangs, and by the time I graduated and moved to Las Vegas my hair had grown as long as the lavender wig. My best haircut was at a Las Vegas salon, the hair I got divorced with.
I walk along paths cut into the steep hillsides of the newly planted orchard and startle when a crow squawks. The dog stops short, then stares into the brown hills beyond the yard we’ve left behind, filled with palm trees, cacti, lavender, roses, and bougainvillea. Across half the orchard each orange sapling has been planted next to a graying stump.
In Las Vegas, inside the house, marriage and the person I was married to changed their faces. Outside, there were armed robberies, car accidents, and pit bull attacks. What was lovable and what terrified tangled, and the size and shape of my fear stretched awkwardly, a plastic bag filled taut with hangers, near tearing.
I fought for a while with or against or for ex. I thought that when I confronted his lies about how he drank and how much he spent, he would come to his senses. Instead it was like attacking an alien—I sliced one lie in half and it doubled, additional lies to cover the first, and soon the spaceship was swarming. Nothing to do but eject, take a [End Page 10] chance with an escape, drift toward another planet, who cares which one.
Some days a vague fear surrounds me. I look at the world through fearful eyes. Fear thins the air, takes my breath, makes me gasp, grasp at where I am supposed to be, leaves me with the sense that something vital to remember I have forgot.
I try to dissipate fear with thought instead of feeling. Open the door slowly and enter. See? Not afraid. Notice the breath, which slows or speeds or stops near fear, and even it out, let the fearless breath calm the belly, bring the body into...