Or: What We Talk About When We Talk About Fear
I dreamt last night that I was at some kind of convention in a large hall, like an airplane hangar. The hangar was split down the center by a temporary wall with just one door adjoining the two halves.
On one side of the wall were alcoholics who wanted to quit drinking. On the other side of the wall were alcoholics who didn’t want to quit drinking. What I wish I remember about this dream, but don’t, is on which side of the wall I stood. What I do remember is that I didn’t want to be on whichever side I was; I really wanted to be on the other side.
Buoyed by a resolve that I would be better off on the other side of the wall, I moved toward the door. As I reached to open it, I felt an arm land upon my shoulder. A warm, friendly arm.
You’re going to find this a little ridiculous but that friendly, comforting arm belonged to Landon Donovan, former captain of the US Men’s National Soccer Team.
“Hey, I’ve got someone I want you to meet,” he said.
“I was just going over there, though, through the door. I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t go with you,” I countered.
“He’s outside,” Landon Donovan said. “He wants to talk to you about language. About the words you use. Come on.”
Donovan let go of my shoulder and held his arm out to me. I linked my arm in his. We made the long walk across the wide floor and left the hangar.
Outside, in a dusty lot, sitting at a patio table in the shade of its umbrella was a man. He was late middle-aged, a bit paunchy, but calm and comfortable in his skin. With a gentle gesture he invited me to sit with him.
“I want to talk to you about language,” he said. “Specifically, the language that you use that unconsciously betrays your inner struggles and feelings.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” I said. He sipped at a drink in a glass.
“Have you noticed,” he said, “that you speak of fear with almost everything you say?”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” I answered.
He said nothing. And I thought about my words.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean
I thought about my fear, the fear that crouches in the shadows of each sentence I speak. In the dark places I don’t go even to unpack my own emotions, my fear whispers accusations that can be heard in faint echoes at the edges of my voice.
I’m afraid I don’t understand
I thought about my fear. I thought about the ways I sabotage myself with accusations, false labels, and lies. And then I woke up.
When I pray, I pray for clear signs. I’m not good with subtlety and I don’t trust myself to interpret signs without viewing them through the lens of my own ego. I do trust, however, that I’ll be given clear directions toward my best future if I only ask and sincerely offer myself to be of service to God as I understand him.
So if this was a clear, unsubtle message from God as I understand him, then I need to pay attention to my language today. I need to think about how the words I use can frame or crystallize emotion even subconsciously. How Fear lies and accuses and steers me wrong, away from the path God would otherwise have me on.
I don’t know why Landon Donovan was there. I suppose it’s because Donovan represents a kind of optimistic dedication to the idea that if you work hard, you make progress. That if you believe in your cause and stay true to its ideals, that you will move in the right direction.
I’m confident that this is right for me today. It’s a strong and lovely feeling, to feel that I’m following God’s directive, that I’m doing “the next indicated thing.” I trust, also, that with gratitude and sincerity in my thoughts and actions, that I’ll be granted the serenity, courage, and wisdom of which I’ve dreamt.