Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Be Not Afraid
Today as Ann turned left near the intersection where a speeding SUV sent my little Honda to the junkyard and me to the regional trauma center seven years ago, I felt my breath catch. I squeezed my hands together in my lap, and my fingers turned white with the blood pressed out of them. My feet tingled, and I felt slightly nauseated.
I have felt afraid at this intersection—indeed afraid at any possibility of auto-danger (and possibilities abound)—for the past seven years. Truthfully, though, fear is not new to me. I have long feared walking in dark places, being alone in a house, crossing the street, and spiders, among so many other things.
In my twenties, I told a hiking friend that I clenched my teeth because I always feared falling when I went up and down rocks, and I didn’t want to bite off my tongue.
“That’s psychotic,” he said to me.
Actually, though I didn’t know it at the time, I probably had a brain tumor that made falling more likely for me than for others, so my fear was likely justified.
In the Christmas story, which I keep hearing in this season, fear abounds. An angel keeps telling people—Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men—not to be afraid, and it seems to me every time the angel says, “Be not afraid,” there’s reason for fear. (Mary’s going to be pregnant even though she and her fiancée haven’t had sex; Joseph’s going to marry a woman pregnant with someone else’s child; the shepherds are being called from their solitary work into a revolution; their king wants to kill the wise men). Including this story, “fear not” is used 80 times in the Bible! Call me chicken, but the call not to be afraid makes me afraid.
I suppose the angels didn’t cause scary events, they just appeared for comfort. Seven years ago an angel appeared beside my wrecked car after an SUV had t-boned it, with me in it. My angel, a woman in a pink raincoat with images of giant flowers on it, told me not to worry, emergency vehicles were on the way. Once the emergency responders got there, she disappeared. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her again.
I don’t know where she came from or where she went, and I don’t know her name or her story, but she kept me calm in a chaotic time, and I’ll always be grateful to her. I think of her when I am afraid.
I have been fretting a lot lately about a book I’ve been writing since my first tumor’s diagnosis in 2007. I fear I won’t be able to publish it. If not, I wonder if all these years I’ve invested in it will have been wasted. It is a story of hope and perspective when life doesn’t go as planned (and I’m realizing most of our lives don’t). I believe it’s a story that would give its readers solace, but it won’t if I never publish it.
“Don’t worry,” I hear again my angel saying to me.
“Be not afraid,” I read again and again.
But I insist on worrying and being afraid. There’s so much grief in my world now that my heart can hardly contain it. Personally, friends living with losses from aging, deaths and disease; in the wider world some people living in tents while I sit comfortably at my computer. A quotation from a WWI memorial in Melbourne remains written on the inside of my eyelids, haunting me when I sleep and when I blink: “Fascism is failed democracy.”
Perhaps serendipitously, Ann and I received a card from our friends Stef and Lin today, with this Talmudic quotation: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Maybe in these words I find a call to act and to be at peace. That word “humbly” seems important.
Maybe, I think as I have thought so many times, I need to be okay with the fact that I’m not in control. Again, I wonder at Rumi’s words:
Perhaps the glass cover on my heart is breaking again, and perhaps I need not be afraid.