My favorite quote during my freshman year at St. Andrews was this paraphrase of Guillaume Apollinaire:
"'Come to the edge,' he said. 'No, we will fall.' 'Come to the edge,' he said. 'No, we will fall.' 'Come to the edge,' he said. They came, he pushed them and they flew."
It resonated with me so deeply because I had just done the unthinkable in my life up to that point: left my parents 6,000 miles away in another country, escaped a bad "relationship" with my high school boyfriend, turned down a scholarship to Wellesley College, and flown to the hinterlands of Scotland to pay top dollar to attend St. Andrews, all in the hopes of figuring out if, on my own, I would fall or fly.
I think back to the girl who arrived in Scotland without a clue about life, but thinking she had its number. I was still in that stage of life that my dad bemoaned at the time as my "fluffy clouds" period, where I truly believed that people would be good to me if I was good to them, that I would always receive love and kindness back in the same measure I offered it; the concept of some people being jerks for sport had yet to find its way into my consciousness. He worried about me constantly, fearing incessantly that his naive little girl would bump into real life and its rotating cast of equally good and evil characters, 6,000 miles away from his protective shield and have to figure it all out on her own.
As I got on the plane at Boston Logan and saw him loitering at the gate to wave just one more time, I didn't have the heart to tell him that that was exactly the reason I was going. I needed to find out if I could do it alone. If, when faced with life in all of its exquisite, painful, challenging, soul-crushing, breathtakingly beautiful, heartbreaking glory--would I have the courage to fly?
As expected (as it always does to everyone at some point), life did indeed come running around the corner at top speed, punching me in the face and knocking the fluffy clouds out of my head. As expected (as most of us do at that point), I lived to tell...and ended up better and stronger for the beating. Visiting my sister at her college in England, I met an American student named Joel. He was this kooky, cute, eccentric guy from Potomac, MD who was there for the semester and whom I told, to my sister's amused embarrassment, "I'm considering having a crush on you, but we'll see how it goes." He laughed at that and proceeded to regale me with his very charming oddness for the rest of the day. I think he found me amusing in that kid sister kind of way. Anyway, there was a huge dance at the college and he was pulling me onto the dance floor with little success. When he asked why I was so outgoing and yet so reticent to dance I said, "I'm afraid I'll look stupid." To which Joel, god bless him to this day, said: "Esther, life can't be comfortable. You've got to do it afraid. If you wait till you're not scared, you're gonna miss out on life. Do it afraid, then. Okay?"
Short Story Long: 1990. The year I got my heart broken, my ego bruised, my intellect challenged. But also the year I made lifelong friends, drank way too much, found my voice, got my first belt in karate, learned Arabic, danced at a college in England like a complete loon--and learned how to "do it afraid."