Monday, January 10, 2011

Fear

Snow began falling early this morning while we slept underneath quilts and fleece blankets. By rising time, a beautiful layer of thick, fresh snowflakes had gathered on the pine needles and bare bones of the oak trees. Snow is lovely to view from a window while snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate, but obnoxious to handle while trying to get anything else done. Like traveling.

Sunshine sings of safety, so as we loaded up the truck for our 7-8 hour drive back to school, Jeremy and I both felt optimistic. But eventually sunshine dips below the earth leaving a trail of darkness. That’s often when fear comes out to play.

What began as a nice snowy day, turned to fear in about three seconds. Jeremy and I were driving in his Four-Runner across the white-blanketed fields of western Nebraska when we encountered a sheet of ice that sent the back end of the truck fish-tailing. As the car headed right, Jeremy masterfully turned left. As the car corrected and turned left, Jeremy twisted the wheel to the right. After a few turns and twists at 60 miles per hour, the ice won. Grabbing for the door and the dashboard, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as we spun a 360 and came to an abrupt halt facing the same direction that we were driving to begin with. This time we sat breathless in the median of several inches of snow between the east and westbound highways.

“Are you okay?” Jeremy asked me.

I couldn’t seem to find words.

The four-wheel drive bailed us out of a potentially vulnerable position in the middle of the median and we made it back onto the road. He asked again, “Are you okay?”

You know what I didn’t say?

I didn’t say, “Yes, I’m fine. Thanks for saving our lives.”

I didn’t say, “Wow, I’m so grateful we weren’t injured and the truck is fine.”

I didn’t say, “Thank God, there wasn’t a semi truck directly behind us.”

Instead, I said, “I’m scared,” then stared out the window with tears peek-a-booing from my eyes as I sat thinking about the fact that we could’ve just died.

I sat stuck in the thick, sticky liquid of past and future and spent the next hour thinking about what didn’t happen and what could have happened: What if there was a semi behind us? What if we were smashed into? What if Jeremy’s truck was totaled? What if Jeremy died? What if I died? What if we both died? What if our lives were cut short by a car accident on a highway in Nebraska?

Fear shakes us. Fear challenges us. Fear apparently paralyzes me beyond the ability to articulate my thoughts and be in the present moment.

I’ve been reading a book called, Embracing Fear by Thom Rutledge. I’m not far into it, but I particularly liked when he described a possible situation in the ER. If you were to come in with a serious head injury, the doctors and nurses would not immediately administer pain medications. Rutledge says, “They will not medicate the pain of the head injury because to do so would interfere with their gathering of essential information that could save your life. The pain is the source of the information.”

Not all fear is bad. We have healthy fear that keeps us from walking off the edge of a cliff. Rutledge calls this healthy fear an ally. Alas, if there’s an ally, there must be an enemy. The enemy is neurotic fear, the kind that says, “If something could go wrong, let’s focus on it.” This kind of fear is the bully.

Healthy fear said, “Wow, spinning out of control on the highway is not fun. Let’s be careful.”

Neurotic fear said, “You almost died and you probably will before you get to your destination.”

After several miles of driving 40 mph across Nebraska, patient and wonderful Jeremy said, “I know you’re scared. How can I help?” When I didn’t offer any suggestions he began singing, “Raindrops on roses…and brown paper packages…”

“No, it goes ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…’”

He continued unphased, “When the snow falls, when the roads get icy, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel…so bad!”

I’m not always good at seeing the positive, at being in the present moment, or trusting my voice. The main work in our lives can be summed up pretty easily: good versus bad, light versus dark, acknowledging the difference, and basking in the sunshine.

Rutledge says, “The fear you have spent a life time trying to ignore is about to become one of your greatest teachers . . . I believe that when we make the decision to stand and face our individual demons, we are contributing to the potential for peace throughout the world.”

That Franklin D. Roosevelt knew what he was talking about when he said, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

I believe it.

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