I have spent much of my life with a handicap. It is not a disability that one would usually think of, like being in a wheelchair or being blind. My handicap is called fear.
I am not quite sure when I started to be afraid. I only know that one day I saw someone looking at me and thought, “Are they offended? Is there something on my face? What are they thinking about me?” I was afraid of meeting new people, terrified I would say something that would distinguish me from them or make them think I was strange. I was afraid of being in a place where I didn’t know anyone, dreading the feeling of sitting by myself with no one to talk to, but too timid to reach out to make new friends. I had a close group of friends at school and I had known many of my classmates since kindergarten, so, looking back, I realize that school was a place of comfort for me where I didn’t have to go through awkward introductions or make an effort to meet new people. Church, on the other hand, was a different story. I knew a few people, but felt isolated and alone because I was not surrounded by my familiar group of friends. I felt like wallpaper no one noticed or paid attention to, but did nothing to make myself known and accepted my handicap without question.
This past summer, everything changed. I went to Pascagoula, Mississippi to help the people still suffering from Hurricane Katrina. Seeing their optimism despite having their homes destroyed and their lives turned upside down, I realized how petty my insecurities were. The hurricane victims had faced losing their lives as well as their homes, and yet did not let their uncertainty about the future cripple them or kill their hope. I began to see how I had given my life over to fear and what it had done to me, as well as others. I wondered how many people had I failed to look in the eye because I was too busy looking at the floor, fearful of offending the person, and how many relationships I had lost just because I was too cowardly to start a conversation. I had let my anxieties choke out the joy and fulfillment in my life, and I believe that I should never let that occur again.
I believe that I have a responsibility to step out of my comfort zone and fight against my personal terrors. Although sometimes I still feel the familiar chill of panic inside me, I believe that the discomfort of starting a conversation is far less painful than being completely paralyzed by my fears and regrets forever.
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