Let’s Listen to Eleanor. Parker Knows How.

Grizzly Buddha

Do at least one thing every day that scares you.
–Eleanor Roosevelt

When I showed this quote to Tracy* he said, “Can we change it from at least to only?”

For me it’s hard to limit the scary things in a day to one, and this isn’t all Germany’s fault. I’m easily scared. For instance, Sunday I decided to move Tracy’s car so it won’t be in the same spot on the street for two-and-a-half weeks while he’s in Vietnam.

I had never driven the Mini before. Reverse is next to first gear rather than opposite 5th as I’ve always found it before. Parking spots here usually have about six inches of clearance on either side. Plus, backing up I was blind since 9o% of cars are longer than Minis. Yet, somehow I managed to move the car from one parking space to another without wrecking.

I have a low-grade but insistent fear of my boss. Yesterday when I finished teaching she said, “Why didn’t you give your student any breaks?” I told her I had. “Well open the door, let him out of the room. See, he’s using the bathroom now–you should have let him use it sooner. I almost burst into the room and asked if everything was all right in there.”

Another time I was doing some online modules in order to qualify to teach for this particular language school. She came into the room where I was working and said, “Faster! The speed affects your score!” And when I was filling out some paperwork to make the hire official, she said, “Legible! Your handwriting must be legible or they will send it back. That could be a five or a three–which is it?”

Sometimes the scariest things are new ones–finding your way, negotiating with people you don’t know or understand. Other times the scariest thing is to end something comfortable, glorious, or even bad-but-familiar–to kill it, walk away, or let it die.

And what about dropping in on the primordial? Meditation means ultimate surrender to a mysterious power that pulses through you. It can be terrifying.

Meditation led me to an MFA. About ten years ago I was having my third-of-life-crisis and became so lost that I began to start each morning in the half-lotus, focusing on my breath. This was the best way I could think of to contact my most true self, the one I needed to help me decide what to do with my life. Now I’m having what could be a mid-life crisis and since I’m too scared to drive in Germany, I won’t be buying a sports car. Instead, I’m meditating.

In his beautiful book,  Let Your Life Speak, Quaker educator and activist, Parker Palmer, writes about the harshness of winter in Madison Wisconsin:

If you live here long, you learn that a daily walk into the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly to the very heart of the season you fear.

Deep inside our own winters hibernate. They may be fierce, they may be wild.


* The love of my life



  • Sue Tyburski says:

    What a gorgeous and brave post, and just what I needed to read today to confront my own winter landscape(s). Thanks – sending hugs across the ocean!

  • Nicole says:

    Lovely post, Shira!

  • Elise Richman says:

    What a beautiful and deeply honest post!

  • Kathleen says:

    Shira, very beautifully written. Living in a new country is a great adventure with many scary things along the way. BTW, I love the Grizzly Buddha. Wish I had one in my Boulder garden, the perfect place for a meditating bear.

    • Shira Richman says:

      Thank you, Kathleen. I love the idea of a meditating bear in your Boulder garden. I could see it happening–one of the black bears from Settlers’ Park stopping by to enjoy the peace your garden provides.

  • Cathie Smathie says:

    We very well may be the same person. Beautiful post!
    (ps, best use of the asterisk)

    • Shira Richman says:

      Do you sometimes worry that if you weren’t yourself you wouldn’t like yourself? Well, what a relief that we are each other and we like each other.

  • Jonathan Frey Jonathan Frey says:

    I love these dispatches from your adventures, Shira. They make me long to dig out my passport and take to wandering again. It’s been too long. Daniell and I used to count it a bad year if we spent the entire thing in the US. Now we’ve recently passed the two year mark of being border-bound (and we’re only a few hours’ drive from Canada, which mostly counts as leaving the country). First, I guess, we’ll have to get a baby passport.

    • Shira Richman says:

      I imagine having a child is an adventure more deepening and perspective enhancing than most travels. And then traveling with a child will be the ultimate experience, don’t you think? Baby passport–yes!

      • Jonathan Frey Jonathan Frey says:

        I’m actually really excited about the prospect of traveling with our kids. I think it’ll be great–but we’ve got a few years before they’ll appreciate it, I think.

  • Diane Nash-McFeron says:

    Regarding meditation, isn’t the other side of the coin for terrifying exultation and amazing joy?
    Regarding Parker Palmer, what a wise man! He has figured how to not let fear knock him off of his path. Great book!

    • Shira Richman says:

      I like the way you describe this coin–with beauty and truth.

      Also, thanks for being the kind of mother who sends inspiring and provocative Eleanor Roosevelt quotes.

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  • Pete Sheehy says:

    I kept hearing your boss speak with a German accent, which made her scary even for me as a reader.

  • meg richman says:

    Now if I could just get my dog to sit in half lotus. She just caught and ate a crow, leaving the ragged black wings and wide open beak for me to clean up off the lawn. Maybe in her next life.

  • Cortney Holles says:

    Love it Shira! And you’re right that we all need to “drop in” more than the tendency to “drop out”!

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