My first recollection of fear being used to subdue my spirit was at the age of three, waiting for the “monster” to come through my bedroom window. I would not go to sleep so my mother used a powerful visual to get me to comply, an editorial cartoon of Atlas holding the earth.
Fear was a disciplinary tool of choice in my family. A traditional approach most likely passed down from generation to generation, its roots in our Polish ancestry where pessimism and violation in a country with no natural boundaries was the norm. The Moguls, the Huns, Nazis, and Communists always peering through windows and finally breaking through to conquer and dominate. The use of terror in my family was for “our own good” to keep us safe, nice, and polite. It was the antidote for too much self-esteem or an unwanted pregnancy (birth control of the mind). How irrational my childish logic was, believing a creature holding a planet would be able to come and get me. I shivered in my bed watching a long slit of yellow-green gaping between my curtains from the street lights below. Would I see his eyeball first? Or would be just thump me with the tip of his finger? A giant sent only to me because I didn’t want to go to sleep. I pondered what a terrible child I was.
But along with this memory is another one filled with strength. In the 1950’s, many stuffed animals were equipped with plastic whiskers that scratched the faces and arms of children who loved them. I told my mom about my problem and got the “deal with it” answer I would hear so many times in the next few decades. That wasn’t good enough for me. I proceeded to violate the supreme rule of toddlerhood. I not only touched my mother’s sharp scissors but removed them from her sewing drawer. I carried them into my parents’ room, lined up all my offending animals on the bed and holding their fuzzy little heads cut off their whiskers. It was my first recollection of my personal courage and the power to direct my own life.
All through my life, step by step, I have been nurturing the gift of courage. Many of my fears are gone especially monsters at windows.
Readers, we are all brave. Many of you don’t realize that our power is always there. Please share your stories either here on my Facebook page or on my blog comment page. Tell us about the moment you knew you were brave.
My epiphany came on a winter day when I was feeling sorry for myself. I call those kind of days “fat slug days” because during the cold weather I slowly slither along in my sun deprived paleness lugging around extra pounds from eating too much comfort food. On that particular day, I focused on getting old and how the elderly diminish and wither as they sit home or in nursing homes with their TVs and blurring memories. Sorrow is small, I concluded. And then I thought a little more. So, if sadness is a state of contracting, then joy is expansive. Joy is the outdoors and music and art and dancing and belly laughs. Joy is big! And that is why I travel, to experience the elation of the big wide world.
Today I’m 71 and in my twenty-fifth day of “social isolation”. The media makes it clear, over and over again, I’m in the risk category. I just spent a year saving money for an 80 day solo road trip through the American South. It isn’t going to happen. I can’t go now.
The first few days alone were a bit exciting as I prepared my nest, getting organized and doing some problem solving. I busied myself, alternating meanful chores with watching news about the virus. I thought about topics for my blog and all the projects I would do now that I had extra time.
Day three came in with a shock as President Trump stated he thought things would be up in the air until July or August. What? I knew I could do 6 weeks because I had done that while my broken ankle was mending. But anything beyond that I just couldn’t imagine. I contracted, stayed in my pajamas, and watched the terrible news all day. I knew things were bad when I gobbled down double my daily allowance of my homemade muffins. I was sad and I felt small. Writing always makes me feel better but I shrank in doubt. My nagging inner critique suddenly appeared and it shouted me down.
The next day I went immediately to my chair and the TV but luckily there was a bit of light mixed in among all the doom and gloom. An author talked about his experience with social distancing, how he lost his retirement funds in the evaporating stock market, how he couldn’t sleep with his wife anymore because she was a health worker on constant call, and how his college age son was now back home in a state of aimless depression. Then he added more gloom. He pointed out that because of the pandemic and the tremendous effect it is having on the world economy, there is a strong probability that we may never be able to go back to the way we lived before. We have to face that because of circumstances beyond our control, we needed to prepare to cross over to something entirely new. As I listened to him, I knew what he was saying was true. I held my breath hoping he would say something positive. I waited for some sort of “it is bad but” redemption.
It came in his simple words, “We have to step up!” He stated that we will all be faced with a new way of living and will be called upon to make things better by the quality of our individual ways of adapting. We can’t just sit in front of our screens, we must act. I need to act. I have so many things I can do in my isolation. I have a house to organize and drawers and closets to weed out. I can write on my blog, paint, read, learn new skills (youtube can be my school), connect with people on facebook, research local history, etc., etc., etc.
The world situation pulls on me. It wants me to become small. I can feel it as the hours pass. I don’t want to be diminished.
I’m making lists. How crafty my brain is as it makes me forget about the possibilities that excite me.
I’m working on my immune system. ( Youtube, Dr. Eric Berg-“Coronavirus Resistance-Beyond Healthy Eating”) Dr. Berg states that stress is immunosuppressive. Like the author I previously mentioned, he advises us to stay in action, to be productive. He recommends limiting news consumption, taking walks and working constantly to create our own health.
I’m going to devise a daily schedule for myself. I fluctuate between being productive and wasting a lot of time. I knew, when I taught 7 and 8 year olds, that structure and having a plan were essential. I also knew that varying activities kept attention and engagement alive. I guess this retired teacher will be using proven educational tricks on herself.
I’m back to writing. For some reason, I have to write, it keeps me smiling. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the connection I have with those of you who read my stuff. Thank you so very much.
Joy is big, it is expansive. It has nothing to do with time and space. It is about taking action, moving forward and never becoming small. Everyday in our minds, hearts, and souls it can grow bigger and bigger. We all need to keep joy alive.