Remembered Days of Fear and Hope
I do not specifically remember twenty years ago today. Moving to Los Angeles from the Washington, DC area less than a year before, my life was not focused on fear and hope.
Then, in less than two days, things changed.
I watched the World Trade Center on television. There were people I knew in the Pentagon that day.
The stillness of the sky without airplanes was striking. I drove to work in Santa Monica and the freeways were almost empty. My primary work that day was helping close early. I took a break and walked down to the palisades overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There was a cruiser off the coast protecting us from whatever might happen next.
That day changed many things. We shared a heightened sense of fear and hope.
Some of us felt outrage and anger. Others of us had an intense sense of grief and loss. There was a lot of confusion and disbelief. Many of us wondered what else could happen. If this could happen to us on this warm, sunny day, what might happen tomorrow?
Living in the DC area, I had visited the Pentagon. I had been to New York City and been on the observation deck of the World Trade Center. There was the shock of seeing places I had been destroyed.
I had flown regularly for work. How could this happen? Turning airplanes into missiles full of jet fuel.
How could people we had never met, who had never visited this country, hate it so much? What motivated them to turn our lives into weapons to use against us?
I attended a prayer service that evening after work. It was a challenge to sleep that night, after a day full of fear and hope.
Would our hope be justified?
Living With Fear and Hope
Less than a month later I flew from Los Angeles to Washington to see a friend of mine who had brain cancer.
Security was tight at LAX and even tighter at Dulles. The airports were full of armed members of the military. It was a shock to see how these familiar places had changed.
Spending time with my friend, and his family, was a time of fear and hope. We were able to talk, and make each other laugh and cry. It was the last time I ever spoke to him, ever saw him.
As a spiritual director, I spend many days listening to and living with hope and fear.
Many of us tend to look away from our fears and hopes. Some of us assume our fears will overwhelm us. We may step back from our hopes because we do not want them to let us down.
Some of us fear we have not earned what we hope for, or somehow do not deserve even the possibility of hope.
Living with hope and fear may be among the most significant challenges we face. We may try to deny what we fear or what we hope. If we can push them far enough away, we think, they cannot hurt us.
I believe knowing what we fear and what we hope are essential for us. As we take the lifelong journey of spiritual life, we discover and explore our true selves. Recognizing and appreciating our hope and fear are essential steps on our journey.
We cannot hide from our fear or our hope. Some of us try, but fear and hope reveal themselves to us eventually.
Spiritual life is not about being free of fear or hope. Living with them shows us who we can become.
Embracing Fear and Hope
Writing things down helps me practice embracing what I fear and what I hope.
I tend to be a particularly tangible, concise, clear person. Vague, general fears do not help me understand or embrace them. It is not about soft, fuzzy feelings, but about concrete fears. I do not hope for cloudy concepts, but particular, specific aspirations.
When I am as clear and specific as I can be, I can make more informed choices. Is this what I fear, deep down, or is it more that? Do I hope for A, or is it actually more B?
I want to be able to hold those hopes and fears in my hands without dropping them. It helps me to appreciate how they feel, how heavy they are.
Vague fears are more likely to get the better of me. They make me more afraid of being afraid. It helps me to be specific.
It also helps me to sort out precisely what I hope will be. I do not want any doubt about my hopes.
The more specific I can be, the better I can understand.
What have our hopes and our fears taught us recently?
Growing Into Our Fears and Hopes
The things of which I am afraid, and the things I hope will come to be, give me insights into myself.
They change over time, and show me how I am growing and changing. I do not believe I am necessarily becoming less fearful, or even more fearful. Maybe I am afraid and hopeful on a different level than I used to be.
I believe our hopes and fears give us windows into who we are. We gain insights from reflecting on the things, and people, which make us afraid and make us hopeful.
When we remember those days of fear and hope, and look into our own faces, we begin to see.
We recognize what it is which triggers us, which sparks our responses. Why are we afraid? Why are we hopeful?
The path of our spiritual journeys can be covered with experiences which make us afraid, or ignites our hope.
Where will spiritual life draw us to go next?
How can we grow into our fears and hopes today?
When will our fears and hopes embrace us this week, and when will we embrace them?
[Image by young shanahan]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.