I can see you at five years old, curled up in a ball, hugging your little legs to your little stomach. The rains came down. The winds blew and beat against that house. There’s a small door that leads to a little room on the inside wall of your closet. There you sit on the cold floor, waiting and waiting for the storm to rest. You bury your head in your knees. You cover your little ears with your little hands. This fear of storms creates a deeply rooted anxiety in your little mind that has never fully gone away. You wait and wait for the storm to cease.
Now, you don’t fear storms the way you did as a child. But what’s fear to an adult? It’s the less tangible things. The storms of life: failure, disappointment, loss, uncertainty. Perhaps these are scarier. They are harder to identify. Sometimes, they are even impossible to see coming, until they hit you hard as a freight train. You can no longer hide in your little storm cave.
Now, you sit upright, typing and typing at a desk. I can see your stress from the messiness of your hair. You stressfully run your fingers through it as you type and type. As the day goes on, it becomes messier, while the stubble on your face grows and grows. You’re just too busy to shave. There’s always work to be done, and a line of people waiting to replace you. You know they will replace you, so you work. I know they will replace you, so I’m silent.
You told me once you wanted to teach high-school history, but you say right now, it isn’t feasible. You love history. Alexander Hamilton, Winston Churchill, the fall of the Roman Empire. I ask you to read your favorite history books to me, Alexander Hamilton, Bad Days in History, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but you say you have to get back to work. You stressfully run your fingers through your hair as your brain moves quickly through your tasks. More typing and typing.
You fear most that you’ll be unimportant, but you are the most important thing to me.
My fear is as your fear was when you were a small child: irrational. I fear everything there is to possibly be afraid of: sleeping, walking alone, driving alone, parking lots, elevators, crowded spaces, being alone. I feel the absurdity of this fear daily as I fear and share fear and stop sharing fear. My fear is statistical. My fear plays on the “worst case scenario,” as yours did as you sat waiting for the thunder to rest. You feared the storm hitting your home; I fear the storm hitting me, breaking me, killing me.
I fear that you will never find the parts of life you so desperately want: seminary, living in London, being a grandmaster in chess, becoming a professor, learning to play two instruments, becoming a high-school history teacher. This fear is a selfish fear, that somehow it will be my fault if you don’t achieve these things.
I pause, gaping at the ignorance I have about life. The ignorance I have about what anyone is supposed to have accomplished by age 24, as if you don’t have 80 more years ahead of you. You better have 80 more years ahead of you.
Yet you are not always typing; you are often thinking, reading, doing, helping, loving. The still and peaceful look on your face tells me you no longer fear storms; you no longer fear being unimportant. I can see the way God is always in your field of vision. God is the hope you have when you spend seventeen hours working every day. I’m sorry for forgetting that God is carrying you. I see how God seeps into everything you do and every way you act and everything you are.
Thank you for reflecting God through your busyness, your stress, your fear. Thank you for reflecting God as you do everyone’s dishes, read your Bible, maybe read about Nazi Germany, take care of me—and all before working your seventeen hours.
I forget you are sturdy. It did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. You can sustain a storm, now. Maybe I can find God in not being alone, but by being with you. Maybe, then, I can rest in seeing God more clearly by knowing you.
Bill Murphy, Self Portrait, Etching, 1980