Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Be Not Afraid

I just read an article based on monkey research that indicates that we really come into the world with a predisposition for more or less of a fearful, anxious nature. I knew that. My most vivid memories are of being afraid. Afraid of the open, circular stair I needed to go down to the dance recital dressing room and my mother changing my clothes in the hall to quiet me. Afraid of the kids in the neighborhood, particularly the Collins boys who chopped the curlers out of my hair when I was about five or six. Afraid of the ocean. Afraid of storms. Afraid I might have a child with a birth defect. Afraid of driving in unfamiliar places and of traffic. Afraid of losing loved ones. Afraid of cancer. Afraid of what others might think of what I wore or how my house looked, or what I said. Just generally afraid of things most people don’t even think about.

Those who know only my public person would probably find that statement absurd, because I function more or less as a confident extrovert. I don’t really mind things like speaking to large crowds once I get there. It’s the getting there that’s hard for me. I agonize and over prepare. I can’t sleep the night before, or at least I couldn’t before Ambien came along.

What I’ve found out in the process of getting there is interesting, though. It’s always less terrible than I imagined. Something kicks in and gets me past my fear. Some of the things I’ve anticipated with such dread have turned out to be total non-events. Others, like losing my mother, have been a whole lot harder than I imagined, but finally bearable, for the most part.

When I was pregnant with my first child, the possibility of having something be wrong with the baby came up in conversation with the large group of expectant moms I lived nearby. We all said that it would be intolerable, but then put the thoughts out of our heads. All of us had healthy babies, who are now in their forties. By the time Walker came along, I was busy with two other children, and didn’t have time to “borrow trouble”, so his birth defect came out of left field. For the first couple of days after he was born, I was absolutely certain I couldn’t deal with it. (Read some of my earlier posts for the details.) By the time I took him home, I was absolutely certain, at least on the surface, that I could.

I can attribute some of this confidence to a visit from a close friend’s sister while I was still in the hospital. Milton told me of her life with her teenaged daughter with Down syndrome, and made it seem like a piece of cake. I wouldn’t describe our life with Walker exactly that way. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t trying and demanding for a lot of years, but overall, it has been so much better than I ever could have imagined.

When Robert was sick, awaiting a liver transplant, on life support, the thought of life without my only grandchild was unbearable. My daughter gave me a little plaque that someone had given her. It said, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9. She thought I needed those words more than she did, and she was right. She meant for me to be just as brave as she was. I wasn’t, but I made it through because she knew my fears.

I hope I will remember today that things rarely turn out to be as difficult as my imagination would lead me to believe. I hope the courage to make the first step toward the unknown won’t be too difficult to muster up.


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