People frequently say to me, “You are so courageous. I could never do something like ‘that.’” (“That” can mean any number of things, some crazy indeed!) I’m puzzled. Often, but not exclusively, I hear these words in relation to travel.
For example, my cousins in Indiana are horrified that I drive the miles from Montana to their homes by myself. I could fly but I like to see the country between hither and yon. The solitude gives me opportunity to process the sights I see.
Curiosity finally induced me to pick up the dictionary: Courage — the capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear. Courageous? Not me.
Last week I drove 3,175 miles from Mazatlan on the coast of Mexico back to Harlem, Mont ., by myself. Believe me, it had nothing to do with courage. It’s all about expediency. My van needs an oil change.
That motivated me to make a decision to bring my sweet Roshanna Vanna back to Montana. By searching Mazatlan diligently, I had finally located a maintenance shop advertising oil changes. So I maneuvered my van into the narrow entrance by sucking in my breath really hard.
“How many liters of oil does it take?” That question did not inspire confidence in the technician’s ability to perform a simple oil change. Shouldn’t he know more than me?
My van had sat parked my entire six months in Mexico, except for a short trip to Guadalajara. Why would I drive when I could take a bus anywhere for a few pennies. I had visions of watching her melt (humidity) and rust (salt air) into the tarmac in a couple years. Broke my heart. So I decided to bring my good “girl” back to dry (guaranteed to preserve against rust, mold, mildew but not against dust) Montana for my use whenever I return.
A marvelous trip, mostly driving roads new to me. I traveled from Mazatlan to the border, nearly 900 miles, on the cuota highway or toll road. Unlike our freeways, this well-maintained road does not bypass towns. One must stay alert for twists, turns and cattle on the road.
The imagined danger I was most apprehensive about in driving Mexico was my inability to interpret road signage along the way. Within a few miles I knew what the signs meant by repetitive usage. I did not need the exact translation.
Another fear I had harbored through wide-eyed nights was how to get my van back across the border. But, like most unfounded fears, when I got to the border I had little trouble and a lot of help to maneuver me through the exit paperwork for my vehicle.
As usual when I travel, I prefer secondary roads when and where possible. My first minor feelings of possible danger came in Ely, Nev. I woke up to four inches of fresh snow. I bypassed fear and danger by going back to sleep until the snow melted. I can drive in snow; I don’t like to. And despite occasional flurries, I never had to drive slick roads this trip.
No, I am not courageous. Give me thousands of miles of roads. Send me to foreign countries. Make me speak to a crowd of thousands. I’m willing to be uncomfortable.
Most of my true fears, my total lack of courage, have to do with personal confrontation. It scares me to the bone to have to talk with someone close to me about something that hurts my little feelings, or that makes me angry, or that is unacceptable behavior toward me. I can stay awake night after night writing imaginary scripts which never come close to the actual conversation once it becomes unavoidable. Because, avoid it I will, as long as possible. I try to figure out how to get away with a “feel-good” lie. Shame on me. I tell the truth, keeping in mind that it is “my” truth. I would love to get beyond this ugly personal trait. Tell me how. Fear rules. My tongue is paralyzed. My throat closes.
Once forced to face my fear, it is never as bad as I imagined. I throw away my script. The other person never cooperates anyway.
My next big fear is an upcoming writer’s conference in which I must try to sell “myself” to an agent and/or editor. Scares the bejeebies out of me. I’ve purchased my plane ticket and made hotel reservations just to force myself to be there. Numerous times, in my imagination, I’ve backed out. I can give you a basketful of valid reasons to not go. I’m terrified, but I’m willing to be cowardly uncomfortable.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She found, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she has headed on a new journey. She has moved to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)