I was so scared that I would be kidnapped in the night that I imagined layers of God’s protection around me – the universe, the solar system, the planet, the continent, the country, the state, the county, the town, the neighborhood, the house, the bedroom, my bed. I even saw the pattern of a great protective polar bear in the grain of wood on my bedroom door.
All of my fear was rooted in one big one – that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to my parents. See, I grew up knowing my mom had cancer, and even though I can’t remember how I found out or if that was just part of life in our house from the day I was born (she was in treatment when she got pregnant with me), I always knew some day I would have to say goodbye to her. And it terrified me.
So at night, if kidnapper took me, I wouldn’t get that goodbye.
My mom tried all kinds of ways to sooth me. She took the spiritual route – God’s hedge of protection all around and even underneath me (prompted after a neighbor’s mom let me watch Poltergeist at age 6). She tried practicality – there were screens on the windows; if a kidnapper tried to cut the screens, it would make a lot of noise. But it was only when she took me to the land of story that she found the antidote to my fear.
She told me that each night, God sent an angel to watch me while I slept and that when I got scared, I should imagine that angel’s wings laying down over me to keep me safe. I clung to that image for years . . . and even now, when I wake up anxious, it is the prayer I offer when I need sleep to return – please, Lord, your angel’s wings.
Fear is very real. It is part of our existence on this planet. For some of us, it has been seared into our selves through abuse or trauma. For others, it is a product of a culture that seems bent on making us fearful – of who wins the election, of women traveling alone, of failing to protect our children. Whatever the cause, it’s real.
For writers, this fear is often mental. It may come from a memory of a time when someone told us our writing was terrible or that we could never be that thing we wanted to be. Or it may be the general fear of risk, the desire for life to be easy and safe.
For me, that fear comes from the same fear I had as a child – that I will say something that pushes someone away, and I will not have a chance to say goodbye.
But here’s what my mom told me about fear – You go after it with whatever tools you have, and you don’t let it best you. For me, the trick is to acknowledge the fear and then call on the tools I have to cover me while I write – the kind words people have said about my writing, the publications in my name, the strong sense of peace that comes over me when I put down words. Just like those angel’s wings, they keep out the fear.
Two years ago, my mom died. I did get to say goodbye, but it was still my biggest fear come true. I miss her, every day.
Her death did show me one crucial lesson though: Fear doesn’t win if we don’t let it.My mom is gone, but her death did not end my life. I am here. I am writing.
Over my bed in every place I live, I hang a picture Mom gave me. It’s of a small child asleep, an angel with a staff at guard over him. It’s my reminder that we are always covered, even when we’re afraid.
What fears have you let get the better of you? What do you do to battle away that fear?