Yesterday I was sitting at my desk, minding my business and doing the work that I am paid to do. When I picked up my calendar to shift it to another corner of the desk, a centipede-type of bug crawled from underneath it and headed straight for me. I screamed like I was being attacked, leaped over my desk and sprinted out of the office. Everyone on the floor poked their heads out of their offices to see what the commotion was about. The few who know I teach karate in town, chuckled at the irony of a black belt being freaked out by a bug.
But it had a lot of legs and looked really, really evil. Seriously.
For the record, I am a "green" tree-hugger. I recycle like a woman possessed, drive a hybrid, try my best to conserve paper and don't kill bugs at all - even if they have found their way into my living space (a stink bug fell from the ceiling last week; I scooped it up in a bathroom cup and freed it via the window). Spiders, surprisingly, don't bother me at all. The only things that do give me pause are large groups of bugs (a colony of ants for example) or bugs with lots of limbs (I just got a chill from typing that last part!). But I do know exactly where my phobia comes from, thought.
When I was about 14 or so, my mom asked me to shift an outdoor rug that was on our patio. I walked outside in sandals and lifted up a brick that was holding one of the corners in place. A gang of pincher bugs fell from the bottom of the brick onto my feet. None actually pinched, but I screamed, kicked off my shoes, hurdled the railing and proceeded to scratch my legs and feet for the better part of two hours (even after a long shower). It totally weirded me out (and I just scratched my leg after typing about it). Even after all these years, I still remember what it felt like to have those bugs fall on my feet. Ick.
All day yesterday, my co-workers commented (and chuckled) about my bug adventure. My officemate killed the offending creature (which kind of made me sad) - but he couldn't get over my freak-out session. He promptly branded me "Bug Girl" and said that he might have to re-think his decision to have me as one of the folks he'd walk through the rough section of town with. A former martial artist himself (he studied TKD as a kid), he seemed to be under the impression that once you become a black belt in a martial art, you fear nothing at all - be it mugger in the bushes, knife-wielding bad guy or an army of bugs. Well, I'm here to testify that nothing can be further from the truth.
I may be a karateka, but there are still things that scare me - even though I train on a regular basis to "handle" those things. I might have to face that mugger, bad guy or army of beetles, but that doesn't mean I don't have some fear about having to face them. According to writer/humanitarian James Baldwin, being courageous enough to face fear doesn't mean that you aren't experiencing any. He actually describes courage as a mere weapon with which to keep that fear in check. The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.
OK - so maybe running screaming from the room wasn't the best way to handle my fear. But truthfully, I'm really happy that I didn't toss everything off my desk trying to shoe the bug away or that I didn't just sit there and stare, frozen by fear. I had a plan - and that plan was all about avoiding that bug at all costs.
Doing something is better than doing nothing, I suppose. Maybe next time I'll just walk briskly out of the room, though (considering that there might even BE a next time made me itch a little!)...