Last week I asked one of my students what the date was. Friday the thirteenth of January, he replied without expression. Not that I expected one. Even my suggestion a few weeks ago that the French are probably the most arrogant people in Europe after the Swiss, failed to raise an eyebrow.
After my student had left, I sat gazing out of my window and started thinking of 9/11 and the fact that I work on the thirteenth floor. I have a fear of spiders, flying and heights. Spiders when they are bigger than fifty pence pieces, flying when I’m sober, and heights when I look down.
Tall buildings have never bothered me in the slightest. Even if I pressed my face flat against the window, it would be hard to actually see the drop – not that I’ve tried. So I was surprised as I sat in my chair that I suddenly felt very scared.
Where I work is the tallest building in Lyon. It sticks out of the landscape like a sore thumb; it’s a fucking sitting duck; a lightening rod for terrorist planes. If I was planning another attack, I’d have my eyes on La Tour Part Dieu big time. The airport’s only a stones throw away, there’s a Radisson Hotel at the top, plus countless banking offices, insurance companies, hedge fund managers, and drinks conglomerates crammed into the remaining 39 floors. All the bad guys in the same place.
Death, fire, screams, people jumping out of windows, collapsing buildings raced through my mind……But I couldn’t let it happen. This was where I worked. I went to get a glass of water and did some breathing exercises and it passed. But the experience struck home.
Fear is the enemy of all of us. It drags us back, shackles us, prevents us from achieving our potential. Rational fear I can accept: slowing down because you drive too fast. It’s the irrational fear I cannot. I’m sometimes scared to go into a restaurant or café because they’ll hate me, judge me, tease me, bully me, tell me it’s closed, closed for English assholes like myself. So I end up wandering the streets hungry and thirsty looking for a place to go.
So here’s a new scenario: I walk up to a café, I want to go in but it looks intimidating as people are already staring at me from inside. I think I’m not worthy of the place and decide to turn away like the cowardly joke I’ve become and go home to eat tinned mackerel and rice. But at the last minute I remember the words I wrote in my blog. So I turn back and stride in through the door. Nobody bats an eyelid. I walk to a table and even though I’m not sure whether to go to the bar to order or not, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter: I’ll go to them or they can come to me. It makes no difference. I sit down and notice it’s table number 13, the date is Friday 13th and I work on the 13th floor and this is the 13th blog I’ve wrote since I’ve been in Lyon. I’m in control and a million miles away from that shivering wreck of a man who was standing outside the door a few minutes ago. I order steak and frites and beer and feel happiness flow through me. After the lunch I walk back to the Tower.
I walk into my classroom and a student is already sitting down ready for his afternoon class. He asks me if I had a good lunch and I reply, yes. In fact, one of the best lunches I’ve ever had.