Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Afraid But Doing it Anyway

I live in a place where people throw themselves off mountains and cliffs on skis, snowboards, bikes, paragliders, any form of contraption that will provide a death defying thrill.  Or at least that’s how I see it from behind my windows, sitting at my desk, in my warm house. Yes, these folks are flouting death, while I look on in awe and admiration. And a little bit of head shaking as I wonder once again, how I ended up in this place with its adrenaline-inducing peaks that draw a line in the sand or rather the granite and challenge all those willing to take the dare.     

As a child I used to sketch cabins and mountains and tell my parents I would live in such a place one day. They laughed. Here I am though, despite my city-girl exterior. I like looking at them. The mountains I mean, not my city-girl exterior, but I remain reticent to take full advantage of them despite having lived here for twelve years. 

It’s not that I don’t like physical activity. I’ve run marathons, I pump weights (although with my spindly arms it’s hard to tell, but I can see the muscle even when others can’t), I hiked 900 kilometers across northern Spain in under 35 days, and took up skiing albeit kicking and screaming in my 40s. Still, I don’t have a need to push my physical limits, take any dares.  If I have a choice between sitting in front of a fireplace reading a good book or doing what some people call, ‘playing’ in the mountains, I’d always choose the book and the fireplace. If pushed, I’d rather work on the little festival I organize each year (and believe me writing grant applications is no fun) than tackle some little pitch in Harmony Bowl (that I see as a huge ravine I somehow have to plunge down). I’m afraid of heights, hate speed (anything really that makes me feel out of control) and don’t like being cold. But I think my reluctance to take up all the activities the mountains have to offer goes beyond these minor things. I think I’m just plain scared to death. Why? Well, I have some theories. One really. And here’s where the buyer beware sticker should be affixed: Beware the social worker who practices her trade on herself.

My family immigrated to Canada when I was six. My father left behind a thriving business, his parents and a country he loved. He did all this because he thought there would be a better future for his children in Canada.  My mother went willingly even though my grandfather encouraged her to stay behind with us for a while, a ploy he thought would bring my father back sooner and stop all this nonsense talk about immigration. It must have taken an incredible amount of courage for my parents to move so far away from family and friends with no work and three small kids in tow, the youngest not quite two. Coming to a place where they barely spoke the language or understood the customs was intimidating to them and made them incredibly strict. Or at least that’s how I saw it at the time. I wasn’t allowed to go out on Halloween (my mother considered this begging for food and would never allow one of her children to do that), go to sleep overs (“You have a bed to sleep in. They can come here if they need a bed”), play outside after supper, or take up any sports because, “something bad might happen.” So I watched from the sidelines, kind of like I do now, with wonder and dreamed then that one day I would do all these things as gracefully and courageously as my friends did. And I have pushed my parents’ limits a time or two.  I ran marathons (my dad accompanied me in his street shoes on the first run I ever did in order to keep me safe. Oh, the blisters he endured to let me do this one thing I so wanted to do).  And when I told my parents I was going to hike in northern Spain, my mother asked me if I was having financial problems. She offered to pay my bus fare or buy me a train ticket so I wouldn’t have to walk. “Something bad might happen,” she said.

I never really knew the impact of those words on me until years later when my then-teenage nephew was going to a concert in Vancouver with a friend, and my mom told him he shouldn’t go because “something bad might happen in that big city.” After hearing her go on about this, my then pre-teen niece said, “yea, but grandma, something good might happen too.” And there in those innocent words is the other side of the coin, the one I didn’t think of as a child with the specter that something awful might happen continually hanging over me.

Something good might happen. Who would have thought? It might be too late for me to throw myself off mountains in that carefree way so many do, but I’m trying to push my limits with my skiing, sometimes willingly, sometimes begrudgingly, but I do try. I will never be a daredevil physically although for me each attempt feels like that’s exactly who I am.  I’ll save my fearless stunts for my writing, for my ventures in establishing a successful readers and writers festival right here at home in this community so hell-bent on constant movement and physical distractions. 


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