Friday, October 16, 2015

Fear

A few weeks after Jonah died Jordan and I drove to Red Lodge, Montana to work. The drive north was long and lonely. I remember silently staring into the side mirror of Jordan's truck, watching the yellow stripes on black asphalt appear behind us and then disappear into the distance. The flashing yellow line felt symbolic, each stripe a memory of Jonah drifting into the distance with no promise of returning.  I can't remember if Jordan and I said a single word as we drove through the vast expanse of central Wyoming. We were both lost in our own thoughts, or maybe we were trying not to think.

When we drove into Red Lodge, golden leaves drenched the town, and misty clouds rested on the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains. The usual bustle of summer tourists had long since passed and gangs of wild turkeys began to roam the streets.  The air still held the crispness of Fall with a hint that winter was on its way.

We checked into our motel.  It was dated but clean, managed by a young tracksuit wearing man from India. The carpeted hallways were incredibly long and reminded me of The Shining. I almost expected a young boy to round the corner on a tricycle or creepy twins to greet us near the elevator. Despite the vague similarities to a horror movie It felt like a good place to settle into my grief and to feel anonymous for awhile. 

Jordan left each morning before the sun came up, kissing me goodbye while I lay half asleep.  Later I would force myself out of bed and write, watch TV, then sleep some more. Occasionally I ventured out to the local coffee shop to get a hot chocolate or to read a book. It felt strange, and also freeing, to order a drink as if I was just an ordinary person, as if my world had not shattered to pieces.  I could pretend for a while in Red Lodge that I was still a whole person instead of fragments of my former self.

One day work was cancelled and Jordan had a free afternoon. We decided to drive up the Beartooth Highway and lose ourselves in nature for awhile. Our wandering was cut short by a large metal gate blocking the road. The highway had closed for the season only a few days earlier.  We pulled over, parked, and stood in the open silence that engulfed us. The quiet was overwhelming and felt heavy. Without much discussion we zipped up our jackets and began walking, past the gate, and onto the open road beyond.  

It almost felt like we were walking into an post-apocalyptic world.  A world without people.  A world without cars.  The mountains around us felt enormous compared to our small bodies moving slowly along the two-lane highway.  The view was infinite compared to the previously segmented scenery through our windshield. The world around me was cold and beautiful and open, and I was small and afraid.

As we walked I thought about bears, and falling rocks, freak snowstorms, and serial killers in the wilderness. Before Jonah died these dangers would have flashed across my mind for a second, and then been dismissed by reason and statistics.  But now they all felt possible. Losing Jonah made me feel vulnerable in a way I could have never imagined. I no longer felt sheltered by my faith or a powerful God or good luck.

I quietly held onto my fears as we crested each hill, all the while realizing they were probably irrational.  But with each step away from our car they swirled and magnified.  The beauty that surrounded us was trumped by my worried heart.  Eventually, I turned to Jordan and said, "It is so beautiful up here. The mountains are incredible," and then in the same breath, "I'm afraid we will be attacked by bears."

This is when I discovered the power of speaking my fears. I don't even remember how Jordan responded. He probably just said "okay." But I remember feeling relief. I have learned that there is something about saying, "I am afraid of bears, and falling rocks, and freak snowstorms, and serial killers" that diminishes fear and allows me to move through it.  So I told Jordan I was afraid of bears and then we kept walking.

I've been thinking about this experience a lot lately, because I am bombarded by fears.  When I'm brushing my teeth or doing dishes my mind will present me with a thousand ways in which my current peaceful bliss could fall apart.  These include but are not limited to: dog attacks, tumors, earthquakes, ISIS, liver failure, tripping down stairs, West Nile Virus, diabetes, abduction, the flu, addiction, extreme poverty, SIDs, car accidents, horse trampling, etc...  Maybe my mind plays out these scenarios as a preventative measure, but in every instance, no matter what the danger, I see the same panic and heartache I felt as I watched Jonah die.  I can imagine the intensity of the loss again.  Even though I have survived losing Jonah and feel stronger for it, I know I never want to feel that kind of pain again. Somehow, deep in my subconscious I must believe that if I can think through every possible danger I can stop my heart from breaking.

Ultimately, I know that paying attention to my fears will not prevent future sorrow.  I am not that powerful and we live in a world of adversity and trial.  Listening to my fears will only keep me from living the life I want to live.  It will stop me in my tracks and make me feel small in a big beautiful world.

So I choose to release my fears into the world, no matter how silly the concern of how outlandish the possibility.  I tell Jordan in the middle of the night when he is barely coherent, "I think I have diabetes," or "I'm worried about Simon's liver," or "What if the crock pot catches on fire?" When the words leave my mouth the fears seem to leave my mind.

When I hold Simon and Clara, and my heart feels so full of love, I often wonder what the future holds for us. There is nothing that makes you feel more vulnerable than love.

I calm myself by thinking about Red Lodge. I imagine myself on that lonely highway, with Jordan by my side, both of us walking away from the imagined safety of our car, our home, our past life and into the wild magnificence of the mountains. When I visualize that moment I feel sure that I can do this.  I can be a mother to these children.  I can speak my fears.  I can love with my whole broken heart.  I can surround myself in beauty. I can move forward.


I Worried
by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.  And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

4 comments:

  1. (I tried commenting and it seems like it was eaten by my phone...forgive me if I double post somehow.)

    This is perfect. When we were facing foreclosure on our home, I so often got overwhelmed by fear and anxiety about the whole process. Something I learned from reading about OCD treatment when Zion was young was the importance and effectiveness of walking all the way through the fear. So often we get stuck at the "What if?" stage and just spiral around in worry. But if we can walk ourselves through to the other side of whatever we fear, we can see that we still survive. You of course know first hand how even the worst thing imaginable is survivable. There is something about seeing that no matter what happens, it isn't The End (like we fear) that empowers us to face life with courage.

    Love you, friend.

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  2. I love to read your writings. You speak clearly to the heart.
    I have often thought about fear, and how I overcame it, somehow.
    I used to be so afraid of the dark, in running the garbage out to the back of our lot. Fear, would parylize me, then I could hear my dad saying, Oh, go on...nothing is going to get you. Then I would run as fast as I could and get it over with.
    Brent was raised in a Leave it to Beaver sort of home. Everything was perfect. And, he is a massive worrier about everything. I was raised in a pretty dysfunctional family. Some major tragedies happened to me as a little child by a maternal grandfather, several times. And a few others of my mom's family. So after marrying Brent, I explained to him, how it did no good to worry, and I don't worry about negative things happening to me, because I have already experienced the worst possible thing which could happen, a total loss of innocence. So as I grew and listened to gospel teachings, the spirit grew so full inside me and convinced me of my worth, in God's eyes and that I could have a happy family. But I believed life was most times going to be better, and everything was going to be up from my beginnings. Whereas, he may not have experienced such loss or trials yet, his may yet come.
    But I want to tell you, I have strength and conviction, because of the suffering I experienced. And I believe, God has let me know, I will not have to endure tragic things again, which I can not handle, because He knows and loves me. I may still need to learn some other lessons from trials, but I don't think they will be as bad as those first ones. I hope you never have to pass through the trial of losing a child again. But you have shared so much and we have learned much from you. We love you Julie. Thank you.

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