“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Famous words from FDR in his inaugural address.
That was a long time ago. And when you think about it, it is kind of vague, somewhat histrionic and perhaps even redundant. Because of course we are all afraid of being afraid. That and spiders, snakes, heights, blind dates, war, shark attacks and dying. And that is just the tiny list. Everyone has their own personal list with fears as weird as chickens, bathing and wind (I just checked the weird phobia list).
We’re all afraid of something. For me it’s small places, super high heights (although I tackled that one head-on when I took up downhill skiing) and mice. What I don’t understand is why we are afraid of each other. Of mere mortals. Of human beings. I’m not talking about terrorists or rapists or nutsoid psychopaths wielding machetes. I’m talking about each other. Regular people. Even regular superstars. Who, as it turns out, can be just regular people too.
This week-end I am very much looking forward to reunion-ing (yes, I just made that word up) with a theatre group I belonged to many moons ago. I did exactly four shows (musicals) with this group, had some great times, a few not so great times, made some lovely friends, enjoyed some lovely flirtations and all in all moved on with some pretty fond memories. And now, nearly four decades later, the miracle of Facebook has brought many of us back together. This weekend we shall meet up at the old rehearsal hall and … well, no one is really sure what will happen. But we will get together.
As it turns out, some of these reunion-ers are scared. Nervous is more like it. Perhaps afraid that after all these years, wrinkles, extra pounds and gray hairs they won’t somehow measure up. Or have anything to say. Anything interesting, that is. They are excited. But also worried.
And to this I say – why? What is the worst that happen? The best that can happen is you will have a rip-snorting awesome time. In the middle is the prospect of an “okay” time, neither here nor there, just a few hours lost. At worst you are bored out of your skull and you go back to your now normal everyday life which has somehow survived and maybe even flourished all these years.
Plus there’s the knowledge (again thanks to Facebook) that most of your fellow attendees are as nervous as you. But again I must ask … why? Because the only thing that fear is sure to accomplish is … regret.
When I was in my first band (in my early 20s) we played a nice motor inn in Calgary, a motor inn which happened to be at that time populated by a gaggle of major country stars, in town to film a Christmas special. Remember the Oak Ridge Boys? I was just starting to acknowledge country music in those days and I thought the Oaks were all quite dashing. Well doesn’t one of them stroll into the lounge one evening. The lounge where I am singing. He sits alone and watches me sing. And on my break do I have the nerve to approach him? Buy him a drink? He is alone for crying out loud and I am a fellow musician!
Nope. I am absolutely paralyzed with fear. I can not budge from my hiding place at the bar. I simply cannot move. And then he leaves.
That night, back in the safety of my room, I berate myself endlessly. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I cannot believe I let this opportunity go by. I vow that if he shows up again the next night, I won’t make the same mistake.
He does. With one of the other Oaks. They sit together at the back of the bar and watch me sing. And when the set is over I grab a drink and march right over to their table, bold as can be and said “Hi guys. Want some company?”
They couldn’t pull the chair out fast enough. We had a spirited, fun conversation and at the end of the night one of them (won’t tell you which) slid me the key to his room. I declined his offer but learned a huge lesson.
Fear is highly overrated.
If they had said “No thanks, we’re just chilling honey,” I would have walked away knowing I tried. No harm, no foul. My life would have gone on just fine but I think I would have felt better knowing that I tried.
Fast forward a few years and my same band is performing at the Holiday Inn in Sault St. Marie. As luck would have it April Wine is playing the same night at the arena across the road. And … staying at the Holiday Inn. Our drummer is incredulous. Ecstatic. Scared. Because he loves April Wine and what if they come in?
They do. And he freaks out. Holy crap Vic – that’s Myles Goodwin at the bar!
“Who’s that?” ask I innocently, honestly not knowing Canadian rock music very well. “The lead singer,” he sighs. “In this bar. Watching me play drums.”
“Well,” answer I calmly, ever the pragmatist, “He knows who you are. Go say hello.”
No way. Darling Rick is paralyzed with fear and cannot budge from his drum kit. So I budge for him. I waltz right up to the bar, tap that handsome rocker on the shoulder and said “Excuse me? Are you Myles Goodwin?”
“He laughs and said “Yes I am, dear. How can I help you?” And I reply “Please go talk to my drummer before he has a coronary. Because if he does, your drummer will have to play the last set.”
Well, long story short, not only did his drummer sit in on the last set (just for snicks) but the band helped us tear down our gear (while their road crew looked on, laughing and applauding) and then invited us onto their tour bus to party. After which they gave us free tickets to their Kitchener show and backstage passes to boot.
See how it goes? Fear would have lost that day. Totally.
And so now we fast waaaaay forward. My son and I are in Hollywood, scoping out his upcoming stint at the Musician’s Institute. We stay with friends for the most part but I promise him one night in a “famous Hollywood hotel”. I choose the Sunset Marquis because it has its own recording studio (my son is a musician) and doesn’t cost a thousand dollars a night.
Upon check-in we are offered two complimentary drinks in the hotel bar/restaurant which we happily avail ourselves of. The garden dining area looks lovely and so I suggest we might just eat here. Mommy is tired and wearing high heels and the prospect of hoofing it up Hollywood Blvd. isn’t exactly appealing. My son, also tired from all our schlepping, agrees.
We are seated at a sweet table on the patio’s perimeter and I immediately peruse the wine menu. Yes, I have priorities. That is until my son starts freaking out. Very quietly, very subtly – FREAKING OUT. “Mom, Mom, look who’ sitting next to us. Mom – look. No don’t look! I mean … look!”
“Well who is it?” ask I, pretty much blind as a bat without my glasses on, which I have vainly left in our room.
“It’s Usher, Mom. Usher!”
Sure as shootin, the boy is right. Even I know who Usher is and he is sitting at the next table, laptop out, motorcycle helmet on the table, apparently in the midst of some type of business meeting with a few other groovy people.”
“Didn’t he discover Justin Bieber?” I ask confidently, trying to be hipper than I am. “Go say hello Sam. Introduce yourself. Tell him you’re Canadian just like Justin. Tell him you’re a singer-songwriter. Ask him to discover you too!”
You’re kidding, right? There was no way that was ever going to happen. My son is rooted to his chair and not sliding an inch. I offer to go for him. He almost cries, the fear of his mama embarrassing him with Usher too much for his tender heart to bear. He knows I will do it and he is having none of it. He tells me in no uncertain terms, closing the door on any further discussion – “I’ll meet Usher when I’m famous.” Well at least the kid’s got chutzpah.
We never did meet Usher. Nor did we meet Daughtry when he galloped by just after dessert.
A few months later, Sam wrote a great little pop song called “Say Hi”. All about taking the chance, not being afraid, blowing caution to the wind and saying hi. The greatest line in that song is this: one yes and a million nos is better than zero of both.
Brilliant. And true.
Which brings me back to the reunion this week-end. And fear. There is no need to worry yourself into “a state” when an upcoming situation concerns you. Just go and do your best. That’s all any of us can do. Trust me, that’s all any of us ever does. On our best day we simply try. I can guarantee there will be no one at that reunion better than you. Because it’s not a competition. It’s just a bunch of old friends getting back together to re-live good times. Maybe sing some great old songs. Maybe if we’re really lucky turn old acquaintances into new friendships.
No need to be scared. Be grateful for the opportunity. Go ahead … say hi.