Let’s start off with a little bit of real talk. No jokes. We live in scary times. The world is full of hatred, war, abuse, malice, and strife of every kind. And things don’t seem to be getting any better. Every media outlet is trumpeting a new moral or existential crisis every day. Much like the proverbial night, the world right now is dark and full of terror. If you’re anything like me, and maybe a few of you are, it’s a struggle at times to keep from getting swept away in the tempest of fear. If you’re anything like me, you need hope.
This maelstrom of fear is nothing new to me. You may have adopted the dread, but I was born in it. Before I could speak or reason effectively I wouldn’t crawl out onto a deck for fear that my infant body might dribble through the slats. Looking back I’m sure my infant body WOULD have dribbled through the slats, but not in the way that baby me was afraid of. Logic be damned, I was afraid before I should have had that capacity.
It didn’t get any better as I entered my youth. I was terrified of thunderstorms. One stormy day I happened to see a funnel cloud outside of my family’s then-Florida home. Before that point tornados were a theoretical danger. In a single moment they became real and were instantly the ultimate power in the universe. What was that on the horizon during an erstwhile beautiful sunset? A deadly tornado. What tousled my hair while I was swinging through the jungle gym? A tornado. Oh no, my stuffed bear and bunny aren’t where I left them!
Absurd, I know. But at that young age tornados were the bad things that were going to take the good things away from me. Those bad things progressed to more and more “reasonable” concerns. Illness, disaster, human evil...I’ve feared it all at some point or another. It’s exhausting. And many good things have been taken away from me because of it. No, not tornados or illness or disaster or human evil. Just fear.
The tornado didn’t get me. My swollen lymph node didn’t kill me. Nor did a landslide, mudslide, rockslide, waterslide, or Slip’n’Slide. But they did take away good things. That’s how fear works: it establishes a false currency of “awareness” and convinces you that you’re safer if you keep all the possibilities in mind. Then while you’re frantically trading in that currency it robs you blind.
Now it would be naive and foolish of me to deny that horrible things do happen. The point of this message isn’t that you’re going to be ok no matter what. The point is that there is still so much BEAUTY in the world. Maybe a tornado will kill me one day. But today is (probably, given Washington weather norms) not that day. So today, instead of having my joy stolen by possibilities, I’m going to love my wife and friends well. I’m going to laugh at stupid jokes. I’m going to relish the sound of the rain on the roof. I’m going to look at those clouds for their majesty and defy the fear that would overwhelm me.
Fear is the great bandit. It would use a day that might never come to make me waste the days I have. It seeks to kill my passion and dim my vision. But can I add a single hour to my life by worrying about it? No. Can I add to the joy and peace I can experience and the good that I can do for my fellow man by NOT worrying? Definitely yes.
On to the hope. Look at a baby laughing that jolly belly laugh that only babies can muster. Really look at her. Then close your eyes and listen to the little breaths and hiccups of joy...and tell me there isn’t hope. Drive to a mountain range and take in the awesome expanses of rock and the oceans of swaying trees. Marvel at the way the sun shimmers off ripples on a lake like millions of diamonds...and tell me there isn’t something bigger than angry men. Hold someone you love. Feel their heartbeat...and tell me that beat doesn’t drive something with tremendous purpose and meaning.
Hope is all around us.
Whether I die today or sixty years from now, I can choose either to live in that hope and spread it to others or to let fear and those who deal in fear steal it from me. I can live turned inwards on lonely fear or look outwards at the glory of the world and try to love the people in it. It is a choice. Sometimes it’s hard to make that choice, but it’s a choice nonetheless.
To make that choice you first have to do what it takes to help yourself. Stop reading the news! Maybe it’s only a season for you, maybe it’s forever. But stop it. It’s not helping. Consider only checking on social media every now and again. I know that’s untold horror in itself, but again...it’s often a cesspool of negativity even with the best of friends. Whatever else is holding you back, just think about stepping away from it. You can claim the hope, but sometimes you’re just not strong enough to fight the full onslaught of evil head on. Only you know where you stand. These are some of the things I’ve had to do and it does help to stop drinking from the firehose of fear that is most media these days.
Let’s start viewing fear for what it is and let that righteous anger burn a little bit. Don’t let it steal your future. Definitely don’t let it steal your present.
That twister didn’t get me. I even ended up finding my stuffed critters. Two decades later I’m still using every day to find my hope, my peace, my joy, and my purpose. Hopefully I can help a few other people find theirs along the way.