There are times when I think that I might accomplish great things were it not for him – Alan Handwerger, that is.
But you’re Alan Handwerger.
I’m not talking about that Alan Handwerger; the affable guy who has pledged to share with you the innermost workings of his heart and mind. I’m talking about the Alan Handwerger who haunts that Alan Handwerger, and sees to it that I never really, truly escape the confines of my box.
I’m talking about the Alan Handwerger who learned at his mother’s knee to be afraid of everything in the universe.
Well, most things.
All right. Let’s take streams as an example. “Mom,” cries a jubilant ten-year old Alan when he comes home from a refreshing dip in the shallow stream that runs along the family’s property line. “You oughta come down for a swim. The water’s incredible.”
“Alan. I don’t want you swimming in that river. You could drown. You have no idea what kinds of bacteria are in there; and a snake could bite you. Do you understand me?”
Not really, thinks Alan, somewhat deflated. And although he doubts that he has narrowly escaped, death, disease or snakebite, it has to be acknowledged that his next dip in the stream is attended by a certain hesitation and fear.
And so it is with his joy of horseback riding and mountain climbing and bowling and ...
“I read just the other day that injuries at bowling alleys are on the rise.” Alan’s mother read voluminously.
In particular she read about disease; and especially, as Alan got older, about those diseases that people who drank alcohol, ate fatty meats and went with a lot of women were prone to.
None of which served to stop Alan from engaging in these activities. But whither he went, the trepidation was never far from his side. Eventually he forgot quite completely what it might be like to do anything without assigning at least some weight to the notion that it could kill him.
It takes its toll, worry. And it transcends its roots. By the time that he was old enough to marry and raise a family, Alan no longer needed his mother’s admonitions or premonitions to stop him in his tracks. Nor were his fears limited to issues of his physical safety. He was quite capable of doubting his every move solo: Should he write that novel or get a job? Build his dream restaurant or go to law school? Take his family to Europe for the summer or rent a house down by the shore for a week?
History will reveal that he wrote the novel, opened the restaurant and summered in France. But it will also show that he did these things without that total abandon that life demands if it is to be lived at its most delicious.
What a shame.
I suppose you’d have to call it an epiphany, the wondrous thing that occurred just the other night as I sat eating Indian food with a soupspoon. It came to me as a vision.
There I was, my ten-year old self, riding my bicycle: riding it hard; riding it proud; riding it without a helmet. I rode like the wind, covering the eight blocks from my house to Scotty Grossman’s in record time.
Now here’s the wondrous part. En route to Scotty’s in my vision, I had not been murdered; not been kidnapped; not even been run over by a car. Nor, now that I came to think on it, had I ever in my life drowned in two feet of water, been carried off by wolves while hiking in the woods, or suffered death by pastrami.
Was I, then, Superman, or is it possible that this world of ours is less fraught with peril than hitherto advertised?
“Don’t go there,” warns Alan Handwerger, hideous alter ego, rearing his ugly head and hovering over me. “Yours is not to reason why; yours is just to fear – or die.”
“No. Not this time,” I fired back. “Not ever again. Life is too short, too precious, to live another minute in accord with your monstrous rules: working when I want to play; saving when I want to spend; observing when I want to participate.”
“Oh, really,” he leered. “And what precisely do you propose to do?”
On the convex surface of my soupspoon, I now confronted his distorted, illusory image. And now I spoke:
“I have nothing more to say to you.”