Saturday, November 12, 2016
Eleven months ago, I found myself in a very dark and very scary place. I could not breathe properly. Something was terribly wrong. The chest x-ray at the ER confirmed my very worst fears. My cancer had returned, and I was scared. I was scared about what kind of treatment options I might have. I was scared about pain. I was scared that I would never feel good again. I was scared about dying and the toll it would take on my family and friends. And I couldn't bear to keep feeling that way, so I had to learn how to stop being scared.
Fear is a powerful motivator, but it can't be in the driver's seat because it spoils the road trip for everybody. Fear likes to drive at night when everything is dark and you can't see the beautiful scenery. Fear never likes to stop at interesting roadside attractions or take the road less traveled. Fear never wants to open the windows to let in some fresh air and won't stop anywhere for decent snacks. And so the journey becomes one of drudgery and darkness as we while away the hours hoping to get to our destination safely, worried about every turn in the road ahead.
It is a very hard thing to put fear in the back seat or even kick fear out of the car when we worry about all the possibilities that could prevent us from making it to where we wish to go. But it must be done or we risk losing the very happiness that we so desperately want to preserve. When we let fear drive, there is no joy in the journey, and we don't get to our destination any faster or easier. It just robs us of moments of happiness along the way.
Hope, on the other hand, is a much more interesting driver. Yes, hope is sometimes misguided and takes some risks, but how else will you get to see the view from the curvy mountain roads? How else will you get to enjoy the wind in your hair as you open the windows and appreciate the blue sky? Hope knows where you want to go, just as fear does, but hope has some good corny jokes and brought along some cookies to share with everyone you pass along the way.
Two weeks ago, we were in Nicaragua on vacation at the beach, and we were all having a fantastic time boogie boarding in the waves. Until, of course, I stepped on a string ray and got stung. It was excruciatingly painful - some of the worst pain I have ever experienced. I was fortunate that the person working at the surf shop near the beach knew that soaking my foot in super hot water was the best remedy. She helped me get my foot in the water and provided encouragement as I struggled with the intense pain for about 30 minutes. And then the pain was pretty much gone, and I was fine. Unless you count the fact that the intensity of the experience resulted in a delayed reaction of me fainting at dinner and taking a quick trip to the local village clinic. I was still fine. I just shook everybody up a little bit.
We thought the experience was pretty isolated, so we went boogie boarding the next day at a different beach. Wouldn't you know, it - BAM! My friend got stung even worse than I had been. After two experiences like that, we pretty much decided to stay out of the ocean. We had planned to go surfing one day, but all of us were too afraid to go back in the water. Who knew what else was lurking in the surf zone that would attack us?
But, I just couldn't let go of the idea of surfing. I had traveled so far, and there isn't much in the way of surfing in Minnesota. If this was something I really wanted, I had to say no to being scared. I crossed my fingers that lightning wouldn't strike a third time, and I went back in the water. I shuffled my feet in the sand and tried to be cautious about where I was stepping. I sent out friendly vibrations to the little sea creatures in the hopes that they would stay out of my way. I was shameless in jumping back on my board after each wave and letting the surf instructor push me out so that I didn't have to walk much in the sand. But I had a wonderful time, and I would have missed out on so much if I hadn't pushed that fear aside.
A lot of people are feeling fear right now. Our country, our world, seems completely messed up. We don't know what the future holds. We don't know where this road will take us. But the truth is that none of us have ever known that. Eleven months ago I thought life was over, but two weeks ago I was surfing in Nicaragua. We can let fear drive and have a pretty unpleasant journey, or we can let hope drive and enjoy the trip.
Make room for hope.