Friday, February 6, 2015

Flying with Ebola

This is the First blog in my series: 6 Things Robbing You of a More Meaningful Life.
If you want to read the introduction to this series click here:

6 Things Robbing You of a More Meaningful Life:
Part 1: Fear                                                  

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"Does it not worry you to be flying across the world right now?" my friend asked me with a concerned tone in his voice.

I spun around in my desk chair to face him.

"Well, I guess I haven't thought that much about it," I replied honestly.

"Ebola is scary stuff," he said.

Scary stuff indeed. At the time of our second trip to Korea, the one where we were actually going to be picking up our son, the Ebola hysteria was at its peak. You couldn't turn on the TV or radio without hearing of its much feared spread into the United States. Sadly, one of the nurses treating an Ebola victim had just died, and other nurses had been traveling via airplanes. The CDC and the U.S. government scrambled to trace down every last person who had been in contact with the deadly disease, but the way the media made it sound, we were all spiraling into the new bubonic plague.

I have to tell you though, in that moment at my desk, my stomach turned with a familiar poison as I thought of this all for the first time. A sickness I have felt since a young boy invaded my body. This crippling disease that swarmed my soul and sent my heart rate through the roof crept up from my chest and began to tighten its grip around my esophagus. This was not the symptoms of Ebola, but a disease much more prevalent. A virus that has infected us all. A killer that has choked out countless lives and crippled millions more. The disease of fear.

Fear and I go way back. Ever since I can remember I have been paralyzed by fear. As a child I was painfully shy. One of my earliest memories dates back to kindergarten where I accidentally dropped a pencil on the floor. It rolled across the room. I did not have another pencil, but was too afraid to get up and pick up the one that rolled a few feet in front of me. It’s hard to believe I was so fearful I could not even stand up to pick up a pencil. The last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself.

In a lot of ways, I am still that little boy. I am still paralyzed by the fear of drawing attention to myself. I would walk a mile out of my way to avoid the spotlight, and I have for most of my life. It’s exhausting really. When fear has that tight of a grip on you it makes you feel like a slave; like you have no control over it. All my life fear has pushed me around and stamped out any prospect of growing or living a more meaningful existence.

Afraid to change because of what people might think.

Afraid to speak up because someone might disagree.

Afraid to try because I might fail in front of everybody.

So I retreated within myself. I stayed inside the boundaries of my own comfort. I never changed. I never spoke up. I never tried. It was safer that way. But the safest path is usually the easiest path. And the easiest path is normally leading nowhere.

That all changed after a trip to Standing Rock Indian Reservation in 2010. (You can read a little more about the experience I had here:!/2014/10/a-flower-from-sioux-indian-girl-how-our.html) My comfort zone was shattered and for the first time I felt freed from the clutches of my own fears. It was a defining trip that changed the trajectory of my life. I learned that most of the time my fear was the only thing holding me back from changing the world… or at least the world around me.

As for flying with Ebola, there really were no other options. We couldn’t reschedule. We had waited almost two years to bring Wesley home. So Ebola or not, we were getting on that plane. We ultimately knew the reward of making Wesley our son would far outweigh the slight risk of exposure to any disease, but it was a little unsettling. To be honest Patience and I never really talked that much about it at the time. I can just remember it being an added anxiety.

That anxiety was inflated when we arrived in Seoul and saw a big red and white sign just a few steps outside of the plane. It read something like this:

Attention: Travelers who have been to Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, or other West African countries must stop ahead for Ebola screening.

That was a little unnerving to spot right after a 14 hour plane ride. Then I saw a couple of people from our plane turn right into the quarantined glass room. I looked at Patience with wide eyes.

“What?” she asked, loaded down with luggage.

I tilted my head towards the people in the room.

“What about it?”

“Those people were on our plane!” I whispered in a half panic.

Patience shrugged it off.

“I don’t think they were.”

“I know they were.”

“Well, not much we can do about it now,” she replied matter-of-factly as we made our way onto an escalator.

In the end, we escaped the trip without any illness, and we were right, the risk was worth it. I’d fly on a hundred planes and risk getting the virus a thousand times over if it meant getting my son home. And that’s the thing. When the outcome is something you want bad enough, no fear can stop you from getting there.

Lately I’ve continued the pattern of facing my fears. I accepted the proposal to speak at a my company's Thanksgiving program. It was probably a crowd of two hundred people, but it might as well have been Madison Square Garden. I literally had to hold the microphone with both hands because I was trembling so badly. I also recently signed up for a circuit class to get in better shape. I haven’t thrown up on anyone yet so things are going pretty good. Even my own mother told me she couldn’t believe I chose to sign up for the class. She said it just wasn’t like me. And she’s right. It’s not. But I am glad I’m doing it. And it’s not that bad either. Fear has a way of making things look a lot worse than they actually are. 

It’s like last week when Sawyer wrecked into the neighbor’s mailbox as I was trying to teach him to ride his bike without training wheels. He scraped up his hand on the concrete, and didn’t want to get back up on the seat. I told him that being able to ride his bike up and down the street with the wind blowing through his hair would be worth a few scrapes. He disagreed and began to take off his helmet. I stopped him. I told him that no matter what, he was going to learn how to ride his bike that day. Sawyer was not happy with me, and was afraid to start on his own.

“If all it costs you are a few scrapes to be able to ride your bike it will totally be worth it,” I reiterated.

After about 45 minutes he was a pro. He took off down the street and let out a scream of victory. After he turned around and made his way back to me I told him to go get his mom to show her. He ran inside and brought her back out. 

“Mom, I can ride my bike without training wheels and it only cost me this!” 

He held out his hands and showed her the scrapes.

“Totally worth it!” he yelled as he jumped off the porch and ran to his bike.

Fear may keep you from falling, but it will also keep you from living. In life we are going to hit the ground, and we’re going to get banged up. But take it from Sawyer, it’s totally worth it.

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