Who do you think of when you hear the word "fearless"? A lot of people come to mind, both living and dead, immediate friends, and people I've only read about. I think of some of my favorite courageous women- Emma Goldman and Beryl Markham, and some of my favorite adventurers- Ernest Shackleton and John Voss-men of the sea. I am amazed by people and their stories all the time.
I consider myself pretty adventurous, up for new things, and taking risks and never consider it to be scary at all. It depends. Maybe it's because I've had a fairly charmed life and have generally had positive experiences at every turn. The closest thing to scary ( I prefer "intimidating") I've done was, after college, I decided to NOT put my new History degree to any real use, and I was dropped off at a truck driving school in Salt Lake City. Yes, a bit out of my comfort zone at 22. And it turned out to be the most amazing experience driving the lower 48 states and living in a semi for a year. We all have different fears...I can back a truck into a beer distributor in Brooklyn, NY., but please don't make me speak in public! I have a wonderful network of family and friends to cushion any blows in life, and in this modern world I rarely find myself in a situation where I would truly be venturing out alone-no phone, no access to money, food, shelter, and people to help me. I often find myself searching for a new challenge, and sometimes after reading a great autobiography, I want a "real" challenge...a "turn of the century traveling to a new land" challenge, "this might get ugly" trek, a journey...a test? Something without a safety net? The reason I am thinking of all these things may have a little to do with my last book being about the men of the ship "Essex" ( uh, don't want a "Let's draw lots to see who lives" journey!) and now I am reading a wonderful book about an Iranian woman.
It is Daughter of Persia by Sattareh Farman Farmaian with Dona Munker.
Sattareh was born in Iran in the early 1920s in a very traditional family, except that her father insisted that his sons and daughters recieved an education. She was also one of those children who questioned everything, pushed back a little, and wasn't interested in settling into marriage. While studying at a school taught by Americans, she received help in getting accepted to study at a college in the US. Okay, I am skimming over tons of the book here because what has most inspired me is her actual journey from Tehran to America in 1942. As I am reading I keep thinking "how amazing! how amazing!"- a woman in her early 20s, raised to not leave home without a male escort, who has never been far from Tehran, in the midst of WWII, is about to leave the safety of her home completely on her own. I love these women from history. I adore them!
By train, truck, and train again, she makes her way across Iran and India to Bombay, where she will have to find passage on a ship to America. I really had to stop and consider the time, and her upbringing, and it only made her more amazing. I could picture her on the train she described, talking to a young man, one of Ghandi's followers. Ghandi! She was fascinated with their movement- maybe as I am fascinated with her life. Once in Bombay it is several weeks before she is set to board a French ship to America. In the middle of a war they set out, and are torpedoed the first evening and the ship sinks! Sinks! They are rescued by a British destroyer which brings them back to Bombay.A couple weeks pass and she is once again called by the port and told if she can be there within 4 hours she has passage on another ship. A bit hesitant ( ummmm,her first ship sank!), but anxious to cross the ocean, she heads to the harbor where a huge American ship awaits- and I mean huge- it must be a carrier as she describes her ride as having 6,000 Navy sailors aboard!
As she walks up the gangplank the captain shook her hand and said, "Welcome aboard!" I can picture that scene (or so I think) with this friendly Navy captain and a Muslim woman raised to not even make eye contact with men she didn't know now on a ship full of sailors! She was so confident and brave. She fearlessly sought out an education and an adventure. And she writes about it like it really wasn't such a big deal or scary per se. Maybe we all look back after we leap with a more grounded memory of things. But I can't imagine how she must have felt along that (roughly) 3 month journey from her home in Tehran to boarding an American warship in Bombay.
All this excitement and inspiration and I still have half a book to finish! I'd love to hear your stories, and who you admire. What's the scariest thing you've ever done? What do you want to try but haven't quite found the courage to leap yet?
I say, Leap, friends, Leap!