I’ve been thinking the past few days of a word to frame the new year, an intention to guide me through 2017. It’s a practice I was introduced to just as the calendar flipped to 2016, thanks to my friend, Laurie. And just like last year, I find once again, that rather than contemplating a dictionary full of possibilities, a word introduced itself to me, pulled up a chair in my imagination, and invited me into a conversation.
Or rather fear less.
And wow, do I ever need that word, that concept to draw near, to enter into my psyche and my behavior, to abide in me.
It has felt to me that fear and fearmongering have been the words and experience for much of 2016. I have scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed and spiraled into depression and tears at the articles so many friends post, the sheer volume and repetition of bad news, an avalanche of information and opinion that’s left me too often feeling helpless and hopeless.
My email is full of doomsday appeals. And with each dire prediction of destruction, each instance of hate played out, each threat of political suicide, I remember all too clearly the fatalism and futility I couldn’t shake at the height of the Cold War. Fear spurred me then into action, but action arising from fear did not bring me peace, doing “the right thing” did not stem my worry, joining organizations and volunteering did little to quell my anxiety.
It was only love that broke through the frozen shell fear had constructed around my heart and self, sealing me off from happiness and hope. And that love, when it came to me, was nothing I could see, or touch, or prove. It didn’t come from pleasing others, mastery of facts, activism, or political correctness.
It was a gift. That love came from beyond me, not because I deserved it, but because it had always been there for the asking—for me, for everyone—simply waiting to be discovered and welcomed.
Fear fights for compliance. It uses force, pits us against one another, feeds off our insecurities, and amplifies our anxieties. Fear is the playground bully, the dictator, and the parts of ourselves that believe lies. Fear wants us to stay small and play safe. Fear wants us to resist change and growth, it goads us into believing we can cling to or re-create an edenic life that never really existed anywhere except in our own fantasys fueled by fear’s glossy literature of lies.
I know this because for most of my life I’ve been intimate with fear. I’ve been its daughter, its girlfriend, its champion, its wife, its captive, its prey. Fear has ruled my thoughts and actions; run like a wild dog at my side, snarling and nosing me away from my flock, until I run alongside it, conveniently forgetting the truth of the One who shepherds me always toward wholeness, even on the rocky path.
The Word I want to follow has faced fear and death and remains faithful not by avoidance, or by destruction, but by accompaniment, by walking alongside distress through the darkness, acknowledging fear, but not succumbing to it, and clinging to words that bring life.
I need more of hope’s words, and less of fear’s. I’ve removed the Facebook app from my phone and limited my email campaigns. (I don’t need to know every detail to know we are indeed in trouble.) I look for others to inspire me and to ground me, so that I can act out of love, out of faith, and out of hope, so that I can see fear without being hypnotized by it.
I turn to poet Jan Richardson and her book The Cure for Sorrow:
…how still your fear becomes
as it loosens its grip,
perhaps never quite leaving you,
but calmly turning…
I listen to the songs of Carrie Newcomer, who assures me that “You Can Do This Hard Thing” and that “There’s Help in Hard Times.” I sing the songs of Taize that remind me: “The Lord is my light / my light and salvation / in God I trust.”
I celebrate the abundance in my own life. My word for 2016 was “Success” and it manifested in many ways, including my first real estate deal, buying a waterfront home that my husband and I will live in while renovating.
I take photos of the amazing scenery and wildlife around me, and share beauty with my friends on Facebook. To commemorate the culmination of 5 years in Washington, I put together a 25-minute slideshow of my favorite (mostly) nature photos.
I won’t become fear-free, or fearless this year (or any year for that matter) but I can fear less and trust more; fear less and love more; fear less and sing more; fear less and open my life to more. 2017 asks this of me. What is it asking of you?
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.