Here is a story about handling fear, which is in stark contrast to swimming Alcatraz.
My husband Jim phoned and said he had pulmonary embolisms for the second time. Pulmonary embolisms are blood clots in the lungs, making a person extremely short of breath and they are life threatening! If one of those blood clots moved out of the lungs, he could die! He was in the Emergency Department, being moved to the ICU for treatment. Jim was perfectly calm, as I worried aloud, on the phone. He said his lung scan looked like a snowfall of small clots in his lungs. This was not good! Driving to the hospital, I was increasingly frightened. I was picturing what could happen. The best case was that he could get well. The worst case was a stroke or heart attack or death. As a chaplain, I had seen the worst, unlike most people. I had also seen people recover, but those memories were not as vivid. I prayed that Jim wouldn’t die.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves…” said Cheryl Strayed. I worked in a medical center for the most complicated medical cases, the sickest of the sick in the ICU’s, where the mortality rate was higher than the hospital ICU where Jim stayed. My perspective was shaped by my experience. Hospitals had not been able to save my relatives in the past.
Upon arriving at the hospital, my fears were diminished somewhat by hearing direct information from the physicians about Jim’s condition and treatment. I also sought support from close friends who could embody Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” I really needed the One, embodied in those who would sit with me in the waiting room. I needed the God of Compassion, found in those who would “suffer with” me during this time of powerlessness. The story I told myself was the very real possibility of the worst case scenario. There was so much uncertainty. It was entirely out of my hands. I did not dwell primarily in the best case scenario.
Jim was so healthy prior to the pulmonary embolisms and was fortunate enough to make a complete recovery. He received very good medical care. I learned that I am far more fearful when I have no concrete influence over a situation. The possibility of losing a loved one elicits a lot of fear in me. My faith was a real resource for me and it could provide me even more strength in future situations.
The Rabbi whom I follow talked an awful lot about fear because he knew the human condition. He lived through every important experience that humans do. He kept telling us not to be afraid, not to worry, that God cares and knows what we need. Even the hair on our heads are numbered. Insofar as we can listen and let that be the story we tell ourselves, then we can really know his presence in the midst of our fears and receive his peace.