The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. – H.P. Lovecraft
Life was trickling along happily this summer.
And then September came.
September is a cruel month, for kids and moms. The shopping, planning, early mornings, and fights over what to wear (I think that’s a girl thing), shocks us all out of the lazy, hazy days of summer.
September was even more cruel this year, since summer didn’t start until August 3rd, or so, and peaked just after Labour Day.
But a week into Grade One, we heard Noelle had – miraculously – gotten a spot at the fine arts school, a place I just knew would be right for her, a place I thought it would take years to get her into.
She started her new school in Level 2 reading. A week and a half later, she was in Level 5.
Right now, she’s reading Amelia Bedelia to us at bedtime.
So when this mid-September school change hump was past, I started to get comfortable. I started to think, this is it. I started to believe my life – and Noelle’s, and David’s, and even little Elliana’s – would be light years better.
David is snickering right now, because just this morning we argued over the meaning of the phrase ‘light year.’
He complained when he saw it in a novel, claiming the phrase misused. It’s a distance, he asserted, not a period of time.
What? He asked.
I think we’ve been watching too much Bones, I said. That was very Brennan-like of you.
We watched the pilot of Once Upon a Time last night. It’s an interesting premise. It’s also filmed in Vancouver. My favorite scene was with Emma and Henry at Henry’s play castle, supposedly on a Maine beach. However, any devoted Vancouverite will recognize it as Jericho Beach, with the city skyline erased from the horizon.
I won’t get into the irony of a show that is supposedly based in Boston but actually filmed in Vancouver.
David questioned the show’s idea, of course. I told him, it’s about fairytales. There’s some leaps of faith involved.
And then I told him that ‘light year’ references are, at least to this writer, both a distance and a period of time – the time I imagine it would take me to travel the same distance light can travel in a year.
It’s an overused hyperbole, at best, but David is right – scientifically, light year is a distance.
We often use it to describe how long we’ve had to wait for something. It usually betrays our impatience.
But I’m starting to wonder if the root of impatience is sometimes fear.
We fear something won’t come on time. We fear someone won’t follow through on what they promised to do. We fear that someone we love will reject us, or something we desperately want will go disastrously wrong.
And all this fear makes it very hard to wait.
At the end of September, my oncologist told me I was anemic due to a severe iron deficiency. Between him and three other doctors, I was told I could have one of four major disasters wrong with me: pituitary adenoma, pulmonary hypertension, cervical cancer, or uterine fibroids.
I had symptoms that fit with each of these issues. And I was no longer in the innocent bubble of beautiful people who seem to walk the world unscathed. I knew that the worst could happen, had happened, and might happen again.
I admit, the fear was overwhelming.
So, I had tests. And more tests. And more tests. Each one made me both more hopeful and more afraid. I don’t know if we in the medical field give patients going through ‘routine’ tests enough credit for the crevasses of uncertainty those tests instill.
One by one, the results came back.
Not a pituitary tumour. Not pulmonary hypertension. Not cervical cancer.
And just now, I’ve received the call that says not uterine fibroids.
Apparently, there’s nothing wrong with me.
Well, mostly. I do have a, ahem, procedure to be done soon. But it’s minor, simple stuff. It may be part of the cause of all this, or it might not.
And, I still have CML.
The point is, a couple of months ago, our family all believed there was something insanely hard for us to climb over, again. And here we are, in the month where we rush around to celebrate a miracle of peace, and according to the tests, there isn’t anything left to be afraid about.
I don’t know about you, but I believe in miracles. And I think I got another one these past weeks. Not just a medical victory, but a personal one as well.
An old friend and mentor once said that we don’t learn linearly. We learn in spirals. We move through one lesson, then circle back to learn it again, on a different, harder, more mature level. How fast we move through each lesson, how many times we repeat it, and how many complications are tied to it, depends largely on our openness to be taught, and the maturity we aim for.
I’m not sure which round through this part of the spiral it was for me this time.
But I do know I heard the words, fear not.
It’s easy to tell someone else not to worry. It’s much harder to actually not worry. It’s easy to tell someone to be patient. It’s much harder to wait.
There’s something right now that I admit I’m a little worried about. It’s a much better problem than the four possibilities they gave me in September, but it’s still there. And earlier this week, I confided that thing in a friend, who, being the good friend she is, told me not to worry yet.
She’s right, of course, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned the past few months, it’s that putting off worry doesn’t make you less worried. Sometimes letting the fear in, embracing all of the possibilities and getting to the end of them, asking what then? and coming up with the fact that you’ll still be you and all will still be okay, is really the only thing that gets rid of fear.
My science-fiction, techy, thriller-writer friends will appreciate this:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. – Frank Herbert, Dune
I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
One of the opening scenes of Lost shows Jack telling Kate a story where he did the same thing. In the middle of a surgical emergency, instead of getting paralyzed, he let the panic in, and counted to five.
And then he did what he had to do to fix the thing that was making him panic.
I just finished reading Jack Bingham’s Scene and Structure. He writes that each scene in a novel has three parts: goal – conflict – disaster. The only scene that doesn’t end in disaster is… the end scene.
We each have goals. Unless we’re spoiled brats, there’s a conflict to get those goals accomplished. But most of what we wish for, hope for, in real life, is goal-conflict… success.
In novels, the only characters that have that pattern, all of the time, are the antagonists.
Until the end, of course.
I wonder what that means for us. I wonder if, somewhere, once upon a time, we started writing stories to test our fears. Were they merely to entertain? Or were they also to push ourselves – through our protagonists – through the what now? hoops? Were they designed to get us to look fear in the face and find whatever we needed to conquer it?
These past few months have been goal-conflict… more conflict… and more conflict… success.
But my story’s not over. Who knows what disaster – or eventual victory – is waiting?
By the time I reach my end scene – just like whatever protagonist that’s well-written enough to grab readers’ attention – I hope my character is light years ahead of where I started.
And by light years, I mean, distance, because conflicts, challenges, heartache, make us travel far faster – and further – than we would on our own.
Who said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself ?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that. The man who suffered debilitating paralysis and still led the free world through the longest – and perhaps most important – period of it’s history. He followed up that famous statement by qualifying what he meant by fear: nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Fitting that this man led the United States and its Allies to within months of V-Day in 1944.
So as we plunge into this season of overwhelming involvement, may we not give in to the increasing impatience or trepidation that seems to come with it. Instead, may we remember that this midwinter-celebration started with a declaration:
If you, like me, find that putting off your fear only makes you more worried, try letting it in, for a few seconds, moments or even hours, and see where it takes you.
Realize that it’s not that scary after all. Know that most of it is just unjustified terror which paralyzes our efforts to advance.
And take a deep breath.
Sometime, somewhere, we all get our end scene.
But while we’re stuck in our middles, I wish you the reprieve I just received.
I wish you good news.
Of great joy.