I’m afraid of crowds. But not like you think. I’m afraid the crowds won’t show.
I’ve had to confront this ugly truth about myself this week and I thought this might be something you deal with too.
It all came to a head Saturday evening.
My wife and I have spent the whole day preparing for our annual Merry Mid-Century Christmas Party. Because I’m afraid we won’t have enough guests, I’ve invited over a hundred people. If they all show, we’re screwed.
I’ve made bean dip and cut vegetables and cleaned the kitchen and cleaned the kitchen again and lit the candles and started the Christmas playlist and now we are sitting on the couch, watching the door.
We have always had enough guests. Never too many. The past is gently whispering, “It’s going to be OK.”
It is now 6 – the official event start time. No one arrives. 6:30. Nobody.
I am panicking as the cold foods get warm and the hot foods cool. What if nobody shows? How embarrassing would that be? I start to feel somehow abandoned. My heart rate increases. I cannot relax.
Where is this fear coming from?
As the clock nears seven a first guest arrives, but only to say ‘hi’ on his way to another event.
“Who would come at 6?” my wife asks, reminding me that this is how it always happens. People will show, she says. Everything will be alright. And she is, of course, right.
As evening turns to night our wonderful guests arrive and we collect bottles of wine and sing carols together and laugh at our inability to follow the instructions of our Christmas origami set.
We have a good time. The room is full of people we love and people who love us.
There was nothing to be afraid of after all.
Several days later I’m still dissecting my panic. An ugly part of myself becomes desperate at the thought of not being liked. Not being popular. Not being picked for the team.
Do old wounds ever heal?
None of this anxiety serves a performer well.
Tomorrow night I play my biggest show in a long while, joined on stage by my band and two other local bands. I would so love to sell the place out. So today I will frantically email invites and hope for the best and watch as messages of apology roll in because people are busy at a very busy time. I’ll pay more attention to the ‘nos’ than the ‘yesses’ and feel the familiar wave of insecurity crash against the shoreline of my heart.
And then, as always, the tide will recede. I’ll stand in the sun and the calm and look at all that’s washed up at my feet.
I’d love to see all of that peaceful possibility before the event, not after. Even more so, I’d love to stop counting guests at all. Can I not simply offer my best to the world – live as an invitation – and welcome those who show up, regardless of the headcount?
I’m getting there. I have far to go.