Walking through spider webs

Do one thing every day that scares you – Eleanor Roosevelt

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? Or another way to say it, what’s the most dangerous thing that you’ve ever done?

That’s how Chris Hadfield started his Ted Talk. Most people had probably never heard about him until he was ready to leave the International Space Station. I think he’s the only one to get permission from David Bowie to record one of his songs, and the result was a marvelous version of Space Oddity.

Chris Hadfield decribes a situation that would have been incredibly scary if he had not trained on everything NASA could think of that could go wrong. On his first space walk his left eye went blind. He thought it was a tear at first, but it turned out to be the anti fog they use. It was painful and he couldn’t open his eye. The problem is that you can’t cry in space. Tears don’t fall without gravity, so this liquid on his eye kept building to a bigger and bigger ball, and eventually it moved across the bridge of his nose. That made him blind on both eyes, which is a potentially stressful situation to find yourself in.

That answers the question about what the scariest thing Chris Hadfield has ever done. He compares any fear to an irrational fear of spiders. There are literally just a handful of the 50 000 species of spiders in the world that are venomous. Still many people in a cold climate, where a spider is very unlikely to kill you, are terrified of those little things. I like Hadfield’s way of putting it:

The danger is entirely different than the fear.

How do you get over this irrational fear? Hadfield’s advice works in a cold climate where he comes from, but I understand what he means. The point is that if you face your fears, you are most likely to find that it was irrational. He said in this presentation that if you walk through a hundred spider webs you will probably change your behaviour and not panic next time you see a spider. That’s because it won’t take you long time to realize that the risk wasn’t as high as you assumed.

If you analyze the situation, what are the risks of being killed or seriously harmed by a spider? It’s not very high, and even in warmer climates where there clearly are more venomous creatures, the odds are pretty good. Most creatures that carry venom even warn you with bright colours.

It sounds very easy, but it isn’t. I think I have written about my encounter with a giant cockroach in a shower at the University of Arkansas once. I was terrified and couldn’t finish my shower while that thing was making it’s way along the wall. It was clear enough that it wasn’t interested in me, or any of the other guys that were in the shower at the time. In this case it may have been wise to keep a distance because I assume that this roach had been in some pretty dirty places before it found its way to the shower. The point is still a valid one, the danger wasn’t nearly as high as my brain perceived it to be. I chose to take a step back, while the other guys didn’t move. Both decisions worked, but of course I was the only one feeling miserable and with a pounding heart. That’s what Hadfield calls a caveman reaction.

This is sort of what NASA do. They walk through spider webs and that makes the astronauts remain calm. Hadfield didn’t panic because he knew he had walked through many of the same type of spider webs before. The Canadian astronaut raised an interesting question. If we look at the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, what is the real risk? What is the real thing that you should be afraid of? Because he conquered his fears he was able to see beauty only a few people get to witness. We could all see and do extraordinary things if we walked through spider webs, but there is a reason few people do. This is hard.

I love science (especially astronomy) and I love music. I find it astonishing that this man’s version of the old David Bowie hit, and his experience of going blind in space, has inspired so many people. I have many fears myself. I really want to walk through a hundred spider webs for every single one. That is probably not going to happen, but I think I can manage some of them.

I might tell you about some of my fears and victories later. There are some major spider webs and rewards on the horizon.

5 thoughts on “Walking through spider webs

  1. I do so hear you on the whole “walking through spider webs” thing. I have walked through so many spider webs that I feel like one of the hobbits in Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

    Just as Bilbo had his sword, “Stinger” to cut through the webs and set his friends free, so we have “the Sword of the Spirit” to cut us free from the spider webs, too, when we become so entangled in them that we are trapped and paralyzed.

  2. I think I can manage some of them.

    I think you probably can too 🙂

    Hadfield’s view regarding danger and fear makes a lot of sense.

    Usually, the things I fear most are the least likely to happen. And the more risky things I’ve tried don’t always register as such until after I’ve crossed the chasm and actually think of what might have happened.

    Quite possibly, the most dangerous activity I’ve engaged is childbirth. We’ve opted for home delivery with the last four babies and I had the opportunity to stew about the risks beforehand, but usually didn’t.

    I don’t ever recall considering the possibility of injury or death during the event, as I was always rather preoccupied with just managing pain from one minute to the next.
    Interestingly, fear tends to both decrease mobility and increase pain, so learning to relax can make a huge difference in the outcome.

    This knowledge could probably apply to any potentially scary situation.

    Thanks for sharing the video and related story. I don’t recall hearing the song before, but did appreciate the chance to listen. .

  3. I agree with you about the spider webs, John. I find that as I get older and I face new battles and fears and spider webs, that they don’t seem to have quite the terrifying power they had over me when I was younger. In an earlier time, I would have been a complete basket case, totally fallen apart. But God has already brought me through so much, carried me through such darkness that when I face a new one, I think about what all he has done already, and it is considerably less scary. (not that its not scary at all). After all…….not all spiders are teeny little things. Not all spiders are harmless. Just ask Frodo and Sam or Bilbo and the Dwarves. Sheelob is no joke. That’s why we have the Sword of the Spirit, to slice through the sticky webs, just as Bilbo had “Stinger” to set his friends free.

    1. Love the reference to Lord of the Rings. Shelob was really scary!
      I often feel like a little Hobbit myself. I want to go back to the Shire, but I’m afraid that’s not an option. It is comforting to know that God won’t let us walk alone, though. It may feel like my forest is the Black Land of Mordor sometimes, but God can even reach into my dark forest. I am frequently disheartened and anxious, and the evil can do a lot of harm, but never win. Sometimes we use the light right, and keep the beast at a distance. Today is a good day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s