by Linda Ryan
The other day a former coworker of mine wrote an essay that blew my socks off. I know this lady; she’s a cast-iron lady and she’s not afraid of anything. She says what she thinks, and the devil take the hindmost. But underneath that is a person I don’t believe I ever glimpsed before, a person openly and honestly admitting to the very human emotion of fear. Her particular fear was of having her mammogram done after many years, and the chance that something might be found on it. Her mother died of breast cancer, but also fear because she too had put off getting things checked out. So it is with my former coworker, and now she waits for the results hoping for the best, yet, despite it all, expecting what might be the worst.
It’s an amazing thing to see someone so strong admit to such a fear. Fear surrounds all of us, but to many of us, mostly women, the specter of breast cancer is one that we try to forget about, but we can’t quite seem to do it. The month of October is Breast Cancer awareness month, and everywhere we go there are pink ribbons, pink T-shirts, including one that is probably my favorite which says, “Of course these are fakes. My real ones tried to kill me!” Somehow the gallows-type humor just tickles me as I am a little over four years after my diagnosis.
My heart hurts for my former coworker, because I know what she’s going through. I watched my mother go through breast cancer, and even though she was my adoptive mother and I knew if there was a genetic component, I wouldn’t have it from her. But from the moment I heard that word cancer as I sat across the desk from my doctor, all I could think about were the scars that she bore and that now I would share.
It’s hard to acknowledge fear. Sometimes people tell us that we shouldn’t be afraid of anything because Jesus is right there with us. I’m glad. I realize Jesus is with me, but sometimes I need a shoulder, or a hand, or even just a “Hey, how are you?”
I’m still afraid of cancer, and I know too many people who have seemingly beaten one kind only to come down with the same thing again, or having it spread somewhere else unexpectedly. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, I guess, but it’s always at the back of my mind, like a bad case of heebie-jeebies.
Jesus told us not to be afraid, but I have to wonder. Did he change his mind maybe as he stood in front of Pilate knowing that God was far, far away, further than God had ever been from Jesus,. For once, Jesus stood alone as a completely human being facing the unthinkable. Did he have fear on the cross? I can’t imagine that he would not because he was, at that point in time, so entirely human that he was just like us. He had to face his fear, and try to work through it although he didn’t have much opportunity to do that.
We seem to be in a climate of fear these days. Everything we hear and see and read about seems to deal with some reaction to a fear, rational or irrational. People are shot because somebody else was afraid. People are ostracized because some people are afraid of them. Some people are left to struggle alone because others are afraid poverty and homelessness is catching. Little kids go hungry because some of us are afraid to give even a little bit of money to help provide meals for them. People will say that is the parents responsibility, and yes, that’s true. But what if the parent is unable to do so because of the job climate, or that they have a prison record, or even that they are of a different race. What are they to do?
Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Had he said that a few more times, maybe more people would have heard it. We haven’t lost any fear, in fact, if anything, I think we’ve gained a lot of fear. We fear immigrants, we fear those of other religions, we fear people whose beliefs are not like ours, whose political ideals are not ours, who live in places unlike ours, and so on down the line. It’s hard to be afraid, but yet we live in a climate right now where fear is like a forest fire. It keeps growing and growing, and the flames are being fed even as we speak.
I wish that Jesus would get on a giant microphone so that everyone in the whole world could hear “Don’t be afraid!” People would hear the sound, but I wonder but would they listen to the words? Or would that be just one more thing for them to be afraid of?
I wish my coworker the best. I wish I could relieve her fears, but that’s not something I can do right now. I think about her, I worry about her, and I have asked Jesus to take care of her, and that’s about the extent of what I can do at this particular moment in time. I think about all my other friends who are in the process of identifying, treating, or surviving a disease that everyone fears. I keep looking to Jesus and hoping to hear that “Don’t be afraid.”
It’s all I really have to cling to. Somehow, I hope my faith in that one simple statement will be enough.
You can read her essay here.