If I were not afraid

Murmurs from the Bathroom Wall

Kimberly Veklerov/Staff

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” asks a fifth-floor Moffitt graffitist in the women’s restroom. Beneath it is a series of responses from various individuals that, taken together, forms a hypothetical bucket list of tasks that will probably never be completed. Fears naturally work to our instinctual advantage and, for that reason, are not so easy to let go.

That list got me thinking: If I could snap my fingers and some cosmic force would take away all my fears, there are four things I would do immediately. First, I would eat a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, the world’s hottest pepper, just to feel the burn. With my mouth ablaze, I would then smash my computer into a million little pieces because I think it has too much control over my life. Without technology plugging me in, I would explore the supernatural and spend one night in a graveyard. If I survived until the following morning, I would walk to the Office of the Registrar and drop out of UC Berkeley.

I won’t do any of those things because I am afraid. I fear extra-spicy food and disconnection and zombies and failure. The point of hypotheticals, though, is not to fantasize over an alternative reality, but to better understand the reality in which one finds oneself.

In my reality, I always order “mild” for fear that too many capsaicinoids will ruin the curry. So I’ll never eat the world’s hottest pepper. I refresh my email every few minutes and mindlessly frequent the same dozen websites in an attempt to distract myself from the world outside my Windows. I doubt I’ll ever smash my computer into a million pieces. If I were to sleep in a cemetery overnight, I would fear what the ground beneath me holds, for which I have Buffy the Vampire Slayer to blame. I’ll probably never sleep in a graveyard. It’s ingrained in my mind that success is impossible without a completed college education, so I know that I won’t actually drop out of school.

There are legitimate reasons not to undertake my four theoretical bucket list items, but I can’t deny that some days such ideas are tempting. Maybe setting my mouth on fire and losing hundreds of dollars and breaking and entering are not the most enticing, but ending my academic career certainly is. Even though I love Cal and my friends to no end, I cannot help but feel that cramming for exams and selfishly building up my own knowledge base does nothing to experience or mend the world.

I know that the point of higher education is to give us skills to unselfishly make our communities better places after we leave. Before graduation, all these idealistic notions are fine and dandy, but I worry that with diploma in hand, I will become a sell-out who is more concerned with making a livable wage than with devoting myself to repairing the world.

I also know that many students here are already well on their way to positively impacting society and the planet. We have tutors for elementary school children, advocates for green practices and peer educators bringing healthy practices to the community. It’s difficult, however, to fully accomplish all these wonderful goals with the weight of school pressing on your shoulders.

But society tells me that attaining a bachelor’s degree will ultimately allow me to achieve more, so the fear of dropping out is probably a good fear to have. In my view, there are two types of fears: those that keep our dumb ideas (like leaving Berkeley) in check and those that hinder possible accomplishments — which brings me back to the bathroom wall.

To whoever wanted to jump off a bridge: I’m glad you’re afraid of doing so. To the person who wanted to ask her crush on a date: You should definitely do it. To the individual who wanted to live alone on a mountain: Just make sure there is plenty of potable water. And to the woman who wanted to kiss her best friend and fall in love: Maybe ask permission first.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @kveklerov.