I’m a heavy sleeper and always have been. In fact, I sleep like the dead. As an adult, I’m grateful for that. As a kid though, I wanted to be a light sleeper like my Mom, who woke at every whisper. I envied her. She had it easy. She never slept deeply enough to get lost in a nightmare.
Me? I had nightmares often. Recurrent ones. There were two main themes: spiders and massacres. I’m arachnophobic, so anything eight-legged was never welcome. I’d dream that hundreds of the technicolor beasts would drop from the ceiling or crawl up from the foot of my bed as I’d huddle under the covers, unable to wake up or get away. Not fun. (Freud, have fun analyzing that.) I’d wake up crying, sick to my stomach, and afraid of any shadow I’d see on the sheet.
The second nightmare? Worse. I’d be out in the front yard while some party was going on in the house. Suddenly, I’d get a bad feeling. I would run from room to room, yelling at everyone to get out, but no one would listen. Then, the ‘bad people” came and the shooting would start. In the nightmare, I always ended up hiding on a shelf in our bathroom in the dark, listening to it all happen. Unable to escape. Unable to help. Then, everything would go quiet. I’d open the door to the same sight over and over again, which I won’t go into here. Though I’d try to wake up from this one, I couldn’t. The nightmare would rewind and start all over, until my sister would shake me because I’d be shouting in my sleep. It followed me throughout my childhood and into college until it finally (thankfully) began to taper off.
When you’re a kid, the world is a thrilling and scary place. Everything is bigger than you. New. Unknown. You’re still discovering who you are, and if you’re insecure like I was then, the fear is magnified. It rises up at night, and you try to work it out with spiders, snakes, or whatever your own personal Armageddon may be. You’re supposed to leave these fears behind, grow out of them, and move on.
Lately though, in the aftermath of all of the horrific, divisive, and hateful things that have happened recently, fear is everywhere. I’ve watched it infect my Facebook feed. The fire is constantly stoked by the media, politics, vitriol, rhetoric: you name it. What’s maddening though is watching how this fear is affecting many of us. It’s tearing us apart. We worry about the world we’re leaving to our children. We’re locking our doors, avoiding eye contact, judging entire classes of people by the color of their skin, their religion, their political preference, whatever. Fear is making us feel powerless, and we’re grasping at anything to make it go away so we feel “safe.”
Fear is natural. We’ll never escape it. It’s built into our DNA. It’s how we evolved. We were afraid, and it spurred us into action. We invented, migrated, and built. Fear was bigger than we were, so we became bold. Brave. Fear pushes us beyond our limits and into new possibilities. Safety? It’s comforting, but an illusion at best, and I’m okay with that.
Fear is a nightmare. Safety is a dream. Nightmares are dreams too. They’re not so different, when it comes right down to it. The only difference is how either one affects you. Technicolor spiders never stopped me from going to sleep the next night or the night after, and while a great dream may tempt me to linger, I still woke up. We don’t stop sleeping because nightmares exist. We keep moving on.
I’m well into my 40’s and still “don’t do spiders,” but it’s not as bad as it used to be. I faced an army of parachute spiders last week in fact, but that’s a story for another time. The massacre thing? Well, that’s moved out of my nightmares and into reality, which is damn awful.
Will I hide on a shelf or in my home? No.
Will I hide my family from the world in fear? Hell, no!
I will teach my children to be bold and brave, but most of all, I will teach them to stand up and fight: to live, love, and to make a difference. I’ll lead by example. After all, I’m an adult. So are you.
Face fear and embrace it. Make eye contact. Stare the damn thing down. Smile at strangers. Keep an open heart. But most of all, take action.