I am convinced that fear has gotten to us. It’s one of the more crippling effects of the pandemic of 2020. Fear can stifle the life right out of an otherwise ordinary guy. In any normal year, folks wouldn’t think twice about going to the beach, or to the restaurant, or to the Dollar Store. But fear makes you think twice about everything.
I’m not talking about the scare-the-pants-off-of-you kind of fear that happens when your best friend jumps out of the closet at you. You jerk so bad that your belt comes loose. You stumble back and fall over the couch. And then both of you roll around on the floor and laugh your heads off. That kind of fear is over and gone in a second.
The kind of fear I’m talking about goes deeper than that. Sometimes it lasts so long that you think it might never go away. The kind of fear that changes the way a person sees himself and the world around him.
When I started high school, I was afraid of Senior girls, Algebra I, and the locker room. I had only ever been in one locker room at the old gym in Hampton. I had changed my drawers with the same bunch of guys that I had known my whole life. It was comfortable.
But going into 9th grade something changed. All of a sudden, I was in a room with strangers. All 112 pounds of me rubbing near naked bodies with football players. They laughed at my skinny legs. They pinched and twisted on things. To them it was a game that rhymed with kitty twisters. And it made me afraid. It made me not like myself very much.
It takes a long time to grow out of something like that. I’m still self-conscious about wearing shorts and exposing my chicken legs to a critical world.
Fear of spiders and snakes is reasonable, and it doesn’t usually altar your life. The fear of being dumb, or the fear of not fitting in, or the fear of being a loser, is the kind of thing that will eat at a person’s sense of wellbeing. Some fears you grow out of as you get older. Some stay with you until you die.
When this whole virus thing started it seemed like no big deal. We thought that we would adjust for a couple of months and then get on with life. I never expected fear to enter the picture at all. But a couple of months has turned into nearly 8 months. The shelves in the store are still empty of things like rubbing alcohol. I went to the store today to get first aid kit supplies for the farm. No alcohol wipes to be had anywhere.
I wonder. How long will we horde out of fear?
Fear is never a reason to stop living. In fact, I would suggest that fear is the best reason for finding a way to keep living. To do the things that can be done in spite of the fear. The best reason for taking stock of all the things in life that give you a reason to live. Discovering life’s little joys that drown out the drone of fear altogether.
I like thinking about BBQ. It’s a strategy. Ribs so tender and juicy that they fall apart when you try to pick them up. Napkins piling up while you try to keep the sauce from running off your chin onto your best flannel shirt. When I eat BBQ, I am not afraid.
I’ve spent a few recent evenings on the porch strumming out the old songs on my guitar. No one wants to hear me. But that doesn’t matter. I’m playing a little bit of Hank. “Your Cheat’n Heart” or “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Beatles, “Let It Be”. CCR. A little “Stand by Me”. A little gospel, “Victory In Jesus”. And for a while, I’m enjoying life. No fear.
I’ve been working in our attic. Cleaning up. Putting down some extra flooring. Replacing a light switch. Just everyday stuff. A trip to the hardware store. Mingling with other white haired fix-it guys looking for shelf brackets on aisle 14. And while I’m busy with my hands, it never occurs to me to be afraid. Everyday life goes on.
I refuse to bend to the fear. It’s not easy. Seems that there are all kinds of good reasons to be nearly petrified of what might be. What might happen. But it seems there are a lot more reasons to focus on the good in this life.
Zelda is spending a few nights with us this week. Her school is shut down for the next two weeks because of Covid precautions. She is resilient. I can’t tell that any sense of fear has gotten into her little impressionable mind. I hope she stays this way. I hope she comes out on the other side of this crazy time in her life full of courage and hope.
Our kids and grandkids need to understand that fear does not win. Not ever. They need to know how to focus on the good things of life even when fear tries to force you to do otherwise. They need to know that good matters more than bad. That simple is better than complicated. That courage is better than fear.
If I could tell the kids anything at all, I would tell them that God made all the flavors of homemade ice cream just to make us smile. That backyard baseball is more important on some days than working on your science project. That the feel of fresh dirt on your feet and the taste of creek water is part of living free. That wrestling is fun and spitting watermelon seeds is an art. And that playing hide and seek out in the yard after dark with a group of your best friends is about as good as it gets.
We should all take stock of living. Find the courage to make the most of the time God has given us on this earth, pandemic or no pandemic. Life itself is a gift. It’s completely acceptable to yell “we’re gonna kick you’re butt” when the DAWGS are playing Auburn in the fall. Putting salted peanuts in your Coke bottle isn’t just for kids. Letting a kiss with your wife linger a little longer than usual just might remind you of heaven. And spending your money once in while on something fun is way better than keeping it safe for later.
I’m rattling on and on. I know. But it’s almost as if everywhere I go I can see an uneasiness in the eyes of strangers. The cashier looks tired. The guy next to me on the hardware aisle moves away apologetically because he thinks he got too close. A mother grappling with a mask on her 5 year old as they walk through the parking lot. Signs that say to keep your distance. Signs that warn and remind us to be cautious. Signs on the faces all around me that hide the worry deep inside.
Courage, they say, is not the absence of fear, but the ability to do the thing that needs to be done in spite of the fear. That kind of courage is responsible for the kid who saves his brother from drowning. The soldier who runs into the firestorm to pull his fallen buddy to safety. The Dad who hands his daughter over to another man on her wedding day.
What we need is a good dose of courage. I’m not recommending that we live recklessly. I’m just saying that in spite of fear we ought to go out and find some good barbeque once in a while. We should make a trip to the hardware store and fix that thing that we’ve been meaning to fix. Maybe even pull out the old guitar, squeaky voice and all, sit on the front porch and sing the old song that says it better than most.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.