What keeps you up at night?
What paralyzes you into the inaction?
What makes you want to run away?
Or maybe you are a fighter, and with the simplest of triggers you have your hands up and are ready for battle.
We all react differently.
All of the members of my family put this on display in one of our most memorable moments together.
Last year, we took our summer family vacation to Asheville, North Carolina. We had a wonderful time exploring a new area, new city, and I tortured my family by scheduling a few things that they didn't enjoy, one of them being a traditional Appalachian bluegrass concert. I enjoyed it anyway, and we bought ice cream cones to keep the whining at bay.
The other thing they weren't so delighted about was hiking. I love hiking, and the only way that I can get them to hike without complaining the whole time is with the promise of a waterfall at some point on the hike.
We headed out on the several mile hike in the valley of several mountains. The day was hot and humid, and we wore our swimsuits so we could enjoy the cool water of the large waterfall we were journeying to. I brought my new hiking polls that Adam bought me. The path was crowded that day, but we had a nice time on the way to our destination. After 30 minutes or so, we reached High Falls. Grace, our family daredevil, took off ahead of us while I yelled out for the millionth time to be careful. "The rocks are slippery! Don't hurt yourself! Be careful!" Grace is the kind of kid who plots how she can go cliff jumping, sky diving, etc.
Ella, a bit more cautious, wanted to go where Grace was headed, but was slower in her approach over the beautifully black, wet rocks. Adam was trying to keep an eye on all of us while enjoying it himself. As he left to help Ella, I put my feet in the cold water. The waterfall sprayed water over all of us, and only a few minutes after arriving, a literal black cloud showed itself. I knew that there were chances of thunderstorms, but this cloud looked mean.
I shouted to Adam that we might need to leave, and just as I got that out a lightning bolt hit the waterfall. It was the loudest, scariest sound I had ever heard. The ground shook as our eyes were blinded by the light. Panic hit all of the hikers. People immediately started fleeing and only a few seconds later another one hit. And another one. People were screaming. I was looking around for Adam and the girls and scanning to see if anyone was hit. People started slipping and falling on the rocks in panic as they made their way to the one-person-wide path.
I was all alone, but closer to the path. People were wanting to get past me, so I headed back toward the forest not knowing if my husband and daughters were okay.
As I made it safely on the dirt path, I saw Grace and Ella alone in separate spots, both incredible scared, but Ella was crying and panicking. I looked around for Adam, and the found him in the middle of the river. A mom of a toddler had fallen in the rocks as she tried to make her way to safety. She wasn't able to get up as she held her son. The force of the river and uneven large rocks were keeping her pinned. He had left Ella to help the terrified mom and screaming child. Adam was doing the right thing, but I was so scared. I had never heard so many lightning bolts so close and consecutively. It was the worst place to be, and my scared daughters were alone.
We all made our way back under the tree covered path. The walk (and sometimes run) back through a torrential downpour and constant lightning bolts was pure torture. But what was more challenging than the physical conditions (difficulty walking on the wet path, difficulty seeing through the rain, the uncomfortableness) was navigating the different reactions that the members in my family had.
Adam was calm and strong. He was willing to help us all keep walking. He was quiet but present.
Grace's reaction was one of pure thrill. In her own words, "I have never felt more alive!" She thought it was the coolest experience to be outside in such a bad storm and be that close to danger.
Ella, my little lovie, was completely paralyzed with fear. I don't think I have ever witnessed someone more scared. Upon realizing that Adam was carrying the METAL walking polls, she cried and screamed, "DAD IS GOING TO DIE! DAD IS GOING TO DIE!" and pleaded for Adam to throw them away from the path. He didn't want them to be just thrown away essentially, so he held on to them until Ella's shear terror convinced him to do as she wanted.
My reaction was intense internal fear. I really thought that someone got struck with lightning, and until we were safe in the car, I knew that there was a chance we could get hit. I have never experienced anything like it. All of this was inside, though. Through experience and other scary situations, I managed to control my own fear so that I could help Ella. I was so glad to have Adam there, with his quiet, physical support, but I was the emotional supporter. I hugged Ella the entire time. We walked, arm in arm for a mile or two. I reassured her with, "We are going to be okay. I am right here." I soothed and comforted, or at least attempted to, for 30 minutes.
And as soon as we reached the car, the storm passed.
One of the thoughts that went through my mind was, "Even if something happens, I will be okay. God, I know you are with us."
But what can help us stay calm and courageous?
I came across this beautiful quote a few years ago:
The antithesis of fear is not certainty, but rather the vitality of relationship.
Susan S. Phillips - from Candlelight: Illuminating the Art of Spiritual Direction
If we are battling fear, it isn't mental strength we need, positive thinking, or any such brain power, but it is a connection to the Source of Life. Vitality of Relationship. Isn't that a beautiful phrase?
Fear says, "You aren't okay." "You won't be okay."
Vitality of Relationship says, "Even if you aren't okay, I will be with you, so it will be okay."
Love and Peace,
p.s. What helps you in scary situations?