I’m not usually afraid of anything. Really. There are things I don’t like- the dentist’s drill, high places, the idea that there might be a shark swimming around me when I’m in the ocean- but generally, I don’t get scared.
I’m not sure when this happened, because as a child there were things that made me shake in my boots. I hated scary movies and was fearful of snarling dogs (but that’s a story that involves a trained police dog and a scar to be told at another time.) Sister Lucien’s death grip on my arm made me wish I had never been born. My mother’s steely glare when I talked back froze me in my steps. And I was afraid of Donald Routhier, a bully who was four years older and at least four feet taller than I and would block my path with his bicycle. My older sister gave him a bloody nose once and that was the last I heard of him. For all I know, he may have turned out to be the kindest man around, but when I was eight years old, he turned my blood to ice.
When I went to college, I became an RA, and with my position came a new-found bravado. I was a skinny twenty-year-old with no training in self-defense, but I had confidence, and was fearless when it came to breaking up drunken brawls and kicking misbehaving townies out of the dorms.
Once I had children, I realized that fear is not a word for mothers. A mother cannot be afraid of thunderstorms, or bad dreams, or monsters under the bed. She has to be confident during the administration of flu shots, casts and sutures. She cannot show fear when putting her first grader on the bus, or watching her daughter aim for the final free shot before the buzzer, or listen to her seventh grader strain to hit the first note of his solo in the Christmas concert. And although the tears are hot against her eyes, she cannot let worry show as she waves goodbye to a child on a plane to faraway places.
I’ve had lots of practice being fearless. I’m not afraid to walk alone at night, or stay by myself, or drive across the country. I’m the person at work who confronts angry customers. I even went into a smoke house at the Massachusetts Fire Academy when I was older than most of the instructors. Well, okay, it was very controlled danger, but still, there was fire and smoke and high places, so it counts.
Tomorrow is different. I’ve had a nervous knot in my stomach for days. It’s not that I’ve never had surgery before. Indeed I’ve had several. But this time it’s a little more invasive, with a lot longer recovery time. Maybe it’s because the surgeon is young enough to be my son. Or that I’m old enough to be his mother. I’ve planned this well. My apartment is spotless. My job is covered. I have books to read and food in the freezer. Friends and relatives have wished me well. I should be all set.
But I’m filled with fear. I’m afraid of post-operative pain and sharing a hospital room and of something going wrong. Panic rises in my throat and I want to run away. I want to be home in the house at 30 Green Street where everything is made all better by the sound of laughter at the dinner table. I want to feel my mother’s cool hand on my forehead and I want to hear the jingle of the change in my father’s pocket. I want to have Greta nuzzle her collie shepherd nose under my arm so I can get her a treat. I want to be snuggled in an easy chair, nursing one of my newborn children. I want to be young and strong and fearless again. I want to be calm. I want to have peace.
I’ve wrestled with this for a few days and then this afternoon it dawned on me. Fear and peace do not come from people and situations. The scenarios that scared me as a child still exist. There are still bullies and snarling dogs and angry people. The reality of tomorrow is that I will be put to sleep and surgery will be performed. But the fear that I feel is not from the surgery itself. It comes from within me. The surgery is not within my control. My fear is.
And peace? It comes from within as well. Peace did not come from the house at 30 Green Street. It did not come from my parents or a sleeping baby. The peace I seek is from God himself. Inside me. It was granted to me long ago, and it too is in my control. I can either let it flow, or I can squelch it with the “what ifs.”
So today, I choose to count on the God who has always been there to lead me. If I’m right, the kid surgeon who looks like he should still be in high school will clean up my spine enough so I can walk the beach next summer. If not, then God will lead me through the next adventure. In any case, I choose peace.