I lay awake at night and terrorize myself with all the horrible ways my loved ones might die.
It’s been this way since I was young. My parents would leave town and I would assume they were going to end up in a horrible car wreck, the kind you see on the news.
Even if they were safely tucked in at home, I would invent reasons to fear for them. There was always someone lurking around the next suburban home just waiting to creep into our house in the middle of the night and cause mayhem.
When my little sisters arrived, it didn’t help. At least with my parents, they could mostly take care of themselves, but I felt responsible for my sisters. Sometimes I would sneak downstairs just to check on them after I’d convinced myself that all the world’s dangers were conspiring against them.
When everything else failed, I prayed. I asked God to surround our house with angels. I imagined scores of brilliant white human-like figures encircling my home, threatening to pummel anyone who might try to hurt my family. The prayers served their purpose. I left the job of my family’s safety up to the angels before I drifted off to sleep.
It is only as an adult that I’ve discovered how truly powerless I am. Even if God exists, I’ve seen enough suffering to know that his or her existence doesn’t make my family and friends immune to tragedy, regardless of how hard I pray.
Trust me. I’ve tried.
Most people my age don’t seem to be worried about death. We’ve just seen enough of life to know it has something to offer. We’re past the angst of our adolescence, but we’ve not yet been tainted by the skepticism of our middle years.
I think about death.
I think about my grandfather. I wonder where he is. My faith whispers that he’s somewhere warm and bright.
If there were anyone who deserved a place like that, it would be him.
My grown mind, however, entangled by logic and curiosity, fears that he is only where we laid him to rest. So whom shall I believe at night, when I’m afraid I’ll wake to a nightmare? The child? Or the man? This is my struggle with anxiety. It is my childhood fears confronting my adult powerlessness.
I lay in bed at night and wonder what is creeping behind the next sunrise, waiting to spoil my hopes and dreams. I file through my day’s failures, wondering how I’ve screwed them up without knowing it.
I once had a mentor who told me that anxiety is time travel. I’m anxious about something that’s happened in the past or scared about what might happen in the future. If I could repurpose the hours I’ve spent worrying about something I couldn’t change, I would have discovered the cure for cancer or rush hour traffic.
But there I go again, time traveling.
Every once in a while, I remember those childhood prayers. I don’t know if they had supernatural value. But I do know that they achieved something miraculous by rooting my anxious mind in the present. Where it belongs.
Death tells me it will come. It is inevitable. Anxiety reminds me to focus on what is inevitable, and time travel is a vehicle for fear where all are welcome.
In the present, however, there is only a moment. A tiny moment. There’s no room left for what was or what will be. If death comes in this moment, then I’m fairly certain I’m not going to care. My life will have been built upon a foundation of millions of meaningful moments.
In the present, I face the world around me exactly as it is. Not as I want it to be. Not as I fear I have made it.
Just as it is.
I root myself in these moments. I take inventory with my senses. I tell myself there is sunlight outside, or stars. I remind myself my wife is laying next to me. I ask myself what is true in this tiny moment. I love and am loved.
Perhaps one day, there will be fewer people in the world who love me.
But that moment is not now.
Now is a moment where I allow myself to be consumed by the beauty of a valley in the Appalachian Mountains.
Now is a moment where I get lost in the stories of the person across from me instead of the ones on Facebook.
Now is a moment where I run by the lake and really feel the warm wind coming up from the water.
Now is a moment where I let myself hurt and be comforted.
When I lay awake at night and terrorize myself with all the horrible ways my loved ones might die, I remember where I am and what my purpose is in this tiny moment.
Author: Mathis Kennington
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Dennis Jarvis on Flickr
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