When it comes to the landscape of my mind, worries grow like weeds. Ridding my thoughts of fear, doubt, or anxiety does not come easily for me. I’ve always had a tendency to entertain worry. It was my first imaginary … Continue reading →
Happiness takes courage. You have to be brave to surrender to joy. When every molecule of your being has been mourning—when loss has permeated and ruptured your heart—you must be dauntless to pursue mirth. You must find great multitudes of … Continue reading →
I envy those who can embrace seasons of pleasure without worrying about an imminent pain or disaster. I am all too often waiting for the other shoe to drop—even when the first one hasn’t fallen yet. It’s as though I … Continue reading →
I have a mote of faith. It really is quite small. It appears tiny beside my doubts. But it has withstood great trials and storms. Sometimes I worry my faith will slip through my fingers. Or blow away in the … Continue reading →
I recently spent a week vacationing in Maine. For the most part, it was extremely restorative and relaxing. I slept as late as I wanted to. I made tremendous progress in my book of crossword puzzles. I took deep breaths … Continue reading →
I’ve always envied those people who don’t overthink life—who just live without paralyzing themselves in indecision or getting mired in thoughts, estimates, contingency plans, and calculations. It’s not that I hate being a thinker—someone often fully consumed within my own mind. It’s just that sometimes I worry that I worry too much. I like being a thinker; I just don’t want to be an over-thinker—wasting time with worry and hypotheticals instead of experiencing and enjoying life.
There is value in prudence. It isn’t wrong to look before you leap. Overthink the surgery—planning for every contingency. But just pick an outfit, entrée, or flavor of ice cream. Don’t spend too much time thinking about trivial things.
There’s a balance to be reached. You don’t need to scrutinize every step, but you also can’t walk though life with your eyes closed and expect to not bump into anything (or get hit). You don’t need a detailed analysis of the region’s meteorological data to fetch the mail. But it might be wise to inspect that car/house/significant other before you commit to it/her/him.
It’s the small things that I worry about worrying too much about. Sometimes I spend so much time deciding what to order at a restaurant, you’d think I was considering a declaration of war. Even when the consequences are inconsequential (such as what I’ll eat for one meal on one particular day), I overthink things. And then even after I’ve made up my mind, I second-guess myself. It’s very frustrating.
Few decisions are permanent, and yet I ponder them as if the outcome will become my lifelong prison: What should I say? What should I pack? Should I wear a sweater, jacket, or coat? Should I have a beef or turkey burger? Bacon—yes or no?
My indecision often stems from the fear of making the wrong choice. It’s as if the question is part of a test on which I’m being graded and the results will be on my permanent record. Oftentimes the worst-case scenario is merely some temporary discomfort, but I agonize over the decision as though I’m making a lifelong commitment.
Sometimes reckless is the right posture. Sometimes impulsive behavior leads to pleasures that are easy to miss. I don’t want to be irresponsible, but I don’t want to think so much that I forget to live.
I have always felt different: I’m the shortest of my siblings. I was the only black kid in my class for six out of thirteen years. I was one of the few (if not the only) kid on my block leaving my neighborhood to attend a private school. I have often been (or felt like) the only Christian in the room. I have felt different because of how I look (veiny arms for a woman, too much weight and too many curves when I wanted to be a ballerina, my overbite). But mostly I feel different because of the thoughts that enter (uninvited) into my brain and the fears (though unwelcome) that I begrudgingly entertain.
Every now and again I will let an ordinary occurrence engender a dark daydream. For example, just the other evening I was walking down the street as two men smoking cigarettes were walking towards me. And for some reason I wondered the following: What if one of them decided to put his cigarette out in my eye? I don’t know where that thought came from or why, but there it was as they passed me by. Thankfully, worries like that are usually short-lived, but I wish they didn’t exist.
I’m afraid of so many things. I fear the call at an odd hour is bad news. I’m afraid of the dark—black hole dark—the kind of deep dark that doesn’t even permit shadows. I’m afraid of dying (especially painfully or violently), but sometimes I find the concept of living forever almost equally terrifying. I’m afraid of flying, falling, and crashing. I’m afraid of not trying, of failing, and of succeeding. I’m afraid of getting hurt—emotionally and physically. I’m afraid of never living up to my mother’s legacy—or of living a life that leaves no good mark—or one devoid of meaning. And given the fraught final years of my grandparents’ lives, I’m afraid of what my old age will look like. Mostly I’m afraid I’m getting it all wrong, that I’m wasting time, and that (given the missteps I’ve made) there’s no good way forward—no way to recover.
If I could set aside any aspect of my humanity, I would disown my fear. That emotion drives me in directions I do not want to go. It keeps me inactive or slows my progress to a crawl. It renders me distracted—preoccupied with potential pitfalls and worst-case scenarios (however unlikely or unrealistic).
Fear of what awaits prevents me from more fully engaging in whatever (or whoever) is before me in the present. Fear of embarrassment or failure stops me from taking more chances. Fear of being misunderstood, dismissed, or disliked makes me hold my tongue. I withdraw from certain experiences for fear of getting hurt.
When I don’t act or take a risk, it is usually because of fear disguised as wisdom. When I don’t dream—when I hang back from an opportunity, it is because of fear clothed to look like being realistic or practicality.
Fear stills my hands, binds my feet, and shackles my tongue. Fear turns my head away form my hopes and dreams and focuses my eyes on the worst-case scenario. It nails my aspirations to the ground. Fear persuades me to expect the worst even in the midst of the best. Fear denies me peace and sound sleep—it won’t allow for a moment of rest.
I have spent my lifetime learning how to undermine my fears—to shine a light on them until they disappear. At first they look mountainous, but in the face of faith and logic, few of them stand up.
All too often my fear is a liar. It pretends to be prudence. It acts insurmountable. But most of what I fear can’t or won’t ever be real. There is little foundation or substance to much of what scares me. Most of my fears are more rooted in dysfunctional imagination than reality.
Every time I set aside a fear I become a bit more free. Without fear, I enjoy things more deeply. Without fear I can more fully inhabit the present. Without fear, I don’t have to worry about what others think, and so I speak and act with more honesty.
Fear will come from time to time; it is a natural emotion. What I’m trying to avoid is giving fear too much control. There are a few fears that might save my life, but surrendering too much to fear will shrink my living down to an unhealthy size.
Sometimes I feel as though fear and worry have entered my head like a pair of spiders and spun a web of anxiety that catches hold of my other emotions––my hopes and dreams as well––keeping them all stuck until they’re sucked lifeless. Fear is not always the primary emotion. Quite often it is mixed with other hues and colors––the grayed blue of sadness or a fiery shade of anger.
My fear is inversely proportional to my faith. If I believed more (in God, others, myself) I’m sure I’d worry less. Too often I am so focused on some frightful, imagined future, that I am blind to the benefits and blessings of the present. I worry about today’s decisions because I am trying to protect myself (or someone else) from some future consequence that isn’t guaranteed to occur. I’ve replaced the imaginary friends of my youth with many imaginary outcomes (and they’re almost always ominous).
I let fear and worry get in my way a lot. They hold me back from making decisions and changes or taking risks. What I fear is often hypothetical (and unlikely), but even knowing that, I still see it as an obstacle. And if I don’t overcome it, trepidation keeps me immobilized when I need to start making progress.
What do I fear? I fear loosing more of my loved ones. I’m afraid that I’m too insecure and too over-confident. I fear that my right leg will always be smaller than my left. I fear that I will fail in achieving my dreams—and that my failure will not be the result of rejection or a lack of ability, but of defeating myself with weapons of self destruction—that I’ll talk myself out of trying. I fear that I don’t know the way. And while I suspect God is calling me to focus on and follow the sound of his voice, I fear I’m not really listening. I’m afraid that I’m afraid of too many things, and that my fears get in the way of my living.
Sometimes I’m afraid of failure; sometimes I’m afraid of success. I’m as fearful of being utterly miserable as I am of being blissfully content. When things are going well for me, I worry that the good will end abruptly or that it will elicit jealousy from others. When things are bleak, frustrating, or disappointing, I fear that it will always be like this.
I’m afraid of the dark—the type of dark that’s so complete is leaves no room for shadows. I’m afraid that I, myself, am the biggest obstacle standing in my way. I’m afraid that I don’t really know what I want—or that what I want is bad or wrong for me. I fear that fear will rob me of my other feelings.
I’m afraid of rats, roaches, skydiving, being in a serious car accident, going to outer space, submerging in a submarine, putting my head in an MRI machine, and loosing my car keys. (I don’t have a spare set.) I’m also afraid of being robbed, witnessing a shooting, and being convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. I used to be afraid of falling into a pit of quicksand, but I’ve come to realize the unlikelihood of that.
My two cats (Carrie and Mr. Big) have taught me a few things about fear and overcoming it. When I first brought them home, I had to mediate a peaceful encounter between them and Joey, my sister’s dog. My initial instinct was to hold the kittens and let Joey approach them. I tried with Mr. Big first.
My method failed, and I soon figured out why. I knew the kittens would be safe in my arms and that Joey wasn’t a threat to them, but they didn’t. I then realized it made more sense to hold Joey back because he already knew and trusted me. So for attempt number two, I wrapped my arms around Joey to keep him stationary, and let the kittens comes as close as they dared to. Within minutes, Carrie and Joey were fast friends. Mr. Big, somewhat scarred (emotionally) from my failed experiment, eventually came around as well.
This is what I learned from that: Always give the more fearful thing the freedom of flight. When introducing two non-equals (e.g., a dog and a kitten), hold the “beast” back. Sometimes I wonder if God does this for us. I suspect that when we find ourselves up against a brutish reality and we feel vulnerable and exposed—as though God’s hands aren’t under or around us, it is because He is holding back our enemy and giving us the freedom to move. We can flee, we see that God has bound our adversary, or we can approach and realize the monster we once feared is benign or just a big, friendly puppy.
I have to regularly remind myself that God is much bigger than any of my fears or other mental demons. Nothing is beyond His reach or His power. The worst I can imagine isn’t more than God can handle—and it’s also very unlikely to happen.
I don’t want to live in fear. On the surface it looks like I’m being practical, but sometimes “being practical” is just a shiny façade covering over fear and dulled faith. I don’t want to remain boxed in by the weakness of my belief or shackled by my limited view of what’s possible. I don’t want fear to be the part of my imagination that I have the easiest time believing or that gets the most use.
I don’t know what is out there behind each of my fears and worries or beyond the limits of what I can see and dream, but I have a feeling that only by leaping will I acquire the faith the leap.
I waste a lot of time worrying. I tend to expect the worst—even though “the worst” has only happened twice in my life, and once it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. Sometimes my fear makes me a passenger rather than a participant; I let life carry me along, rather than acting upon it.
Sometimes my fear feels like my conjoined twin. It is so present—I am so deeply and inextricably aware of it—that fear feels like a part of my biology. It is a nefarious parasite burrowing in, draining me of my vitality, depleting the depth of my dreams, and punching holes into my hopes.
Sometimes my fear is a dense fog. I can’t see where I’m going, so I stop moving entirely. I don’t want to fail or fall, so I don’t proceed. Fear obscures everything before me. It blots out the sun and makes my world very dark indeed.
At my core, I’m a pessimistic and fearful person. It is easy for my imagination to spin its wheels exploring hypothetical travesties and worst-case scenarios. My thoughts often become a litany of worries—ranging from trivial to severe: What if I’m late for my flight/game/date/appointment? Will I find fulfilling work that pays? Will I loose control of my body (or have I already)? Will we have enough financially to live a comfortable life? How will I react when I start to go gray—no, really? What if my father looses the house? What if my grandmother is suffering more than she lets on? What if I fail at this? What if I succeed? What if I get hurt? What if I’m attacked or robbed? What if I never again see this or that loved one? What if I don’t like the food I just ordered? What if I’m not worrying about things I should be worrying about? What if I’m worrying too much?
Sometimes my fear is like a garment I can’t take off. It fuses to my skin. It is too heavy at all seasons, but I can’t remove it from my body. It envelops me completely. I know it should just be a matter of working a zipper or a few buttons, peeling it away, or stepping out of it, but I leave it on.
I easily muster hope for other people: I’m confident he’ll recover. I’m sure she’ll find a job. I don’t doubt for a minute that their marriage will work out. But when it comes to myself, I too often turn to the negative. I treat fear like it can protect me. It’s never proven itself to be a reliable guardian, yet too often I find myself holding fear’s hand before crossing the street.
Fear is a poison I take too often—swallowing it whole like a daily vitamin. It pretends to be the antidote, but it is the venom. It ravages my system. It courses through my blood all prickly. It launches a hostile takeover of my body—implanting itself in every vulnerable place.
I want hope to come more easily. It makes for a much better dwelling. I want to dismiss worry like an unfounded rumor. I want to keep my fears as small as possible. I would like to be so full of optimism that fear can find no foothold. So much of fear is hypothetical. It dissipates upon closer examination. Fear is so often an illusion—an imaginary foe. I want to release myself from fear’s hold on me. And if I’m holding onto fear, I want to let it go.
My internal clock is broken. It keeps prematurely sounding the alarm. I would accept waking up at five or six, but it wakes me up at four or three—today, at two in the morning.
Anxiety inflames my chest like heartburn. I’m nervous like a novice about to perform. I am hyper-conscious of each concern and every worry, of each doubt, each unanswered question, each task that’s still left to be done.
I have been here before. I couldn’t sleep the whole week before my wedding. After the fire in our apartment, I had insomnia for half a month. And now, with this funeral that I’m co-planning, wakefulness is upon me nightly once more.
My thoughts and emotions are too over-stimulated. I can’t shut down. There’s nothing I can do at two or four in the morning, but that’s something my brain doesn’t seem to know. My mind is racing towards an unreachable destination. Perpetually planning, I keep adding to my list of things to do.
There’s a eulogy to write, lawyers and government entities to engage, bills to pay, decisions to make, all added to so many unanswered questions, and the biggest—ever-present and looming like Jack’s giant—whom can I trust?
All this and I’m still mourning—tears at the ready, waiting for orders to fall. All this and there’s a weight I’m carrying—the weight of a loved one who’s passed on.
I’ve been here before. In three days I will read my third eulogy: mother, paternal grandfather, and soon maternal grandma. The third eulogy I’ve read since September of 2011, but the first I’m writing on my own.
And where do I begin? How do I, a writer, write this? There’s so much I don’t know. Who were my grandmother’s parents? Where did she go to school? What was her year of emigration? I don’t have a clue. I can talk about what I do remember, the Saturday nights watching Golden Girls, Amen!, Nurses, and 227. The Rice Krispies treats she’d make for me each week. The Scrabble games at which she’d cheat (usually, though not always—case in point, qi and jo are in the dictionary).
I remember her making porridge from scratch in the mornings. How tenderly she braided my hair. I remember how good her cooking was—before she stopped using salt after her high blood pressure scare. I remember her taking piano lessons later in life than most—butchering the simplest songs. At the time, I just wanted her to find the right notes and end my auditory suffering, but now I respect her effort.
She was patient and humble, well travelled, and empty of vanity. Her teeth may have been false, but her smile was genuine. She had the softest hands—well worn with age. And even though I was a bed-wetter, she never refused to sleep with me. And therein lays what I’ll remember most of all—reliably wrapped around us like a benevolent blanket, her affection—her sweet, soft love.
But right now, my internal clock is rebelling against me. I’m sleepy when I need to be awake, and awake when I desperately want to sleep. I’m under rested and over-thinking. But I’m too tired to write anything meaningful, too frazzled of mind to undertake the eulogy.
I’ve been here before. As are most things, this, too, I know is temporary. I will sleep soundly again. Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, the sun will rise to find me waiting for it to get up in the morning.