“But I know that in the desert, you stay out of the blistering sun. You go out during the early morning and in the cool of evening. You seek oasis, shade, safety, refreshment. There’s every hue of green, and of gold. But I’m only pretending to think its beautiful. I find it terribly scary. I walk on eggshells, I hold my breath.”
— Anne Lamott
A month or so ago, I had a rare apocalyptic dream. Concrete collapsed, throats released screams, legs ran ragged and desperate. I folded myself into a small, lucky cave on the side of a rock face, chasing my lost breath.
I spoke with a level voice to the few hiding there: “I understand this is horrible, everything feels awful, TOO AWFUL – I think there is a chance this is a dream. So this is what I we should do: let’s lay down. If it’s a dream, we will wake up and everything will be okay. It will be over”
I then proceeded to stretch out on the cool cave floor
— and everything went dark.
I had outsmarted the nightmare.
There are days lately where that cool cave floor flashes to mind, and I wish for it in its simplicity: an effortless escape from this eerie now.
I have never been the brave one.
I am afraid of the usual and horrifying things: bone cancer, total isolation, a stranger’s shadow, a toddler slipping through a pool gate, the crush of metal — but more than that, I am afraid of my own humanity, that I won’t know how to stand in a situation of trauma or panic, that I’ll collapse against the force of it.
I hate, hate, hate feeling out of control.
I don’t seek the thrill of the climb or the reprieve of the rapid descent. Rather, I take comfort in the warm familiar: in the same breakfast every Sunday, gravely walks in the gold wash of dusk, rinsing the shampoo from his maple hair.
The cerebral part of me understands that we cannot continue on infinitely, that eventually we are gone — that we are dust, and we will be dust. But there is larger, soul sized part of me that believes that I can be good enough, smart enough, strong enough to avoid such a horror.
Another small problem I have with this commotion of death is that I love life — my specific, actual, simple, wonderful life. It’s impossible to imagine not having my fingers snarled in her ash waves, not having his plush legs wrapped around my waist, not watching a single dimple crease that freckled cheek.
I want more, more of it all — I want it dripping down my neck, wiped away with the back of my hand. There is suddenly not enough air to suck into my lungs, enough words for a page, enough hours in a day.
A few months ago, I worked my doubting mind up and down our long driveway like a sore, weak muscle. I was preparing for my first transatlantic flight — knowing the limits of my mental capacity for this moment. Picturing myself being trapped, out of control, for hours on end? No, no, no. I won’t survive.
I do not like flying for the same reason I don’t love worldwide pandemics: I would rather believe that I have some sort of control over my life, over my death, over my health and the health of those I love — that that by my own strength, practicality and ferocious good will, I will be able to protect my family, protect myself.
I played the same several songs on loop, the same words echoing: I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.
Did I believe those words? And if I did, why did I feel such visceral, bodily fear? Why wasn’t my faith strong enough?
It felt like I carried the parachute of faith on my back all these years, but I had truly never yanked the strings out of desperation. I knew God had walked with me through many thin places: my own unlikely birth, a third world hospital, surgery waiting rooms, chemo infusion centers, hollow promises, the sound of my gnarly voice scolding the kids as it plays back in my mind each night.
I knew he was good–I had seen it, I knew he was present–I had felt it, but somehow that didn’t seem enough for the fear in my brain and body.
Yet once I was brave enough to gently tug on those unstained strings of my faith, I saw what was standing it my way: it was me.
It had always been me.
My inadequacies. My doubts. Not the lack of His goodness, but my own limited capacity to accept that exact and overwhelming goodness despite my deficiencies.
I am not free because I have worked hard enough; I am free because He has called me free. I am not good because I have tried hard enough, I am good because he has named me His.
It sounds flimsy, until you hold the weight of it in your heart, until you feel it settle around your pounding, dusty feet.
I realize now that I am not walking any more, my feet are planted, my arms are open — this rocky road has become a sudden cathedral.
He has met me here.
And months later, I am here again: a heart awash with the sight of masked neighbors, bare shelves, exhausted workers, horrific headlines, teachers praying big prayers with small six years olds through a screen.
My scrawny grief feeling insufficient in a world heaving with the sobs of it.
I keep wanting to hear a verdict: give me something to hold onto, to earn, to wrap my chapped and bleeding knuckles around, hand me a checklist, a timeline, a guarantee.
He only, stubbornly, reminds me instead: you are wholly loved.
Before this, during this, after this.
And for tonight, that place of peace is cool enough to lay down and rest.