He recently studied the Roosevelts, and, it turns out, the Roosevelts had a lot to say about fear, most famously Franklin in his inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
As a writer, I can appreciate that Franklin’s quote is the better crafted. But as a visually-impaired woman, and as a mother, it’s Eleanor’s approach that speaks to me. From my perspective—cloudy and narrow, in the literal sense—there is plenty to fear. To say that there’s not just doesn’t ring true. To suggest, though, that we can live boldly, in spite of that fear—well, that gets right to the heart of it.
As I recount in my memoir, Now I See You, which is now available in paperback, I was diagnosed at age 19 with retinitis pigmentosa. It’s a degenerative retinal disease that, over the past two decades, has destroyed my peripheral and nighttime vision, and is creeping into my central vision as well.
Shortly after my diagnosis, I made a resolution to carpe diem—which, to some extent, is a way of paraphrasing Eleanor Roosevelt. For a long time, though, I opted to seize the day by doing fun, outrageous, life-affirming stunts—the flying trapeze, travel, romantic antics, acting Off–Broadway. All of it was thrilling, and exciting, but not genuinely terrifying. Which is to say, those things weren’t really that hard to do.
The things that have really scared me are far less exciting, less cinematic. Learning to use a mobility cane. Attending a Foundation Fighting Blindness support group. Writing my memoir, in which I reveal my vision loss, which had previously been a secret. It was only when I became a mother 10 years ago that I began to take on these things, because what scared me even more than doing them was not doing them and, in the process, failing my kids.
I do believe that even though you can’t get rid of fear, can’t boot him out of your car entirely, you can keep him out of the driver’s seat. Fear is a terrible driver, and the further back you can put him in the car, the better. No one will pester you more in the passenger seat. You’ll want fear riding in your way back—or, even better, in the trunk, where his voice is barely audible.
How do you get fear out of the driver’s seat and into the trunk? You listen to Eleanor Roosevelt and do one thing that scares you every day. Not because you’re not scared but precisely because you are.
As someone with a retinal disease, you fear starting a new job because you’ll have to get oriented to a whole new space and meet all new people, and who knows if you’ll even be able to read the computer screen? But you do it anyway.
You fear traveling because it’s crowded and stressful and you can’t read the signs or your boarding passes and it seems easier not to go. It is easier. But you get on the plane anyway.
You fear using your mobility cane because people might stare or pity or label or misunderstand you. And they might. But you use it anyway.
You fear having a child for all the reasons everyone fears parenthood and about a thousand more reasons so persuasive, you feel it may just be impossible. But you do it anyway.
You don’t throw yourself headfirst without stopping to think. You think. You deliberate. You prepare. And then, you follow Eleanor’s sound advice.
I’ve met plenty of people who’ve done the same.
In fact, the more visually impaired people I meet, the more examples of courage I see around me. I see men, women and children triumphing over their personal challenges, not because they’re not sad, angry and scared, but because in addition to all that, they are also indomitable.
They refuse to be defeated. They say “yes” even when it’s hard—because, let’s face it, it’s usually hard. They say “yes” even when it’s panic-inducing. And because of these folks, I’ve recommitted to saying “yes” too.
What are you going to do today that scares you?