There's a photo taken of me from two summers ago, standing in tree pose on a ledge overlooking the southernmost tip of Long Beach Island; a 20-foot drop to a rocky bottom. The late August sun burned into my shoulders. We had driven down to the end of the island just to show off the view to our friends -- a faraway Atlantic City skyline -- and to dance in a different ocean for a few moments. I saw my opportunity, eager for an audience, and stepped up; a one-legged balancing act, looking out to the sea. I inherited the panic gene from my mother, who wears it like a bracelet, jingling with every flick of her wrist. And I've come to terms with it -- the tingle in the stomach, the train of adrenaline that rushes by and pools in my fingers. So at odd moments - the breath before sleep, the split second before the phone rings -- I find myself always back on that ledge, considering the drop, remembering the sun, squinting my eyes. What a foolish act, I think, getting up on there and standing like a tree, breathing in deep, trying to find an om somewhere on the ocean. What if my balance had been off that day? What if a gust of wind, a rogue wave, had taken up more space than I had accounted for? How much damage could have been done?
Worry is a funny friend. I can laugh at some of the things that used to pinch my insides with fear now, years after the fact, but there's a danger in cockiness. Just when you think you have both shoes in the ground, a third one comes falling out of the sky. So I've learned to like my panic, or appreciate it, at least; a little anxiety is preferable to a fall over a ledge, to a broken bone, to a gun pointed at your stomach in a foreign country.