Growing up in an immigrant household, I was taught, directly and indirectly, to be afraid of America. Don’t go to the movies — you’ll get raped. Don’t go further than the end of the block — you’ll get kidnapped. Don’t go to friends’ houses where they have an older brother — you’ll get molested. Don’t drive in the wintertime — actually, just stay home for four months — otherwise, you’ll get into a deadly car accident. Don’t ever take a road trip — you’ll run out of gas and get abducted by bandits or something.
The warnings I heeded were all basically exaggerations of local news headlines. Don’t get me wrong. These things can indeed happen (esp. bandits) and when they do, they are absolutely traumatizing.
However, I feel like a lot of my life was patrolled by fear and maybe even my mother’s undiagnosed anxiety. At first consideration, it was amazing to me that she didn’t feel safe living in America’s suburbs as a light skinned Arab woman who could pass if she didn’t speak out loud and thus let her accent betray her roots but it made sense that she’d have carried the trauma with her when she immigrated. My mother lived through the Lebanese Civil War and witnessed some of the most appalling manifestations of Cain and Abel this half of the century.
It still doesn’t mean we should let fear control our lives. I’ve spent the last few months getting very intimate with my fears, sometimes facing them head on and other times admittedly succumbing to them. I even went on that road trip she warned me against years ago and she was right, my car did break down, but I didn’t get kidnapped by bandits, I instead got towed by a Uzbekistani man with his nephew in the back seat who requested we alert him if we saw any roadkill. He was visiting Colorado from Uzbekistan and had heard that America’s roadkill was notable (?). We never saw any roadkill but I had an interesting conversation with a stranger as I practiced fearlessness. I’m not at all exorcised of fear and I haven’t gone freight hopping yet (I need to get much more physically fit for the running part). But I am recognizing how important it is to not let fear dominate our actions.
Today, I came across this Brainpickings post and I found the book I’d like to give to my future children, my friends’ kids, my brother’s elementary class, the kid in line at Dairy Queen… shit, I wish I could get a copy for every kid I meet. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me At All is a children’s book edited by Sara Jane Boyers that puts Maya Angelou’s poem by the same title alongside paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Basquiat and Maya Angelou. Hell to the fuck yes. I think this book is heightening my pre-existing condition of baby fever and making me want to have kids just so I can read them this book and prove that it’s possible to be fearlessly driven by love (and reason).
My friends with kids will read this and laugh at my naïveté. It’s cool. Consider this as backwards planning my child-rearing, and setting goals that are just out of reach.
Also, this video with the paintings and a child voiceover reading of the poem is perfect.