When I was five years old and in my first weeks of school, my class was ushered into a small dim room with a television on wheels. Miss South pressed the ‘play’ button….
A little girl wanders aimlessly near the fence, waiting to be picked up from school. A strange man soon shows up with balloons and announces, “Your Mummy sent me to pick you up”. She hesitates and almost obliges, then at the last minute decides to run. The man’s smile turns into a scowl. He jumps back into the car and beings stalking her. She pounds on nearby doors in urgency, screaming, until she finds one with a Neighbourhood Watch sticker on it and the man drives away in frustration.
I was terrified. Up until this point, I had naively assumed that people were generally nice and friendly and the world was a safe place. Now, even friendly strangers with nice faces could turn ugly in seconds and be out to get you.
Fast forward to adulthood and I still retain so many of these fears. I remember walking home from the station one night after work, 000 was plugged into my phone and my finger hovered over the ‘call’ button in my pocket, as I nervously scanned faces around me to register any hint of danger. When home alone at night, the slightest noise can send me into a internal panic and I have mapped out my plan of rescue in the event of a home invasion.
Now, I have three infinitely more precious reasons to be terrified because, let’s face it, this world can be a completely abominable place. Thoughts of the abducted William Tyrell still plague me constantly, the poor little boy who is two days younger than Eli and bears a slight resemblance to my son. I cannot even begin to think of how I would react if the loss had affected our family. I am not an avid prayer by any stretch of the imagination, but the gut wrenching reality that little William may be facing right now has been enough to move me to prayer and tears on many occasions.
I recently read a piece entitled Talking to Strangers. There were so many sentiments that I agreed with that flew in the face of traditional fears and it challenged me to the core. The author shared of a lonesome grandfather who came to the playground to pine after his distant grandchildren while watching the other kids play, but who was driven away by overprotective mothers jumping at shadows, never bothering to find out his story. The missed chances at relationships, the isolation of our lonely society, the richness of knowledge never passed on.
But then this chilled me to the core:
Recently, while on a walk in our neighborhood, a disheveled man approached Archer. Archer was on his scooter a block ahead of me as I pushed a stroller and held Fable’s hand across the street.
Archer looked back as the man talked to him. I read his lips as he said, “No I don’t. My mom’s right over there.”
Then he pointed.
It was one of the only times in my life I felt panicked. Everything moved in slow motion. Like in a nightmare when you can’t run even though you want to and your mouth won’t scream.
Until finally it does.
“ARCHER. COME BACK. EXCUSE ME, SIR.”
The man turned and then ran off, through traffic, across the street as Archer scooter’d over to us to explain what had happened.
“He asked me to go for a walk with him,” Archer said.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah, that was scary, though.”
And it was. It was really f&%*ing scary.
But I was there. And Archer knew it. Not RIGHT there, mind you, but close enough. And maybe there’s something to that. Being close enough so that if something does happen, I’m there, behind him… slightly removed… a block away. So that he can listen to his own gut before turning toward mine. So that he ALWAYS will.
Even when I’m not there.”
I went to sleep that night with a ball of writhing snakes in my stomach. My fears were awakened all over again and I couldn’t cast them away. I’ve been so caught up in the naptime to naptime phase and intensity that I didn’t even have time to fret about the predatory world that awaits my little ones so soon.
Eventually, I blurted this all out to Dave and the tears came in torrents. My irrational trepidation, the neurotic pathways that have been allowed free reign over my emotions for far too long. Terrified fingers clutching at any illusion of control that I can wield to keep my kids from harm. After a tearful invocation my perspective was altered and the act of voicing the enduring phobias exposed their strings.
On the way to Tribe yesterday, I read the transcript of a TED talk by Dave Isay about the StoryCorps, an initiative to record the stories of normal, everyday people. He told this story:
“When Oshea was a teenager, he murdered Mary’s only son,Laramiun Byrd, in a gang fight.A dozen years later, Mary went to prisonto meet Oshea and find out who this person waswho had taken her son’s life.Slowly and remarkably, they became friends,and when he was finally released from the penitentiary,Oshea actually moved in next door to Mary.This is just a short excerpt of a conversation they hadsoon after Oshea was freed.(Video)Mary Johnson: My natural son is no longer here.I didn’t see him graduate, and now you’re going to college.I’ll have the opportunity to see you graduate.I didn’t see him get married.Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to experience that with you.Oshea Israel: Just to hear you say those things and to bein my life in the manner in which you are is my motivation.It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path.You still believe in me,and the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you,it’s amazing.
MJ: I know it’s not an easy thing to be able to share our story together,even with us sitting here looking at each other right now.I know it’s not an easy thing, so I admire that you can do this.
OI: I love you, lady.MJ: I love you too, son.”
I cried and cried. The kids queried from the back seat as to what had overcome me, but it was difficult to explain. Yes, the world is absolutely depressing, distressing and horrifying, but the response of Mary is the only answer left for my soul to resonate with. The incredible bravery, sacrifice and love that it would have taken to reach out to her son’s killer…and the number of times she must have cried herself to sleep in the process. Love… perfect love… the only force that has a hope of combatting fear.
Love can feel like tearing your heart open and exposing it to the brutal elements, when you imagine the pain that will result from loss or mistreatment of your little ones. There is nothing that would induce me to go back to a life without this depth of love, but I am keenly aware of the sacrifice that it entails. The only prayer I have left is this: ‘So help me God to respond with even half the grace and sacrifice of Mary Johnson, should any ill fate befall my dear ones’.
And in the meantime…. some musings from Break the Twitch have been inspirational as a new perspective on the day to day:
“Imagine when you were born, a divine being placed a secret amount of money into an account. Every day, you are given a disbursement from this account. Spend all the money given to you that day or lose it forever.”
Except the ‘money’ in this scenario is actually ‘minutes’ and we have no idea how much is left in that account…
I know how I’ll be choosing to spend mine….