Last night at dinner, my son asked if we had ever considered the possibility that each of us was the only person who had ever existed and that everyone and everything else in history was a figment of our imagination. My daughter replied that she hadn’t had that particular thought, but had pondered whether we were “dreaming” our lives, controlling our own cast of characters and experiences on some level. My kids were raised with a healthy dose of science fiction, so these are fairly typical dinner table conversations, and it was nice to hear their existential banter once again after being apart for a while. I was pretty sure they were both entertaining old movie plots as potential reality, but I do love how their minds work.
I thought I was done with deep thinking as I brought my daughter to camp very early the next morning, but I was wrong. At the last moment after drop-off, I decided to stay on the Catholic college campus instead of heading right home. It was going to be a really hot day, and I thought an early morning walk was an opportunity too good to miss. I ended up bringing my rosary beads to a prayer grotto on campus, and had a conversation with Mary, who let me know in her motherly way that I might as well go to eight o’clock Mass while I was there. So, up the hill I trudged to the Chapel, my pre-shower self not yet presentable to anyone but Jesus. Thankfully, no one seemed to mind. As it turns out, the message of the day was about fear, how it restricts us and how we can choose to avoid it to live life with faith and trust. It was as though this sweet priest was presenting me with a bigger, brighter world, filled with possibilities that I could not presently imagine, if I would just let go of fear. It sounded like one of my kids’ theories on alternate realities, but this one was true. I’ve experienced it for very short periods of my life, and I know that’s the world I want to live in full-time. Life can be tremendously different, energizing, and freeing when we cling to hope instead of worry. Why then, do I choose so much of the time to live in this small box of gripping fear, and why do I let it govern so many of my thoughts and actions? As we were leaving, the sweet priest told us to ‘celebrate the day’, and I thought, yes, that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what brings our drab world into full, beautiful color, and it’s really about a choice, or series of choices, that we alone can make.
On my way out of Mass, a very wise friend and I were talking about the homily and the illusion we have of control over our lives. He said, “If we knew how little control we really have, it would terrify us.” After all, things that we count on as solid can change and shift beneath our feet, and we’ve all experienced that reality with the unexpected illness of loved ones, lost jobs, tragic accidents . So why do we think that with our fear and worry we can restrain the world? And he proved it to me. “Put your hand on that parked car,” he said. “Now move it.” When I tried and failed, he asked, “Okay, so the car is not moving, but what is happening to you?” By then, I had a tightness and stress that was travelling up my arm into my shoulder, and he told me that is what happens when we try to move immoveable objects, like people, for instance. That is the gripping, paralyzing hold that worry can have, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
My challenge today (and for the rest of my life probably), is to accept this truth, internalize it, and make the million choices a day I have to let hope and trust win over fear. They say it’s the most repeated phrase in the Bible, and it’s certainly the one I needed to hear: Fear Not.