When I was little, I used to stay awake all night, hiding within the womb of the bottom bunk, sheets tucked under my little sister’s bed above to create a curtain all around me, and watch for shadows moving in the dark. I would listen to every creak of our 100-year-old apartment as though divining some meaning from its groaning. “Something’s coming for you,” I could swear I heard it say in its plaster tongue. On some nights, I would wake my parents. They would turn to me, groggily, and say, “nothing’s there, really, I promise.” If I was insistent, they would walk out into the dark, even peek in the yard, much to my horror, and, upon finding the nothing they had promised, bring me back to my cocoon to worry another night.
I often wondered what it was that made my parents so brave. They always seemed, to me, to be utterly unafraid. How did they know that when they stepped through the metal security gate to the backyard that nothing would pop out to grab them? What was it that made them so strong? I used to think that maybe when I was a “grown-up” I would be brave; that it would magically come to me the day I turned 18, or 21, or 30.
Despite being 30 now, I still have millions of fears. The dark, burglars, my house catching fire, getting hit by a car, falling from a great height, raccoons (trust me - if you lived here, you’d understand). Sometimes I still lie awake at night thinking that if I lay too close to the edge of our bed that the bony fingers of some grizzled old goblin will shoot up and grab me, pulling me under, never to be seen again.
For the most part, these fears can be quelled. I can take a deep breath and say, “Girl, no. There are no such things as goblins,” and believe it just enough to get some sleep.
But there are the other fears, the real-er fears, that I can’t seem to quell as easily. I cannot, for instance, say: “No, there is no such thing as death. There is no such thing as losing what you love. No such thing as heartbreak, as tragedy.” Because there are those things. Those things are worse than goblins, worse even than raccoons, and they are things we have to live with, intimately. We have to grapple with understanding that death occurs, that loss will happen, that hearts will break, and tragedies are daily. We pray they don’t happen too soon, don’t happen at all, but they do.
Two weeks ago someone hit my car while I drove with my daughter in the back seat. We were close to home, on local streets, and thank god she wasn’t going so fast as to severely injure either of us. But in the moment her car collided with mine, I swear my heart stopped. I couldn’t breathe. We were fine, we were fine, I kept telling myself, but still, my body shook with the fear of what could have been. On that day, tragedy was not our story, but it could have been. It could have been. And it is hard not to be debilitated by that fear.
When you’re an anxious person and something bad happens, it can feel like you’re drowning. Sometimes you want to give in to it and let yourself be washed away. Just disappear, hide until you’re safe again. And once upon a time, I would have done that; it would have been an easy choice. But two weeks ago, I couldn’t do that. If it had been just me, I could have disappeared. But you can’t disappear with a baby in the back seat.
It made me realize that maybe what made my parents brave, was being parents. And their fearlessness was probably in the way I saw them as much as it was in the way the actually were. Maybe they were apprehensive, or even downright afraid, when they opened the back gate to check for evil-doers. It’s the fact that they did it despite that that really makes them brave. Bravery is, more than anything else, an action.
I used to think that it was a one-way path, that parents had to make children feel safe. What I know now, is that children make parents brave enough to make their children feel safe. Imagine what it would have been like if, when I called them, trembling in my bed at night, my parents had crawled into bed and trembled with me. I wouldn’t have survived. And so they had to be brave, for me.
There are lots of ways in which I’m still not a “grown-up” (I’m afraid of raccoons and goblins, remember?), but what I am is a mother. Courage did come to me magically, after all, one bright morning in May. After nearly 42 weeks of growing and 42 hours of work, I birthed a little girl with dark eyes and long mop of hair. And all at once I had to accept that the little person I held against my chest, who had been part of me for so long, was no longer just mine. She was her own now. In that moment of realization I was stripped bare; made vulnerable beyond comprehension. “How do you let someone you love so boundlessly, someone you must protect, be free in a world where heartbreak, and tragedy exist?” I wondered. There is no other way but to be brave.
Each night, when I look at the tiny, warm creature lying beside me, watch her chest rising and falling beneath my palm, my fears begin to float away from me like steam rising from a pot. I know they are there, lurking where I cannot see, but they no longer have power over me. “Be brave,” I tell myself. And I am, because of her.
Village Jouralist ,