My brother-in-law Dennis thinks I’m the bravest woman he knows because I married a man who had custody of his three teenaged children. He couldn’t believe I would take on the terrifying challenge of raising somebody else’s kids alongside my own strong-willed fourteen year old. I didn’t think it was scary at all. I figured it’d be fun, at the most an inspiring challenge.

Dennis’ life, on the other hand is to me unfathomably frightening. He lives alone, which in itself I find spooky, but to make matters worse, he’s a search and rescue volunteer who thinks a really cool winter weekend involves climbing up a sheer rock face, pitching a tent in the snow, and chowing down on some freeze dried lentils. Dennis’ dream is to summit the tallest peak on every continent. Mine is to spend my golden years in a city with elevators and taxicabs.

One person’s nightmare is his neighbor’s paradise

I am not ashamed to admit that I am deeply, deathly afraid of the natural world. Heights, speed, and wide open spaces make me nervous. This may be genetic or it might be because I grew up in Manhattan. Either way, I only feel truly safe when I’m within ten blocks of a twenty-four hour supermarket, a police precinct, and a teaching hospital. Los Angeles, where I was sent on a temporary assignment twenty-six years ago and somehow never left, is ostensibly a world-class city with all the amenities I require.

The trouble is, I have to drive to get to them, and the whole car thing shatters my entire sense of security. I keep telling myself it’s because I only got my license at twenty, but the truth is, that means I’ve been practicing for thirty years and I still feel like a kid with a learner’s permit every time I get on a freeway. And forget about driving at night. I couldn’t do it back in the day when I could see the road; now, at fifty, it’s nearly impossible. One dark night, on the way home from Santa Barbara, my husband was getting sleepy so I offered graciously to drive some of the way. One exit with me behind the wheel and he was so freaked out that the adrenaline kept him up all the way home.

Just as one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, one person’s nightmare is his neighbor’s paradise. People say we shouldn’t let our fears define us; that we should heed Roosevelt and realize we have nothing to fear but fear itself. I disagree. I think there are some fears that are not worth fighting, and others that are downright life-saving. The fear of deep water when you can’t swim is a good fear. So are the fears of predators in dark alleys and bears in the woods. I spent a good portion of my young adult life fighting my phobias. I climbed mountains, I sailed oceans, I even went scuba-diving. I climbed to the top of a mountain, the Statue of Liberty and even sat in the nose-bleed seats at Radio City Music Hall. I learned to ski, challenging both my fear of heights and of speed, and I even admitted the world looked beautiful from the top of a snow-covered peak.

One day, though, in Mt. Tremblant, a ski resort outside Montreal, a French Canadian instructor looked at me, trying to pretend I was having fun schussing down the slopes in my purple jumpsuit with the faux mink collar. “You could be good at this,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said weakly, trying to force a smile because I knew that meant he was about to make me go on an even more difficult run. I was in for a surprise.

“You don’t like it, though, do you?” he asked.

“Not much,” I replied.

“You’re doing it for someone else. Your husband, maybe?”

“Maybe,” I admitted.

“How old are you?” he challenged. At the time I was forty-five. I told him the truth. He smiled. A very warm smile, like he was sharing a secret. “You know what that means?” he asked. I shook my head. “It means you don’t have to do this anymore! Go! Have a nice cappuccino. You’ll be nice and warm, and so much happier.”

He was right. I skied down that mountain, and I had that hot cup of steaming coffee, and I wish I could tell you it was the last time I ever went skiing, but the truth is it took a couple more trips before I mustered up the courage to tell my family I would never go up a chair lift again. We reach a point in life when there are some things we no longer have to prove Now, whenever I sit in the lodge reading a book, happy as can be, I think of my French Canadian ski angel and I’m thankful for his wisdom. We all do reach a point in life when there are some things we no longer have to prove.

The trouble is, what’s the difference between opting out and giving up? Why do I think it was okay for me to abandon the ski slope at forty-five while I find it terribly sad that my bachelor brother-in-law may, at the same age, decide it’s time to stop searching for a wife? Why do I think he has to keep trying to overcome what I label as a fear of intimacy while I giving myself permission to accept my fear of heights?

The answer, I believe, lies with G‑d. We’re each created differently, in a world filled with skiers and those who stay behind in the lodge. Some people race cars, others dive to the bottom of the ocean, and someone’s idea of a thrill is to bake a perfect soufflé. But we’re not supposed to ski or swim or bake alone. The Torah tells us to marry, to have children, to make a home. And while that home may be on a mountaintop or on Eastern Parkway, it’s supposed to be a place we share with another. With our beshert. Our other half. The soul that G‑d chose for us before our birth.

I believe it’s okay to be scared sometimes. That sometimes our job is to overcome our fears, and sometimes the courage comes from reserving the right to walk away from that which makes us frightened. However, when what we’re afraid of is sharing our life with another person, what we may really be afraid of is ourselves. And that, to me, is one mountain worth trying to climb.