When my husband was growing up in the 1950s, his Sicilian-American mother often made artichokes, usually boiled until tender, then stuffed with a mixture of grated Italian cheese and butter.
To a little boy they looked off-putting, their leafy spines sharp and hard, the tender heart hidden by more spines. He was afraid to try one, deciding young he wouldn't like the strange vegetable. His parents didn't insist, so neither leaf nor delectable heart ever passed his lips.
"It's your loss," his father said.
I, on the other hand, embraced artichokes, which my Sicilian-American mother also made. As a young newlywed, I could cook very little, but artichokes were simple: Put a pot of water on to boil and once a rolling boil was achieved, pop the artichokes in and boil until the flesh was tender.
Not wanting to offend me, my young husband ate them. And to his surprise, he loved them.
"How silly I feel," he told me, "deciding I didn't like them without even trying one. They're delicious." He said he'd learned a lesson then about turning down new experiences too quickly. Still, when confronted by new experiences, his default response was often to demur.
Curiously, though, my husband parachuted out of an airplane once, despite his life-long fear of heights. Although he's been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and even had an office on a high floor of a tower with huge windows, he's always stayed safely away from edges and windows that overlooked great drops. Even just looking at a drop from the safety of a window or bridge gave him chills.
"How did you ever parachute out of a plane?" I once asked him.
"That's just it," he said. "I had a parachute to break my fall, so I knew I would be ok."
As phobias go, his fear of heights was common and fairly insignificant. There aren't many circumstances in which fear of heights can ruin your life.
So, when a Sedona, Az. guide brought us just a bit too close to red rock edges with sheer drop-offs on a vacation last year, I was concerned. I've never had the best balance in the world, either and I'm cautious when it comes to edges. But my husband? He stays at least 10 feet back from any steep cliff.
The views were spectacular, but we stayed safely back. Just then, our guide spoke.
"How are you with heights?" he asked. "Because there's a fossilized spine over there on that rock and if you sit with your spine against it, you feel powerful energy."
I looked over at the rock. It had sheer drop-offs on three sides. I pictured my balance failing just as I got to the edge. I declined.
"I don't like heights," my husband said. "I get vertigo."
Nor is he a New Age kind of guy. Certainly not the kind of guy who would believe that sitting against a fossil would impart energy. It would be impossible for him to step out on that ledge.
He stood there a moment, about 25 feet from the jutting rock and suddenly walked over to the edge, stepped onto the rock and sat down on the edge with his spine against the fossil, feet dangling into what looked like an endless drop.
I grabbed my camera and took shot after shot.
After a few moments, he stood up on that rock—the one with a sheer drop-off on three edges--and walked back to safety.
"I felt connected to the earth," he told me later, "and a strong vibration. It was weird." It was not the response I expected from someone who didn't believe in new age metaphysics. Then again, I never expected him to walk to the edge, either.
What caused him to overcome his fear of heights and step on to the rock? To take that risk?
"I don't know," he said. "I just felt compelled to do it. I'm 65 years old, so now or never, I guess."
"Yes, but why, how?" I pushed. "You'd just said you wouldn't and then you walked right over to it."
He looked at me and laughed.
"Maybe it was artichokes."
Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.