A Marsh in Brooklyn, Foolishness, and Fear

image credit
Starry Night 
Vincent Van Gogh

One spring day when I was nineteen, I discovered this place called the salt marsh which I had not known about before and was just across the street from a very classic looking, treelined park only a few blocks away from the house in Brooklyn I had lived in since age two. I was so excited about this—a real nature spot in Brooklyn! I didn’t have to take a bus or plane or travel far at all to get to it, just walk. At this time, I was determinedly trying to remove all anxiety and fear from my life, things I had struggled with from early on in life and things of which I wanted to completely rid myself. 

I had an idea. I would face my fear and anxiety and walk through the salt marsh by myself. I stepped in and walked around and around, everything looking similar around me, dreamily moving and without awareness of my surroundings, and then I realized I had no idea where I was going exactly. At this moment, I saw a woman walking towards me, and I think I said, “Do you know how I can get to the exit?” It was funny wording, I realize, for this wild place, and she said, “Oh, you’re almost there,” so I continued walking and I was suddenly outside on the sidewalk again. 

When I went home and for awhile after that, I was talking a lot about how cool this place was and a lot of that excitement was my idea of nature as well as my own fixed goal of getting rid of my anxiety and fear. I didn’t describe what the place actually looked like or felt like. I am not sure I really knew.

My sister heard me raving about this marsh and said, “I’ll go with you.” I was pleasantly surprised to hear that as she wasn’t really interested in nature as I was. As we arrived and took a few steps on the path, toweringly tall faded grass on either side of us, I saw a look of shock appear on her face and she said, “Let’s go back.” So we did, and as we walked back onto the sidewalk, she said, “I heard something growl at us in that grass!”

Maybe months later, a friend from Brooklyn College mentioned we could take a walk somewhere, so I thought to walk there. I want to tell the end of this story so it doesn’t scare anyone—nothing at all bad happened to me and nothing at all bad happened to him. He had a very calm demeanor and he didn’t seem romantically interested in me or I in him, but aside from that, I hadn’t known him long.

We walked around and around and around; it could’ve been a couple of hours. The main thing I remember about the conversation was that he had said, “I couldn’t appreciate listening to Mozart’s music anymore after I found out that he didn’t care about art or creating music, just fame.” I had been listening to Mozart a lot at that time, so I said, “What? Are you sure?” This new view of Mozart distracted me from how long we had been walking. “Beethoven had a really bad temper, had been known to have violent fits,” he continued later on. This, too, was sad news to my sensitive self. 

When I left and walked back home, I saw I had missed calls. My cell phone volume was unintentionally low and I didn’t hear it. My mom was concerned about the hours I had been walking with this friend I didn’t know well, didn’t know if he could’ve hurt me there. Seeing her look of fear, I noticed her care for me then instead of my own foolishness, but this was an important thing to consider, too.

When my friend told me about Beethoven’s rage, my immediate thought was ‘but Moonlight Sonata is so gentle and beautiful!’ I don’t think I actually said that aloud. And while I find it’s good to balance caution and freedom, hearing that maybe Mozart was seen as a sellout or Beethoven was punching people close to him, these negative things about musicians whose music I enjoyed (and who were human, too) were not more important than my safety or sense of time. 

Even though I give myself credit for facing all too familiar fear and doing something I hadn’t done before, it was still not a choice I would want to make.

I had learned a little more about anxiety since then. In my yoga course this year, I learned about the nervous system— anxiety can have physiological roots, a body response. The body’s relaxation response can be activated through activities like yoga and meditation. I began to see that fear isn’t only spiritual or a matter of willpower.

I had experienced a wonderful relief of healing and vibrancy this year after much time of pain and silence and along with that wonderful feeling came new foolishness that reached people around me and myself in sadly not so positive ways. Positive change isn’t only a miraculous thing for which all one can do is hope and wait. It doesn’t have to be a great action either—a small recent change had been made. Sometimes a pause with no action is necessary, too.

I am not done with fear, anxiety, or foolishness but my focus has gone elsewhere. If I loved that marsh more than my own image of an appealingly better, fearless version of myself, I’d go back. But there are other things—people, places, words, memories, songs, beliefs, sensations, and plans that I am not looking through to find a better version of myself, but am looking to because I love them. 

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