Our dog Abby suffered from Astraphobia, an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning--although she never called it that, at least not out loud. With the heightened sensory perception all dogs have, Abby knew when a storm was brewing and would start pacing the house hours in advance, searching for a safe place to hide that didn't exist. Fearless when it came to strange dogs or mailmen who dared approach our mailbox, Abby was terrified of thunder, shaking and quaking under the desk as she pressed herself against the wall. Even the warm presence of her sister Phoebe hiding beside her offered no comfort. Holding Abby close, soothing her in a calm voice, had no effect. The fact that thunder had never caused her a single injury didn't matter. This pattern persisted for eleven years until Abby succumbed to cancer one Halloween night.
Abby was as smart as a dog could be, at least in my limited experience (I hope Phoebe isn't reading this. Sorry, old girl), but she didn't understand that thunder couldn't hurt her. She also didn't understand that cancer could hurt her, but that would have been asking too much. I can't say her fear was irrational as I'm not a dog, but I can say that it was a lot of wasted energy and unnecessary anguish. It made me think-- what was my thunder? Don't we each have our own thunder, some irrational fear holding us back, keeping us from our best possible life?
My mother was afraid of lightning, planes, and evil people--but not in that order. Knowing that statistically her fears didn't warrant the time she spent on them didn't stop her, no, she was determined, a professional worrier with a reputation to uphold. Nobody was going to out-worry her, dammit. Getting her on a plane was always an ordeal. She would tell us how she was nervous, or she wouldn't tell us, but then remind us over and over how much she loved us, as if we were parting company forever. When I pointed out how silly this was, how she didn't flip out every time she rode in a car, she would shake her head at my ignorance. At least you can survive a car accident she would reply, Needless to say, she didn't die from lightning, planes, or evil people. It was cancer.
Of course, I could walk around afraid of cancer; that would be logical, but not productive. Day-to-day though, what was I afraid of? Failure--that was a big one. Running out of time was becoming a theme when I realized my mother died when she was nine years older than I am now. Losing my memory terrifies me too. But fear of not living up to my own expectations may just be the winner.
What if I could let go of the fear and seize the joy I know is in there? The joy that elbows her way out when a baby laughs, a Blue Jay chases a squirrel away, or someone tells a funny joke. That joy I feel wading in the ocean, sand squishing between my toes, walking beside my husband and children. It takes practice, finding joy. It's not like you can wrestle her to the ground and pin her there like a WWE champ, you have to be gentle, coax her to walk with you. But don't forget to smile. She scares easy.