Friday, March 11, 2005

The Nature of Fear

Amy is leaving for New York on Saturday. She is an innocent, beautiful high school senior, off on a mission trip. And New York is New York, home of the Central Park jogger, terrorist attacks, gangs, Bernard Goetz, Son of Sam, and the mafia.

I have tried not to hover over her in hand-wringing apprehension, limiting my advice to occasional calm admonition such as, "Make sure you NEVER go ANYWHERE alone! I mean it. You stay WITH the group."

Fear is such that the familiar seems safe and the unfamiliar does not.

When our children were smaller, we lived in the "bush" in Northern Ontario. There were plenty of dangers—bears, drowning in the lake, getting lost in the woods, freezing to death, not to mention that the nearest doctor and hospital were hundreds of miles away. I came to be at peace with all this, took necessary precautions, and felt like we could hardly live in a safer place.

One summer a family with four or five children came to visit. We were all down by the lake one evening, and the children played on the dock or walked at the edge of the water. The visiting mother was so nervous she could hardly carry on a conversation. "Be careful! Not so close to the edge! You hang onto your sister, I don’t want her to drown! John, do you see what they’re doing?" I thought, Dear me, woman, relax, they’re perfectly safe.

A few weeks later we took a vacation in civilization and went shopping for the first time in probably a year. Getting out of the van and heading into Walmart, I was terrified. "You get back here! Don’t you wander off like that, somebody could grab you and we’d never see you again. Watch for cars! Matthew, you hang onto Amy’s hand. Look both ways before you cross here. If someone tries to kidnap you, you fall to the ground and kick and scream as loud as you can."

Some distance into this yammering I realized I sounded exactly like the woman at the lake who, no doubt, was perfectly calm when she took her children to Walmart.

Last summer, Amy and her sister Emily took a walk in the woods and ended up near a cow pasture where an angry bull pawed and snorted at them and tried to break down the fence.

No doubt my New York friends would laugh at me and say that an angry bull rattling the fence is far more dangerous than some weird dreadlocked crack addict with low-slung trousers lurking in the subway.

Well, I’m sorry, they’re wrong.

Quote of the Day:
"I accidentally zang something under the stove."
--Jenny, who makes up words to fit the occasion, running to the kitchen with a yardstick


  1. I agree with you about the potential danger of people being much worse than that of nature. People are unpredictable.

    It's interesting how we guage threat differently in different environments. When I was 15, 16, and 17, I had no problem flying across oceans, navigating foreign airports, and exploring the cities of Spain and France all alone during the summers. But during the school year, plop me in the high school cafeteria and I would succumb to a full-on panic attack and end up eating in the restroom, which is kind of pathetic in retrospect.

    Best of luck to Amy! Try not to worry too much! :)

  2. Who said it, 'All we have to fear is fear itself.' I think it was FDR. Anyway, having an overdeveloped sense of fear will cause us to hide from life. Having no sense of fear will lead us to destruction. There is a healthy balance that must be met, and younger folks usually have less of a sense of fear than we older ones do. Caution is the key especially in a new location that we don't know about. I personally wouldn't go to NYC for any reason. Yet when I was 18 I left home (small town) and lived in Kansas City Mo for 2 years. Dad said that he would have brought me home if I had said anything about being afraid, I think he was afraid for me, but let me decide for myself. I made it and I wasn't a Christian then, but I think God was looking out for me even then. Amy should be ok if she uses the caution you have taught her and just thinks about her surroundings at all times. Remember, God will be in NYC with her, and I'll be praying for her safety too. And for Mom's nervessness over the trip! Amy, have a wonderful time serving God.

  3. I was in NYC for a weekend, and it was a lot of fun! Of course it always helps when there are relatives living there to show you around. :-) Unfortunately for Mom and Dad and their crew, they don't live there anymore. But don't worry, because Mom and Dad know enough people there that they'll be all right.