Long before e-readers became available, sofagirl and I had a deal: whenever we vacationed together, each of us would brig six books the other would also enjoy. One Summer, on the way to Mexico, I snuck in one of those crappy and unreliable biographies full of glossy pictures – the subject, a Brazilian Formula One driver by the name of Ayrton Senna, on whom I had a teenage crush at the age of 27. Sofagirl, who had no interest in short Brazilian drivers, was furious. But I was convinced that, should Ayrton Senna who, at the time, was dating model Carol Alt, meet me, he would be smitten and I would become the love of his life.
I glossed over the fact he never made a mystery of wanting many children, while I wouldn’t even entertain the possibility of one, or that he was deeply religious, while I left religion at the stake at the age of thirteen: how could family planning and faith ever interfere with true love?
And because when there’s a will there’s way, I did indeed get to meet Ayrton Senna, on one of those Italian variety tv shows parading anything from interviews with famous Formula One drivers, to music numbers to semi-naked, butt-shaking pretty women. I was sitting in a dressing room with the Italian rock star I was accompanying when I got wind Ayrton Senna was in the dressing room next to us. Somehow I convinced the reluctant rock star of the benefits of introducing himself (and me) to Ayrton, despite his utter disinterest and absolute ignorance on anything Formula One related. All I remember of that meeting was that Ayrton was not terribly smitten, as he didn’t corner me for my phone number, and that he was wearing an exquisite salmon colored cashmere sweater.
But all is well that ends well. For me at least. A few months later, Ayrton Senna died in my hometown, in the last of the deadly Formula One accidents, one that I watched aghast on tv in real time. Our love story would have been brief and filled with heartache. That was the last one of my girl crushes (if you don’t count the ongoing one for Bruce Springsteen) and the reason I am making a fool of myself in this forum by recounting all this is that Ayrton Senna is now sitting on my desk, in the form of a book my friend Silvia just sent me, a fictionalized reconstruction of his last night before the accident, a mixture of biographical details and musings lyrically cobbled together by a sports writer who knew him.
Besides long past remembrances and foolishness, the book got me thinking about fear. Like most people who engage in extreme sports, Ayrton Senna was very familiar with and accepting of the fear that sets in when racing at over 300 km an hour. Still, drivers and divers and mountaineers and all those who live at close quarters with danger, go out and face fear head on – but I suspect that, as with mere mortals, the reasons for facing fear head on change over time.
At 20, our lack of experience pushes us to minimize the dangers – blissful ignorance makes us walk on water because we think we can. At 40, we have become more cautious and fear can be a paralyzing element – we look in great detail at what can happen, and making the bolder choice becomes harder, we swing more towards the familiar. At 50, and I imagine beyond, we face fear head on because we have learnt we have no other choice and little time to dillydally. We are aware of the dangers but we are also familiar with the possibility of regrets, of time running out and of wasting it weighing pros and cons ad infinitum. Whether faced with a life choice, an illness, a work conundrum, we plough on towards what feels right, what makes sense at that moment, leaving less room for fear and doubts. Like other age-related benefits, it can feel liberating. What people might think, what consequences might follow, what pieces we’ll end up picking up – they all become immaterial because we don’t act from a place of blissful ignorance anymore but from one of trust. In our judgement. And fear becomes just a byproduct, a signal to alert us of the dangers ahead, not to be discarded but not one to stop us in our tracks either.
Over twenty years ago, I was silly enough to think a pretty face in a sports magazine could lead to eternal love – and I didn’t skirt my chance when it presented myself. At the tail end of my 40s, I found myself agonizing for months, weighing all pros and cons of a pretty major change. Now, more change is coming (for me, as well as sofagirl) and I sit rather placidly, if still losing some sleep, but unafraid. I want more time to do what I care for, what I think is right and I can’t waste it being afraid.
Image of Ayrton Senna found in the public domain.
Image of the fearless Diego, who threw himself down the stairs chasing another dog, and broke his leg, courtesy of Giovanni A.