by Jennifer Paros
“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.”
When I was eight years old, I decided I did not like dodge ball. It
alarmed me. And truly, it wasn’t just dodge ball—it was, at that
time, anything in which a ball was airborne and coming at me.
Apparently, having no perception of myself as one who can catch,
dodge, or work with an oncoming object, the whole idea made me
And so I went to my mother and requested that she write me a note
asking that I be excused from all gym games that involved balls.
Yes, I did that. Looking back I am more than uneasy with having
done this, but I was only eight and it was the first solution with
which I came up. At that time, avoidance and giving up seemed like
the quickest path to relief.
Now, why my mother agreed is another story – but she went ahead and
wrote that note. And I went ahead and delivered it to my gym
teacher, thinking freedom from fear was just moments away, that my
liberation from discomfort was in the bag. He took the note, read
it, and told me I could sit off to the side and watch. And that is
what I did.
I sat on the sidelines on a plastic chair, droopy and bored during
what seemed like the longest gym class of my life. It’s true that I
was relieved from the anxiety of having a ball coming at
me—initially. But soon, I was newly burdened with the perspective
that the game didn’t look all that vicious once observed from a
distance. The violence and terror of it seemed to have been drained
out and I was left uncertain as to why I wasn’t playing, feeling
more than a little self-conscious about my new, self-imposed
So, one discomfort was traded for another. However, the discomfort
of giving up was ultimately far more problematic than the discomfort
of playing a game involving balls. Because in this case, I was
really giving up on myself; and the sting of that choice is always
great because it is the denial of an inner pull towards growth.
We’re being given an opportunity to get stronger and we’re ignoring
it due to fear.
Recently, as a result of uneasily facing another rewrite on my
story, I asked myself if I’d like to give up. Because if I’m
wrestling with a story I really don’t want to write, giving up on it
could simply mean letting go and allowing myself to write something
I do want (not
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2010
covertly giving up on myself). But that wasn’t the case; I
did not want to give up on the story. Yet somehow I was still
unhappy and my desire for relief from the stress was keeping me from
returning to writing.
So I started reflecting on times I have consciously chosen not to
give up and what they had in common. And they were each
characterized by resolve. But the resolve was not so much about
determining to get something done, as it was about letting go
of some problematic idea. And from there, with an altered
perspective, in each case I found myself naturally freed to focus on
and do the thing I wanted, unburdened.
The other night, I was lying in bed worrying, getting increasingly
upset. On the brink of some heavy sobbing, I suddenly became quite
lucid and perceived what would happen if I persisted in thinking the
way I was and realized just how hard it would be on me. And at that
moment I chose to do the compassionate thing, the intelligent thing,
and not torture myself any more, to not make myself cry.
And then I managed to witness what seemed like a remarkable
thing: comfort and ease right there for me, waiting all the time. I
didn’t have to give up to find relief, I only had to resolve
to give up on the thoughts I was thinking that were potentially
hurtful to me.
“The worst thing that can happen to you is a thought.”
Whether our worry is centered on oncoming balls or oncoming
situations, the investment in painful thoughts is ultimately what
we’re trying to avoid, not the experiences themselves. Giving up
can seem like relief, but exercising the power to purposefully give
up thoughts that are actually the cause of the distress is
liberating and has the potential to bring us back to ourselves, put
us back in the game, and get us writing once again.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.