Learning The Rain Dance
If fear is a compass, then use it to guide you, not tell you what to do.
Someone once asked me if there’s anything I’m afraid of. I laughed. Since my 18th birthday, I’ve moved countries 3 times. I’ve traveled to tens more on my own. I’ve met strangers, slept in parks and danced in the most dangerous cities in the world. I built a 6-figure business, worked with clients I could have only dreamed of, and made friends with people I never thought I’d meet. I’ve done this and more, yet most of the time, I was terrified.
Ever since I was a girl, people who knew me knew that Yehudis was afraid. When I was 7 months old, my family had guests over for dinner. I took one look at them and let out a terrified scream. Hidden deep in my family’s storage boxes, we have tapes of me crying about a barbecue and cowering in my stroller from the rain. As I got older, if the house bell rang, I wouldn’t answer the door. What if someone was trying to hurt me? At night, I couldn’t sleep. I’d imagine robbers with guns breaking into my home. As much as I tried to fight the fear in my head, it almost always won. Everything in life shook me; everything had me afraid.
My parents had 15 children. They didn’t have time to worry about my worries. There was a lot to be done and no time to indulge in my imagination. When I was 10 years old, my parents left me overnight to babysit my siblings. I stayed upstairs, hidden in my room. I was terrified that someone would know we were home alone. My parents laughed when they found out. They didn’t understand what I was afraid of in quiet Milwaukee. After a few years of babysitting, I stopped being afraid.
I remember the first time I was aware of a shift in my fears. I was always afraid of thunder. It was too loud. Someone told me that the lightning might kill me. On stormy days, I didn’t want to go outside. I wanted to hide under my blanket and cover my ear with a pillow. One Sunday, it started to rain. I hid in my room. Lights flashed from behind the blue curtain. Thunder seemed to shake open the ceiling above me. Raindrops pattered the window as I willed the storm to go away. I was 11 years old.
My mother walked into my room. She took me to the window and pulled open the curtain. “You know, Yehudis,” she said. “I used to watch the lightning with my father. When I was a little girl, we would sit and stare at the sky together. He thought storms were amazing. I love storms.”
I stared at the gray mess outside. Thunder boomed. I shivered. “Can you imagine how powerful God is?” My mother asked. “Look at the beautiful lightning strike in the sky.” My mother and I stood by the window for a few more minutes. She softly rewrote a script in my head. I had a new way of looking at the rain. It was scary but beautiful. That was the first storm I stopped hiding from.
As I grew up, I started testing my own limits. When I turned 18, I wanted to pursue my dream of moving to Israel. Nothing is stopping me, so why am I not going? I asked myself this question over and over again until one day, I went. I flew to Israel with a carry-on, a place to stay for a week, and my dad’s credit card. Within the first 12 hours of landing, I had two jobs and a room to rent. Was it terrifying? I can’t even tell you. I was flying high on the adrenaline of no sleep and a desperate drive to do what I wanted to do. The fear only hit me the next day when I needed to meet my roommate for the first time. Somehow, social anxiety was stronger than anything I encountered on the way.
Israel became a container for fearful experiences. I started collecting them. Before my first date, I agonized over canceling for hours before he picked me up. When I smoked weed, I thought the police would arrest me as I walked home that night. I was a hundred times more terrified than I was high. I didn’t know that the police wouldn’t give a damn; I knew I was doing something illegal and my imagination made up the rest. After I posted the first immodest photo of myself on Facebook, I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. There was no going back; the Rabbis would see my post and no good Jewish boy would ever want to marry me. I needed to tell the world that I wasn’t who they expected me to be, and I shook as I did it. In retrospect, it seems silly. It felt so real back then. I had grown up with certain truths that I was now breaking in public. I posted it and barely anyone cared. A few people criticized my path. They probably weren’t worth keeping around anyway.
I started to feel alive. The faster I lived, the faster fear flew at me, and the faster I got over it. I wanted more, I wanted more. I started to understand the trick to winning. Either I did what I was afraid of without dwelling on the fear, or I changed my thoughts about it. Fear slowly stopped being the reason I didn’t do something. It stopped getting in the way. Nothing mattered more than moving forward.
I’m 27 now. I’ve been fighting my fears for a long time. It doesn’t get better; I get stronger. When I freeze outside my dojo, I have years of reminders that a gym class has never hurt me. When I’m tempted to cancel a potential client call because I’m unsure of the industry, I know I’ve got a few hundred client calls under my belt. Fear is normal. Reacting to fear with avoidance is normal. I don’t want to be normal though. If I have to choose between a stagnant life or facing fear, I’m going to be the bravest girl in the whole goddamn world.
Recently, I’ve been living through a new kind of fear. I don’t know if I’ll stay with my boyfriend of 4.5 years. We’ve always had some lifestyle differences. I was terrified of acknowledging them. If I accepted our disagreements, it’d make them true. Fearful feelings bubbled out at odd times and I pushed them down. I didn’t want to face what they might mean. A few weeks ago, I said fuck it, this is not the life I’m going to live. I laid my thoughts out on the table and accepted the direction that might take us in. It’s terrifying; I was so sure about us. Will I be okay on my own? I have no clue. But I’d rather risk it than ignore it. I’d rather face the fear than push those feelings down and do nothing.
Everybody’s got their own set of fears. I’ve met people afraid of people, people afraid of dying and people afraid of staying alive. We’re all so tenderly human. When I hear my own fears or learn about someone else’s, the easiest question for me to ask is “who cares”? It’s cold, it’s harsh, but in the long run, who cares? Who cares if you’re awkward on that first date or fumble the first job interview? There are more dates and more jobs out there than you could count. Who cares if the community rejects you? You know how many others are dying to have you? Who cares if you’re afraid of traveling solo or running after your dreams? Who cares? There’s a high chance that the fear is in your head. Living life despite your fears is the best way to test whether or not the fear is real.
It bothers me that people lean into fear like a life-sucking pillar. Everyone’s afraid, some more and some less. Fear is often a bunch of incorrectly wired thoughts slowing you down. Why are we accepting them as fact instead of unraveling them? Why do we mix fear with intuition and allow it to take the lead on our life? It’s good to acknowledge fear. It’s better to do whatever’s causing that feeling anyways. Have you ignored the door or hung up the phone because you were afraid of who was on the other side? My dad used to joke “people don’t bite”. I’ve met a lot of people and he’s always been right. I’ve never been bitten. The day I am I’ll be okay; it’s just a bite anyway.
A friend recently reminded me that old fears will always crop back up. New fears will often form. It’s not the fear that changes with time. It’s us. We change and get past what we’re afraid of. What we’re afraid of stays behind. We grow and the fearful thing gets smaller, but it’s there. If we regress, the fear comes right back with the same force as before.
I know that fear will always accompany me. I still shiver when I hear thunder. I’m afraid the lightning might hit me this time. And then I remind myself of how much mama loves the rain. I ask myself a crazy question: wouldn’t it be cool to be hit by lightning? In a way, it would be. It might hurt but I don’t know that yet. I’d rather learn to dance in the rain than to ever hide again.
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I spent a month writing this piece. It was so timely, I couldn’t have planned it better. I lived the idea I was writing about almost every day. I felt fear, gave into it, and fought it as life washed over me. It was brilliant and it hurt, and I’m grateful.
I developed this essay alongside and . It wouldn’t have been the same without their probing questions, suggestions, editing and attention.
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