Here’s a little something I wrote over the summer for my precious friends at AlmaDiem. Enjoy!
My children each handle fear differently. When my oldest is uncomfortable it is customary for him to lash out in an attempt to make everyone else uncomfortable too – misery loves company or something like that. My middle child is rarely fearful, but when she is she works through it. She rationalizes it and wrestles with it and shakes her head and stands up straight and dispense all the self-talk necessary to make herself brave. We’ve found that it’s best to leave her alone, give her some space, and sooner or later she will summon the courage to face her fears all on her own. For my 3 year old fear is debilitating.
We have spent the last week in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park visiting grandparents, playing in the mountain streams, eating too much ice cream, and today “hiking.” I use the term “hiking” loosely. We wandered for about a mile down a gravel road and ended up at an old homestead. It was beautiful and quiet (save for the incessant chatter and screaming of the 3 year old).
My little suburban baby obviously needs more nature time than she’s experienced in our backyard. I suppose the sidelines of a soccer/softball field and the short walk through the neighborhood park on the way to the pool or the batting cages aren’t enough to acclimate to the outdoors. The minute we stepped out of the van we she encountered a fly, not just any fly, a fly of such tiny proportions that it’s impact on the environment was minuscule at best. It’s impact on Millie’s day was devastating. The terror erupted from her mouth in such a squeal we thought she had fallen. As I rushed to her side I found her immobilized with fear. Her feet were glued in place, her hands were over her ears and she was shaking.
The day continued in this vein. Every bee, gnat, fly, butterfly, dragon fly, or waving piece of grass drew a scream of terror and 3 minutes of tears. For the first 6 minutes it was humorous for the last 3 hours it was ridiculous. I was adamant that this mile “hike” was going to happen. We sang songs, until we saw a bug. We told stories, until we felt a whisper of wind that might be a bug. We collected treasures, until we picked up a leaf with a spider on it. The day was painful, not so painful it hurt but painful enough that I was exhausted.
After we finished our hike and headed back to have a picnic and play in the river a little bit, our little girl exploded with smiles and bravery. She climbed on rocks in a flowing river, she climbed and swam and chased tadpoles. Her fear was nowhere to be found. How beautiful the mind of children.
“Only when we no longer fear do we begin to live.” -Dorothy Thompson
How many times am I so stuck in my fear that I can’t even take another step. My feet are glued to the ground where I stand and I can think of nothing except that big giant thing that’s terrifying me. It is all consuming. My fear is an overwhelming blanket that covers my life and everything that I do or say or see has to emerge through the fog of the fear in order to be seen and heard. Each and every time, for the first hour, Millie screamed about a bug we explained that it couldn’t hurt her. We pulled out every tool in our tool box to define the fear, to trap it, to move through it, but nothing worked at all.
My poor little one missed the flowers, and the bear trap, and cried through a fun little stream crossing and screeched at a teeny salamander. Her entire experience was clouded by her fear. I pray that when I’m immobilized, when I can’t take another step, someone takes my hand and sings songs and points out the beauty around me, and maybe little by little I will be able to put one foot in front of another. I also pray that when I meet someone face to face who is stuck in their fear, that I can walk alongside them until they are ready to step on their own.
Let’s do that for each other – shall we?