I really heart my writer friend Meredith. Probably because besides looking for truth and beauty, she always manages to find the funny - like when she thought she got left behind in the rapture (what evangelical kid didn't? right? anyone?) or when hearing a kid play his recorder during the offertory at her church inspired her to challenge us all to be weirder together. Today's story has some laughs - and some real truth I'm still wrestling through. Enjoy.
One of my improv teams went on a trip to a cabin in the middle of a series of corn fields. It was an unlikely retreat, a small town in Wisconsin where bars and churches compete for the attention of bored citizens. Certainly not a vacation town, just a place where people live, farm, drive their pickups, and gaze at outsiders with suspicion and curiosity.
After arriving under the cover of night, straining our eyes in the darkness to discern whether we were on a road, long driveway, or cow path, the daylight made the area seem friendly-- a pastoral ideal or perhaps a Mayberry, where everyone knows your name.
We walked down the country roads as a team, and I even picked a wild violet and tucked it behind my ear. We sang to cows, taking thirsty gulps of the country air, stretching our limbs in the wide open spaces. Those who had arrived yesterday had some magical locations to show the rest of us, places already storied with the adventures of the day before.
As we approached one of the properties, I felt my palms begin to sweat. I hated the feeling that I might get caught, and as we sauntered down the road, it felt like the eyes of the town were on us. My people-pleasing reaches beyond bosses and friends to strangers in a small farm town in Wisconsin--I didn’t want to get in trouble. What had appeared to my teammates to be an abandoned barn the day before seemed more like an old barn on someone’s actual working farm.
When a man pulled into the drive on a tractor, I thought I might explode with anxiety, but this guy ended up being pretty nice. He was taken in by the ragtag group of city folks who found farm life fascinating and open spaces, irresistible. He gestured to the schoolhouse across the street, a more decidedly abandoned building and told us how he used to attend school there. He gave us permission to roam his property, but warned us his barn was nearly falling over.
The schoolhouse became the object of our interest. At some point, a double wide had been parked in the school yard, along with an old Ford that looked like it could have played a part in the O. J. Simpson trial.
The cabin of the car was stuffed with newspapers dating back to the 1980’s. I thought my teammates went around the back to take pictures, but when I rounded the corner, I saw another person hoisting themselves up into the broken frame of a window. Two of them already stood knee deep in what appeared to be the dumping grounds for an entire family history.
They held up one treasure after another. When you’re uncovering 70’s wedding pictures, entire sets of ancient china, victorian era couches, and mint condition 19th century shaving brushes, you don’t feel like a trespasser, you feel like an archaeologist, wiping the rat droppings off priceless pieces of the past.
One by one, my teammates braced their foot against the base of the crumbling window frame and helped each other in. For a while, it seemed like it was our space, a long forgotten secret left for us to discover, but then we heard a rumbling motor sidling up next to the school house.
As one of the teammates on the outside just looking in the window, I rounded the corner to meet two farm boys with sideburns and overalls, that most definitely had a gun in their pickup truck. They were straight out of a Coen brothers movie or my imagined worst case scenario. There were two extra tall cans of mountain dew sweating in their cupholders. We smiled our naive city-folk smiles but they looked back with stony, “what the hell do you think you’re doing” stares.
“You’re on our bosses property…”
“Oh sorry guys, we thought this belonged to the farmer across the way and he had given us permission to look around.”
“Nope, that’s the other Jim. We work for the Jim who owns this property.”
At this point, I grabbed the hand of one of my teammates. More-so than an actual fear of cops showing up and giving us a stern talking to, I hated the idea of being in trouble. I hated the idea that these two country bumpkins sent to come get us saw me as stupid or un-likeable.
At what point had my greatest fears become so shallow? So outwardly focused, so wrapped up in my anxiety and self-hatred?
As a kid growing up in pre-9/11 America, I was most afraid of robbers who most definitely lived in my basement. Their footsteps would echo behind mine as I ran for my life up the basement stairs. I worried over my parents dying while I was away at sleepovers and thought through how I would escape my house if it caught on fire.
Somewhere in my teens, the fears started getting more tame--less cinematic and more existential. I worried about finding a group in English class or finding someone to sit with in the cafeteria.
These types of dread followed me through college and beyond. I feared coworkers dislikes and the annoyance of guy friends; I analyzed my behavior and interactions with a terrible feeling in my gut that I was unlovely and unlikeable. I avoided risk and “trouble” to preserve a perfectionist ideal, not out of moral or ethical conviction.
Sometimes it takes something like trespassing in rural Wisconsin to make you examine these fears. As more town members parked on the road and the owner’s wife pulled up with fire in her eyes, I had a little conversation with myself… “Don’t be afraid of this.”
I want to be afraid of holding back on my dreams and missing opportunities to live abundantly. I want to live motivated by love, unafraid of what people might read into my actions. I want to be kept up at night dreaming about the day ahead, inhaling breathe as precious life running through me. I want to fear negative inertia and being controlled by negative thoughts.
More than anything, I want fear to transform to awe, to a posture with arms open and face held up to drink in the smell of crunchy leaves or spring blossoms, or to feel the chill of a winter wind. I’m still rolling around in my head the idea of proper fear, imagining what life free of shame and people-pleasing would look like. I don’t know if I know yet, but I see glimmers.
That day, we escaped major consequences and suffered through only a few stern talkings to about the dangers and legal liabilities of trespassing. We all felt a bit spooked and ready to return to the city. But I left with this thought rolling around in my head...
I want to be afraid of other things.
Meredith (Vosburg) Bazzoli is a writer and comedian living in the Chicagoland area. Meredith loves hearing and recording other's stories, finding glimmers in the mundane, exploring and collaborating creatively, making good food, and seeking what it means to love and follow Christ in the everyday. She writes about living the revealed life on this blog and performs at the iO and Playground theaters in Chicago. Meredith is married to Drew, a web designer and 6'4" man with the self-described physique of a tube sock. Connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, or her blog!
Me too, Meredith, me too. Didn't you find yourself nodding along at the end of this one, friends? Skip on down to the comments and leave Meredith some love.
Do you have a story to tell? Check out my guest post guidelines, I love to feature good words.