How do you cope with fear? The world can be a scary place, and if we don’t get a grip, we can live in anxiety. I recently had an occasion to think about how people handle fear. It reminded me of my children’s fear after the Columbine shootings (two high school boys murdered 13 people and injured another 21 at school in 1999) . That may be a long time ago for most people, but because it took place in a neighboring suburb here, it hit close to home. For many parents and children afterwards, going to school felt like a major risk. My oldest daughter asked how she could return to school when it wasn’t safe. Her fear consumed her. Part of me wondered why she’d previously felt safe at school because For many years, I’d seen school as a dangerous place. I’d been bullied at school in my younger years and went to law school at night in an old neighborhood where there were frequent muggings and a murder on campus the year before I started. The world has always looked scary, so I had to learn to cope with fear; I couldn’t make it go away.
And yet, we carry on. What did I tell my daughter, returning to middle school after Columbine? I told her that any of us could die at any time. We never know when the bell tolls for us. So before we part, before we hang up the phone or before she leaves home, we always say, “I love you.” That way, if something happens, there is no question that the departing one left with our love and the one left behind felt loved. We must continue our lives, even when the world is not perfectly safe. She nodded and hefted her backpack. She got it. Love is our protective shield. It can’t protect us from everything, but it certainly helps. Bottom line, the world is dangerous. We can try to control and try to fix, but the danger remains. .
Then September 11, 2001, came along, and all America felt unsafe. I had a heart-to-heart talk with my kids. There were people in the second tower who tried to leave after the first tower was hit, until their bosses assured them the crisis was over and they were fine – get back to work.
We talked about the people who didn’t listen to their bosses, gave them the virtual middle finger, and left. What do we call those people? Survivors. They listened to their heart and/or their intuition and they left anyway. I told my children that if they ever feel unsafe at school or anywhere else, to listen to that feeling and find a way to become safe – including just leaving campus. “What if we get in trouble at school?” they asked. “So what? I told them. “You won’t get in trouble at home, and I’ll back you up.”
I can’t count the number of times in my younger years that I ignored my intuition to my detriment. I don’t do that now; I listen to my inner barometer. There were events I’ve canceled, routes I’ve changed, appointments I moved. And in some cases, I’ve been vindicated afterwards. In the other cases, who knows? It’s hard to say what didn’t happen, but my change from a sense of danger to one of safety is one I don’t overlook. I made a good call whether I was vindicated or not.
My oldest daughter is now taking a trip now that seems pretty normal for an adult. There could be danger, there may not. I’m not telling her what to do. She’s pretty intuitive, and if she isn’t safe, she’ll change her course. She’s had all those years since Columbine to contemplate a scary world and she still gets out from under the covers every day. She has changed her plans in the past, and in retrospect it was a good idea. She’s hooked into the cosmic computer, and I trust that implicitly. She’ll be fine.
I’m proud of her, and I’m not going to doubt her. If I did, that lack of confidence in her decision-making could be devastating. Besides, my intuition says her plan is sound. She’ll make it home just fine. I’ve been using that tool longer than her, and with family members traveling constantly, I depend upon it daily. When I don’t have that safe-trip feeling, they alter their plans. After all, I want them to feel free from fear, but let’s not be stupid! When the feeling isn’t good, I explain and ask the person to change their plans. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, changing is their choice, just in case they get a different feeling.
How are you coping with living in a scary world?