On March 13, 2020, a national emergency was declared concerning the Covid 19 outbreak. For the next week I devoured a constant stream of news – all related to the virus.
On March 30, I woke up at 5:30 AM in order to go grocery shopping at 6:00 AM the appointed shopping time suggested at my neighborhood grocery store for my age. I actually woke up at 4:30 AM that morning to make a complete list of essential storable items thinking I might not be able to go to the store In the future but also not wanting to hoard. It was dark when I got in my car that morning. There were only about 5 cars in the usually crowded parking lot. I wore a mask my son had given me for the first time. I felt furtive, avoiding other shoppers and store personnel stocking the shelves. The deli was empty – there was no toilet paper or hand sanitizer available. I made my way up and down the aisles carefully avoiding other shoppers and staff. I was looking for staples like soup , peanut butter, canned tuna. My cart was getting harder and harder to push. I skipped the last two aisles in the store as my legs were so weak I could hardly walk. I felt disoriented and anxious as I made my way to the checkout .
Feeling compassion and gratitude for the woman at the checkout, I said, (trying to be friendly), “I’m glad you are being paid extra for your work.” She stared at me and replied, “Two dollars an hour isn’t worth dying for.” Chagrined, I quickly headed out to my car. Arriving home, it took three trips from the parking garage to my apartment to unload my groceries, still feeling weak and unstable. Once inside, I quickly put perishables away and collapsed on my bed.
This was my first dramatic fear attack. Usually I don’t think much about fear. There have been certain instances in my past that I can remember being afraid. In 6th grade my geography teacher, Miss Arieta Krueger let me take home our class textbook with strict instructions to bring it back promptly and in good condition. I tore a page . Afraid of Miss Krueger’s anger, It took several hours for my mother to convince me it would be safe to bring the book back to school.
When I look back there have been fears throughout my life, big and small, but none so physical as my grocery store trip. It’s like my body knew better than I knew consciously, that there was an invisible and threatening danger.
Fear can be unjustified or it can be healthy when it causes us to recognize danger. Fear and anxiety are endemic to the human experience. President Franklin D Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address in 1933 at the height of the depression, reminded the nation, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
SUGGESTIONS FOR HEALING FEAR
- Scripture has a wealth to provide in terms of understanding fear:
- The most often repeated commandment in the Bible is “Do not Be Afraid.” The PSALMS in the Bible are a rich source of reflection on fear. Many of us, are familiar with the well known lines from Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the the Valley of The Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for You are with me.”
- The Prophet Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures tells us: “Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, for I myself will help you . . .Isaiah 41:13-14.
- In the New Testament, Paul references fear. In Phillippians 4:6-7, he writes: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God . . .
- It is good to remember the oft quoted address of Jesus to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are then the birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? (Luke 12: 22-26)
- These ancient words have power and wisdom for us today. In this time of uncertainty and fear it can be helpful to take the time to read and ponder one or more of these words of wisdom about fear. Perhaps you will find a word or phrase that can be a mantra for you when you are aware of fear rising up. An example from Romans 8;38- 39: “… Nothing can separate us from God’s love… Neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow.” Make it personal – “Nothing can separate me from God’s love . . . Neither my fears for today nor my worries about tomorrow.
- How do you feel when you don’t know what will come next? It is natural to have fear of the unknown and important to accept that we can’t have certainty all the time. There is more comfort in naming our fears then denying them. To avoid fear emboldens it. It can be healing to spend some time discussing fear with someone who can be there for you – listening empathically. Human connection is necessary for health. No one has ever faced our particular situation before, so we have to improvise – do what comes to us as the right thing to do.
- Recognize the wisdom of our body. My grocery store meltdown was a signal to me that I was more affected by our current situation than I realized. Writer, Resmaa Menakem writes in My Grandmother’s Hands: “If you can settle your body, you are more likely to be calm, alert and fully present, no matter what is going on around you … a calm settled body is the foundation for health, for healing, for helping others and for changing the world.
- I recently heard the phrase, active musical listening. I realized that very early on in the pandemic, musicians, were volunteering their talent either from Zoom, from their homes, on TV or youtube – even singing from balconies. This was an “essential” work for our spirits. Recently I came upon a youtube performance of the hymn BE NOT AFRAID. This popular hymn was written by Bob Dufford when he was on a retreat in 1972, discerning his call to priesthood and grappling with fear and anxiety about his future. His spiritual director suggested he pray with the passage from Luke when the Angel appears to Mary to tell her she is chosen to give birth to the Messiah. Dufford read the passage and the angel’s words stuck with him: Do not be afraid. This hymn has been included in hymnals of every Christian denomination since then. Perhaps you can experience active musical listening by listening to the YouTube at-home rendition of many voices singing Be Not Afraid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RF0DIpFOoBg&app=desktop