Flames of blue engulfed her as she came running from the tent. I’d just released the ball to my friend Jamie when I saw her. I called to him. ‘She’s on fire, get your parents’. He turned, looked and we scampered off like mice in the direction of our respective tents.We all knew each other so well organisation was seamless. Eskies containing precious ice to keep food cold in the heat of summer was collected by the men and used to ease the woman’s pain; the local shopkeeper was assailed by teenagers running back and forth to collect more ice. Those teens that weren’t running there were filling buckets with water and ferrying them to pour over her burns. Mothers sheltered not only their children but the woman’s children from the horrific sight and sound of a mother screaming, dying slowly in front of her husband while we waited helplessly for an ambulance to come. A community of camper’s prayers was heard that day for somehow she survived her injuries, but every child that witnessed the tragedy now had a new fear. The fear of how a mother could die while doing something as inane as preparing dinner. Prior to this, the dark, jellyfish and the nuns that walked along the beach were the scariest things we encountered when camping. Now we flinched whenever we smelt gas getting turned on for cooking the evening meal. We feared we would lose our mothers as they prepared dinner. Of course what occurred was a random event but try telling that to a child.
What happens though when you become an adult? Does our perception of fear change?The answer is still elusive but there are those that do have a flair for looking at life differently. I like to think I’m one of these people, solely because life has been quite a bizarre series of events at times. I’ll show you what I mean. Come for a walk with me through my Forest of Emotions, specifically to the wild and untamed vista of the Valley of Fear.
For ten years I lived in the Valley of Fear rarely venturing out to seek sunshine. After a while I became familiar with its quirks and funny ways. It was full of exotic flora and fauna all associated with creating chaos in my mind on a daily basis about all things small and large. It only took a few moments of being still and I would enter the valley ready to explore again.
To feed the imagination with fear a mind has to be fertile and that is exactly what the Valley of Fear is. A thick undergrowth of lush, healthy ferns is nourished by the worries of a lifetime. It’s impossible to tell how deep the bed of soil they grow in is because it consists of worries that are not just mine, but those of my mother and children which I also adopted and are not mine to own. This luxuriant base lets trees grow straight and tall spreading thick leafy canopies across oft walked,well-worn paths as problems and fears are contemplated over and over.
There are very few flowers. These need too much sun to grow and fear thrives much better in darker habitats. The little sun that is let through entices vines to twine their way around and climb up tree trunks;but the vines are deceptive with their curves and weaving ways. Whilst they captivate and mesmerize you, their sharp barbed thorns prick into your skin ripping at your flesh, creating not just something else to fear but also something to hurt you.
As if this wasn’t enough there were also the animals to contend with. The mosquitoes were the worst. It would have been so much easier if I could have seen them and squashed them; but no, these ones would get in my ears and burrow through into my brain. Endlessly they would chant over and over my worst fears directly into my sub-conscious until I believed them and my stomach churned.
Walking with care was extremely important. Not paying attention could see you mowed down by a rampaging bull. These only showed up when a fear so big and so sudden appeared that it took my breath away. It was something akin torealising you were going to be the one to make the decision about ending your parent’s life when they could no longer stand to be in pain or knowing your big brother was never going to wake up no matter how hard you prayed.
Of course what would a forest be without streams or rivers? The ones here have leeches thatlatch on to take your courage away until, all of a sudden, you realise it’s gone. It sounds dreadful doesn’t it? Don’t despair, it does get better. Despite being a place where one can be lost in their worst nightmares it is also a place that offers a chance to truly understand who you are.
There were times when friends and family joined me on my wanderings through the forest and held my hand. Fears are never as bad when someone is with you. Often when we journeyed together we found one of the many forks in the road. These are the most important places in the forest. At this fork,a path loops back to the Valley of Fear via Depression Way, the other to the Meadow of Opportunity. The choice may seem simple but don’t underestimate the power of routine.
Anyone who has maintained a life of fear, oppression, loss, anxiety or depression can become so comfortable with these emotions that the familiarity is easier to live with. Change in itself is fear personified for some and that is why the fork in the road is a place of meditation and contemplation. It is a place where love and compassion are paramount in taking the first step toward seeing the flowers bloom rather than returning to be knocked over by rampaging bulls.
I reached the fork in the road in 2012. My mother lay dying before finally succumbing to dementia at 86. She had entrusted me with her end of life care and the time had come to face that fear. I looked into her eyes through to her soul. Love, trust and peace all resided within. Whilst I was still afraid, my mother was without fear, ready to return home. For her this was an opportunity to be free of pain and of the body and brain that had betrayed her. My fear was put aside allowing love to fill the space it left and my mother’s gratitude to shine. I remained with her until finally without fear she returned home in the early hours of the morning.
I had found my fork in the road 38 years after the fear of losing my mother began with a rush of blue flames. Admittedly, it wasn’t a fear that I dwelled on every day, but it was always there, more so when she grew elderly and lived alone. This fear was over. There were more to be dealt with, but for now, my time in the valley was over. There will be a next time and a next because I will always be scared of something. Forever, I will be avoiding vines, squashing mosquitos, dodging bulls and pulling leeches from my skin, but I will find my way into the sunshine again.
When you find your fork in the road, sit and contemplate why you’re there. Chances are your fear led you there because it’s ready to be dealt with and leave the Valley. It’s a time to be brave and step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it’s easier than others, but every time has one thing in common. Each time you’ll learn something from the fear you conquered.No one likes to live in fear, or wants to sense fear, yet, if we don’t understand the nature of this emotion how then do we understand the concept of joy?
It’s time now to leave the Valley and head to the Meadow.Kick off your shoes,walk onto the soft grass in the Meadow of Opportunity and sprinkle what is left of the fear. You can be assured that something beautiful will grow in the sunshine. If you need proof that fear can be conquered look ahead of you. What you will see is an abundance of colour that is a reflection of joy and celebration of those that have walked the same path before you and scattered the remnants of their fear across the grass. There will still be times that you cry, but more so to water the flowers that you have planted from the leftovers of your fear. Cry to honour the best of times and the strong person you have become from conquering your fears. Now those exiting the Valley of Fear will follow in your footsteps and lead the way for others.