This morning, driving to a Father/Child reading event I was rounding a curve when out of nowhere came a big white dog, barking and headed straight for the truck. I didn’t have much time to react when at the last second it decided to turn back. My heart went into my stomach and as I looked in the rearview mirror the dog made its way back to the bush it was hiding behind to wait for its next victim. It was frightening to have this huge canine all of a sudden appear on what should have been an easy drive to a county library.
After my heart and stomach settled I thought about the dog and the fright it gave me. The fear had subsided and I wondered where its owner was, why the dog was allowed to play this dangerous game when, in a collision, the vehicle almost always wins?
I don’t like being afraid. Fear is unsettling and I’d prefer to live life without it. However, I admit that life can be a lot like the, almost, run in with the dog today. We navigate the road of life the best we know how hoping to reach our destination. When, out of nowhere, something happens which makes us afraid. It may be a brush with death, a lingering sickness, a mental health issue, a financial crisis, a danger or challenge to friends and family. In these moments we become afraid. Our goal is no longer reaching our destination but getting through each next moment. Everything slows down and our attention becomes solely on the fear.
In one sense it’s helpful our vision is singularly focused. It helps us concentrate on what’s in our way and how to avoid it or fight it. However, if we are not careful the thing which makes us afraid becomes the only thing we see and our vision to all the beauty and wonder of life is obscured. Balancing being fearful and mindful is tricky but is the only way we make sure we don’t spend our lives afraid to live.
I heard someone talking today about a giant animated spider a neighbor has in their front yard along with several other Halloween decorations. The problem isn’t the decor but the animated spider scares the man and his dog each time they walk near the house The spider is motion activated so there’s never a moment when the spider won’t “react” when he and the pooch are near the house. He’s resigned to walk a different way and in a different direction until his neighbor puts away the spider. He’s hoping the Christmas decorations will be less traumatic for him and his dog.
As I listened to his story I thought about fear; our reaction to it and it’s reaction to us. There are different things we are each afraid of. What scares one might not bother the other and the stuff of nightmares to one is shrugged off by another.
The man would be silly to try to tell his dog; “It’s not real. It’s fake. Stop being fearful!” Two things keep the dog from understanding. One, the dog doesn’t speak or comprehend language. Two, fear doesn’t work that way. How the man handled it is spot on. He walked a different way so he and his dog would be able to walk in peace.
Too often we try to convince people not to be scared of things. Sometimes this works but most of the time we and the person we are trying to convince not to be fearful end up frustrated and eventually separated. Facing our fears is fine in certain cases but in others walking with another a different way shows love, empathy, and acceptance.
Out of Sight –
This past weekend I wrote about a tiny gray cat that has been hanging around the house. The last time I saw it was on Saturday. I had been putting food out for it hoping to convince it we meant no harm but unfortunately, the neighborhood dogs beat the kitten to the chow. It started raining yesterday afternoon and has been steady since then. Remnants of Hurricane Irma is giving us plenty of water and a bit of wind. My worry, however, is the kitten. Is it dry? Did a neighborhood dog get it? I haven’t seen it since the weekend and I have no idea where it is or what happened to it. So, I wait and see. Hopefully, it’s still hiding under the porch and will come out after the storm passes.
There are people in our lives like the kitten. A storm begins to batter them and they hide, afraid of its downpour and thunder. We long to help them, to show them kindness, to meet whatever needs we can if they would just come out of hiding. However, like the kitten, there are trust issues and perhaps they’ve been hurt before by people pretending to help or they’re used to people taking not giving. What do we do? We wait. If they come out of hiding during the storm we can cover them with acts of kindness. If they wait until after this is fine also. Kindness and love have no expiration date.
Our Siberian Husky, Trooper, has a problem with our little farm-house. The kitchen floor is covered in old, slick linoleum and many other rooms have wooden floors. For most of his life, he’s lived in houses which were wall to wall carpet and gave him places to grip as he walks. Now, he’s finding it hard to keep his footing as he walks in our home. We’ve several large carpets in the wooden floor rooms and small carpets along with one of his beds in the kitchen. He slips and slides from one carpet to another and refuses to walk in a space where there’s no carpet in sight for him to reach. We’ve tried several different ways to help him get over his fear of the slick floors but fear has a way of getting inside of people and animals alike.
I have friends and family members today, as all of us do, who are finding it hard to get a grip on new, difficult and challenging situations. I also have friends and family members who are dealing with old hangups, habits, hurts and wonder if they will ever be able to grapple with and overcome these persistent, negative areas.
What can we do when those we love and care about are gripped by fear? We can lay down rugs, pieces of carpets, by doing random and purposeful acts of kindness and grace. We cannot take their fear away but we can show them our love is greater than what has them afraid.
Fear Doesn’t Work that Way
Last night, the Mrs. and I were late going out to water our flowers and bushes. I grabbed my brightest flashlight and went out the front door. Just beyond our porch there is a huge Oak tree. As I stepped off it something falling from the tree caught my eye. I shined the light on the flowers beneath the tree trying to find the object. Seeing nothing I then illuminated the area where whatever fell came from. That’s when I noticed movement and it didn’t take me long to see it was a large Rat Snake (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_snake), in fact there were two of them. As soon as Beth heard the word snake she wouldn’t get near the tree. I told her they were non-poisonous, not fond of humans and kept the mice and rodent population down. This didn’t dissuade her nor reduce her fear of snakes.
In an episode of; “Sports Night,”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Night) Dan and Casey, two sports anchors, were discussing a fear Casey was experiencing. Dan says to Casey; “Don’t be afraid!” Casey smiles and replies; “Fear doesn’t work that way.”
Fear has a way of reaching down inside of us and finding a place to reside where mere words, logic and assurance have a hard time dislodging. Being afraid is primal. It often triggers; fight, flight or freeze response. Too often we judge and don’t understand another’s fears, especially if we don’t share it. We try our best to talk them out of being afraid or tell them how to work through their fright. The best response, however, is to listen, understand, don’t judge, don’t push and allow them to work through their fears in their own time and their own pace.