fear

Step Away from the Paper Cutter!


There’s one maxim from my early school days that will probably be etched into my mind forever.

The paper cutter maims.

It’s the sole universal truth that each elementary teacher — from Mrs. Tortorello in kindergarten to Mrs. Hundertpfund in 4th grade — could rally around (yes, I had to learn some doozie name spellings in my early years).

With the fervor of religious zealots, these ladies convinced me and my fellow pupils of the boundless evil locked within that sharp-toothed demon. It’s a fear that continues to emerge each time I see that clunky contraption with the swinging arm.

Their hysteria is understandable. Even though the lawsuit era had yet to fully dawn, the threat of a severed finger must have loomed large. And no sweet young educator would want something like THAT hanging over her head.

Looking back, I’m most confounded by the lunatic logic of banning butter knives in the cafeteria while equipping each classroom with a giant dagger.

Also interesting to me is how my teachers’ stern warnings continue to exert such influence over me after so many years.

I guess it’s the mandates that carry negative (ideally, painful) consequences that are the ones that stick. Sometimes well past their useful lives.

Fear can be such a powerful motivator. It can compel us to do the right thing. It can keep us in line. Unfortunately, taken to the extreme, it can also hold us back from fully experiencing life.

Of course, my irrational discomfort in operating a paper cutter really has no bearing on my personal success and fulfillment.

But I’m not sure I’m talking about paper cutters anymore.

Confronting the Biggest Bully

As I step up to the podium, I catch my first glance of him. Big, burly, snickering widely. With an imposing presence that pollutes the space.

“Who IS this guy”? I wonder, turning away and inhaling deeply. My stage-fright angst turns to total dread as I consider the unlikelihood of delivering my presentation in a composed, confident way.

“Why in the world did I agree to this”? I wonder, mentally kicking myself for having to endure this needless stress.

The fight-or-flight instinct begs me to make a run for it, but instead I bite my cheek and prepare to begin.

Hooligan.

I launch into my presentation, hoping some magical autopilot instinct will propel me forward. Gently skimming the crowd, I can’t even fathom making eye contact with anyone. It’s hard enough to feign audience engagement.

Praying my peripheral vision will fail, I lock in at about 2 o’clock, a safe distance from my enemy. I try to convince myself he is sitting attentively, but my better judgment tells me he is probably snickering or sneering or whispering verbal attacks against me to his neighbor.

Thug.

I continue my speech, quite certain of its mediocrity. I imagine that some will demand a refund of their money – or their time. Perhaps I should apologize from the podium or refuse the token thank-you gift likely to be presented to me.

Instead, I soldier on. And on. And on, hoping to eat up whatever time is reserved for the Q&A. A typical highlight for me, this “open mike” section could only spell trouble by allowing my nemesis a platform to publicly maim me.

Fat chance, sad sack.

As I near the end of my speech, I muster up the courage to gently turn toward the guy who ruined my evening. Curiosity wins out and I just have to see what he’s up to – whether laughing, or yawning, or making obscene gestures. I will not allow this bully to bully me anymore.

But I’m not quite prepared for what I witness.

The chair is empty, except for a ladies coat and purse slung across it.

Sometimes the biggest enemy lies within.