This fellow turned to me and asked "so, will I have to touch someone at the course tomorrow?". I said it was likely, although CPR training would be done on a dummy. I followed up by pointing out that if he had problems with touching people (he's a bit of a germaphobe) the course might be a little pointless for him. He mumbled something about being able to do it if it was a real situation, and I replied that this really wasn't adequate: if he couldn't do something in the low-pressure and consequence-free environment of training, he certainly wouldn't be able to perform it under operational conditions.
I don't think I was harsh or bossy when I explained this, but I was surprised how firm I was about it. It occurred to me later how much I'd changed from who I was five or so years ago when life changed forever. I was always afraid then. I was afraid of my (then) boss, nervous with other people, terrified of anything that might disturb my life, crippled by stress at work, and quite pathetically dependent on my wife to hold me together. I don't think it was the first time, but it was perhaps the clearest time, that I had understood why she left me, and why she didn't want our daughters to grow up thinking that what I was then was normal.
There are some things I wish she could have seen. I wish she could have seen how I was able to make my own luck and talk my way into the job I had with Riordans, with a mix of confidence and silver-tongued eloquence. I wish she could have seen me acquit myself as a litigator in that role with skill, competence and efficiency.
I was always so afraid of shouted voices and harsh treatment that I never got up the courage to enlist in the army reserve: I never once believed I'd survive bootcamp. Last year I applied to enlist as an army lawyer and would have followed through if I'd not been knocked back on medical grounds (disclosure: my motives were far more mercenary than patriotic - the pay and training were too attractive to ignore). And I went a good long way with my application for work as a Prison Guard before I was again knocked back (wrong personality type - I'm told that most applicants are knocked back for this reason).
Image from here
At the end of January 1993, when I was at school, I was sent off on a rowing camp for a week at Loch Sport. I can tell you truthfully that the prospect of being out at a camp in the back of beyond with a bunch of other boys and young men made me feel nervous and sick all of the summer leading up to it. I still had that feeling of nerves and sickness when I went away to university, and when I went out to work. I was never so comfortable as when I was just an anonymous face in a crowd on campus or in a city street. And I think I still felt it when I first came down to the LHQ here in Tatura. I must have lost it at some point though, because that earlier edition of me could never have volunteered to go to Lismore this year. Or been comfortable going to training courses all over creation with a bunch of strangers.
Image from here
When I was growing up, we were always discouraged from doing practical things. Don't cut that meat - you'll damage the knife blade. Don't cut that board - I was going to use that for something one day. No, you can't drive the tractor - you'll just break it or get injured. It's surprising how long the instinctive fear of doing things stayed with me. I must have lost it somewhere though. Looking back over the last year or so, I've had my pager go off plenty of times. I usually feel a few things as I'm pulling on my boots. Excited, keen, and sometimes nervous too. What I don't feel is fear or a desire to put up the walls and "just get through it". And I can't imagine that that person would have been able the last few nights to get a harness on, tie a safety line I would trust my own and someone else's neck to, and get on a roof.
When the ex and I were still courting, I remember I often said that I felt like a small boy who was just playing at being a man. It was honest then, and accurate. It stayed accurate for a surprisingly long time. It isn't any more. It's too bad that she could not have been here to see it.