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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Woodchucks and a Year without Fear

jenmichel@me.com

Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, wrote in last weekend's Wall Street Journal about his 2011: he'd dubbed it My Year of Living Dangerously. Adams recounts his spectacular motorcycle crash at the age of 15 when his front tire sinks into the den of a family of woodchucks, sending him 25 feet in the air.

Three paragraphs are entirely devoted to the seconds he spent mid-flight. It's a laugh-out loud article, alberit irreverent at times. "About three-quarters into my aerial rotation, I accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and personal savior, just to improve my odds. And I made a promise to myself that, if I lived, I would follow in the footsteps of my ancestors and lead a timid life, far from danger's reach. As far as I know, there has never been a hero in my bloodline - not one solider, police officer or fireman. . . From that day one, I kept my promise to myself and avoided all unnecessary physical risk. My strategy got easier when I became a syndicated cartoonist; I told anyone who would listen that I couldn't risk injuring my drawing hand."

He calls it his "low-risk strategy," and it works well until he meets his wife Shelly, who hails from a family of adventurers. He admires the way they live life to the fullest and wonders if he's become too cautious to enjoy life. He commits his 2011 to more adventuring.

The article continues with more belly-shaking hilarity: Adams tells the story of their travels, first to Costa Rica. Think white-water rafting and waterfalls. After having being plunged to the bottom of the river yet again, he "crawled to shore like a rat that had been trapped in a washing machine. You know how people say you shouldn't drink the local water in some places? Well, apparently you should also avoid snorting a gallon of bacteria-laden Costa Rican river water."

Their Costa Rica trip leaves him surmising, "So far, my strategy of being more adventurous was producing mixed results. My life seemed richer and more interesting - but it also involved a lot more groaning, clutching my sides and intermittently praying for death."

Adams is funnier than I'd ever be. His article concludes: "My advice for the coming year is that before you say no to an adventure, make sure it's you talking and not the woodchuck who bent the front fork of your motorcycle.  You won't enjoy every new adventure, but I promise that you will enjoy being the person who said yes."

So who's talking in your life: you or the woodchuck?

It's not always easy to know. Fear lives on the underbelly of life. It lurks in the shadows, avoiding recognition, operating incognito. It's a kind of unmanned drone, depending on its invisibility. It operates like that because it must. Like the kind of translucent, albino insects that take cover under rotting logs, fear is sent scurrying in the light.

I wrote about fear for this month's issue of Today in the Word. I met my own woodchucks during the process.

Before writing that issue, I don't know that I'd seen how powerfully certain fears managed me. Fear kept me safe, made me cautious. Because of fear, I was avoiding exposure and responsibility.

This blog has been for me my adventure, my remounting life and braving its rocky terrain.

I don't do this writing as well as I should.

I am not the woman I want to be.

A blog leaks out the secrets. It's a penetrating kind of light.

But it sends the fear scurrying. Risk is a means to growth. And while failure is inevitable, it's no more sure than grace.

So who's talking: you or the woodchuck?

2012: Here's to a year of courage.