Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fear post #2: Manufacturing fear

Heading down Highway 281 the other morning, I scared myself. And I think it was deliberate.

I was driving downtown to drop Colin off at theater camp and then to work, and I found myself in a glut of traffic that prompted me to put my Camry’s sweet 270-horsepower engine to the test (it doesn’t often get used) to get out of what seemed like a sticky mass of cars going too slow. They were also hovering too close.

I felt a little thrill, a rush of air in my chest and a catching of breath when I pressed the gas pedal down forcefully, sped up, and passed another car. I was driving on a curve, far above the ground, over the gentrified streets around the Pearl Brewery area below, and it felt a little like flying. To add to the thrill, it was the exact location that Jason’s highly aggressive acceleration and passing tactics scared me to the point of tears, years ago when we were first dating. I think it’s a now a permanent sense-memory.

But the scariest part wasn’t the speed, really. I wasn’t even going over the limit, or if so, not by much. It just happened that, at the moment of action, I thought, what if a tire blew and we careened over the highway with our last breath in our lungs? What if these were the last few moments of our lives?

I have similar thoughts sometimes, in other circumstances—the what-if-something-awful-happened-right-HERE moment. It’s not frequent, but they come sometimes when I’m boarding a plane or something. It’s usually when I’m with Colin and Jason, which, in an odd way, is comforting. (At least I’m having paranoid thoughts about dying together.) I used to have them before we had Dylan, and I really had them for awhile after we lost Dylan, so I used to attribute them to a post-death paranoia of losing another loved one.

Typcially, after the fear passes, I always chastise myself for thinking such scary thoughts. But today I simply wondered, why did I do that? Why do I do that? And then, almost immediately, I remembered a line from a movie I saw recently in which one of the more memorable characters delivered this great line: “There is no courage without fear.”

And it struck me. I was generating courage by manufacturing fear.

I’ve had a bit of a courage void for a long time. I just haven’t needed to be that courageous for awhile. Nothing is posing a threat to me or my family. But lately, I find that I need an infusion of courage. I’ve been starting down some new paths and feeling anxiety over them. I started selling a jewelry line to try something new, push myself to think differently and potentially generate some extra income. I’m applying for new jobs and looking at ways of making a living that offer new challenges, maximize my time (i.e., get the best pay for the hours I can devote), and still allow me the flexibility I need to care for my family the way I want to. The job- or contract-seeking process brings with it the typical worries that my skills are not good enough or out of date. Or that I’m not capable of what I used to be before I stopped working full time to take care of Dylan. Or that I won’t make enough money. Or that I will make enough money but at the expense of the flexibility I’m trying to preserve. I have no idea where I’ll land with all these things.

So, I live nowadays with this low-level, persistent, niggling anxiety, which translates to a kind of fear. But it’s not intense enough to trigger a significant courage response. For that, you need real fear, like the nanosecond of fright caused by the idea of falling to your death with your son in the backseat of your car. All the Facebook memes, inspirational quotes, and YouTube videos of Jim Carrey’s commencement speech have not been enough to rev up my courage engine sufficiently. And I don’t have a pithy, sentimental or gratitude-laden resolution to this problem to make for a lovely ending to this post. All I’ll say is that I’m not asking for the London Blitzkrieg of courage-generators--just something with a little more oomph.

More on the Blitz in my next post, though…

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fear post #1: The union that almost wasn't

began drafting this post around our 16th wedding anniversary in May. Well, now it's Father's Day; stress, regular life and vacation sort of sapped my creativity and time for awhile. (Or maybe, starting the fear series was more daunting than I had thought it would be.) Either way, this post is dedicated to my husband, a man who never shows fear, and the courage he had to give me another chance. 

There is one singular conversation in Jason's and my entire history, which began in August 1995, that never had any kind of resolution. And it almost broke us up before we were even that serious about each other.

Neither of us actually recall the exact details. Or, perhaps, Jason (who has quite a good memory for intense conversations) may just say he doesn't remember because he doesn't want to have to recount the vivid, possibly grotesque memory of the ball of insecurity that I may have turned into during the talk, which I think may be pretty accurate. That's perfectly fine on my end; I truly do not recount the details. The specifics of that interchange are extremely vague and probably buried deep in my psyche.  I just remember the tenor of the conversation turning incredibly uncomfortable. I remember being indignant and teary-eyed. I remember him acting blindsided, also indignant, and increasingly angry. I remember slamming the door of his car at the end of the evening thinking, "Well, that's done." He actually did tell me that my last (sarcastically delivered) word that night, as I exited the car, was, "Later!" And his was, "Later!"

I do know that I was the one who initiated the conversation, a pretty heavy topic, on a casual date that I think he expected to remain light and casual. Or perhaps he thought he'd get lucky, and my question was a total buzzkill.

The question that started it all was, What is your biggest fear?

To provide some context, we were 24. I had graduated college a couple years earlier, had only been in San Antonio a few months, and I was waiting tables. I was "in between" the types of jobs that my parents could brag about to their friends. I thought I had my proverbial "shit" together (in the parlance of our times) and rationalized that I was just taking the kind of spring break (albeit extended) that I never really got in college.  Jason was going to school, chipping away slowly at classes, and trying to figure out what he wanted to do. And for whatever reason, the very subject of fear started this weird, tense fight between us.

I suspect we were both just giant balls of fear trying to figure ourselves out, honestly, and also trying to figure out if/how other one would fit in the picture. Perhaps it was that fact, along with a true act of God, that kept us from writing each other off.  Because I left that car thinking he was a complete jerk. I suspect he drove away thinking I was crazy. And in my trying to have that conversation, and in his acting like it was completely stupid, we were both right, at least for that night.

The first truly adult relationship move I ever made in my life was to see Jason again. Something told me not to write him off. It was possibly my first courageous act, my first real risk, to treat the relationship as more than a dalliance that didn't pan out. He was courageous in continuing to see me, too--I guess something told him not to write me off, for which I'm grateful every day. For those of you who know our history, it's even more poignant now to think that we stepped forward with each other back then, hand in hand, when we didn't yet have any guarantee how strong those hands were alone or together. We have since faced some fair examples of having to nudge fear aside and do what had to be done. In
 those situations, my risk reaped amazing rewards, as Jason's courage has always been what led us through. I am proud of and grateful for the rock of a man with which I built this life.

Going back to the days after that night, I wish I could remember how it felt, to go forward despite wanting to run away and play it safe. If I could remember that feeling distinctly enough, it could provide much-needed validation for other risks I face. A gut-compass to tell me I was going in the right direction when I think about doing "the thing you would do if you knew you wouldn't fail."

But it doesn't work like that, does it? That's where faith comes in. Whether you call it God, or your higher power, or the Universe, or just your own intuition and self-reliance, you have to clear the noise, listen, 
grind through the fear, and move forward to that risk that is calling you to act on it. And grab a strong hand to hold when you do.

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Mothers Day for the living

On the Friday before Mothers Day, my eight-year-old son, Colin, told me that he was going to serve me breakfast in bed.  "Do we have a tray?" he asked.  We do, and I showed him where it was.  He had also made a card for me, which he refused to show me until Sunday.

"What will you make me?" I asked.  "Pancakes and bacon,"  he answered--which is no surprise, as that is his favorite breakfast meal.

I told him that he'd better involve Dad in these plans, and I quietly added bacon to my grocery list.

I don't think I've ever been so happy for Mothers Day to come.  To see my son so engaged in planning, so excited to do this for me, was an utter joy.  I thought that the days leading up to Sunday might be even more delightful than the actual day.

On Saturday, Jason took my son out shopping.  The two of them plotted.

On Sunday morning, I laid in bed watching TV shows on Netflix while the Two Male Speeces buzzed about the kitchen.  I snuck out to get some coffee and was reprimanded.  I promised them I wouldn't come in again, and I said if they just had a bell I could ring when I needed a refill, that would be great.

A few minutes later, Jason and Colin stealthily approached the bedroom door.  I say stealthily because they really did take me by surprise. They were so quiet in their approach, I did not have a chance to video Colin ever-so-carefully carrying the tray of food, juice and syrup into the bedroom.  His face was so serious, stuck in a fretful frown of concentration, he was so afraid to drop it.  As he turned the corner of the foot of our bed, I started crying like I never thought I would at the sight of bacon strips. Here were my two loves--one teaching the other the art of pampering the woman in your life, one eagerly wanting to do a good job at it.

But there was even more.  My son spent his own allowance money buying me shower gel and lotion.  He picked out the scent himself--a scent that he said "smelled like mom."  When I stopped crying and hugged him, I said "I am the luckiest mom in the world because of you."  And he smiled and said,"I'm a great kid."  And I laughed and told him yes.

Later that morning we went to church.  For the first time since Mothers Day 2011, the pastor gave a sermon that did not talk about mothers' dealing with tragedy or crisis.  Oh, it still made me cry, but that's because he showed the video of NBA MVP Kevin Durant paying tribute to his mother.

It was a perfect day. Perfect, as in, with no asterisk.  I can't explain why. It was a day of joy, relaxation, laughter, no cooking (thanks to my lovely mother-in-law for cooking dinner), touching base with my wonderful mom on the phone, and being overwhelmed and thankful for the father and husband that Jason is.  Dylan entered my mind a couple of times throughout the day, and I smiled at the thought of his sweet face and vowed to sit down and watch some videos of him later.  I had the peace that passes all understanding, but also one that arises from a deep knowing that Dylan is in a continual state of joyfulness. In our house this year, the day was for appreciating and being appreciated by the ones I actively nurture--mother, the verb, more so than the noun.  I will be ambushed by sadness, feel cheated, and cry about Dylan another day.  That fire will never fully be extinguished.  But Sunday was for Colin to show me he loved me, for Jason to show him how to love, and for me to relish them both.

I know so many mothers who, most likely, did not have this peace on Sunday.  I know exactly what that feels like, even if our individual stories vary.  I don't pretend to know why we were chosen to lose our kids.  My uneasiness comes when I think of fellow mothers who lost their children too early, who may read this and wail wildly in their anger and sadness.  I only have my prayers to offer that they, too, feel peace someday, and that they are held close and celebrated by their loved ones for all they do.