6.01.2008

(Do not be afraid.)

I don't particularly like dinosaurs. I suppose dinosaurs are an irrelevant thing to dislike, considering they are extinct. But they frightened me so badly as a child I simply don't like them as an adult.

I learned about dinosaurs in kindergarten. I remember a filmstrip about the basics - tyrannosaurus rex, brontosaurus, etcetera. Even the relative dark of a elementary school classroom gave me the heebie jeebies after learning about those enormous, deadly beasts. In the middle of the night, they chased me through nightmares, leaving me gasping for breath and soaked with cold sweat. I disentangled myself from the sheets and scrambled down the hall toward my parents' bedroom, only to remember they were temporarily sleeping in the basement.

The basement.

I don't particularly like basements, and they are, unfortunately, not going to become extinct anytime soon. I still lock the door to the basement when I'm visiting my parents' house, and consider it a small blessing that houses in California rarely have them.

The basement in our first house really wasn't that scary as far as basements go. It was partially finished, which moderately reduces the creepy factor (you know what substantially ups the creepy factor? "Michigan basements," which are unfinished to the point of sporting dirt walls and floors). I cannot remember getting from my bed to the pull-out where my parents were sleeping - facing the darkened basement stairs immediately after a nightmare. But I got there. I nestled between my parents, and willed myself to stay awake so I could keep watch: for the t-rex, and for whatever haunts ruled the basement at midnight.

I don't know how many nights this scene was duplicated, but I do know that after a while, my grandmother caught wind of what was going on. She was sick with cancer, and my parents were in the basement so that she could stay with us during her treatment. Even though she was sick - and I still to this day don't really know what she was going through during the season of my nightmares - she volunteered to let me come and sleep with her when the dinosaurs woke me up. I do know this: it only took one night of fleeing to my grandmother's side to chase the fears away. The basement was a horrible sanctuary from nightmares; clinging to my grandma in the safe place of my parents' bedroom cured me.

Of course, what scared me most was my grandmother's illness. I loved her so much.

My memory of that time is so vivid. While it wasn't my first experience of fear, it is the earliest I can remember. Lately I can't seem to get the sequence of events out of my head, the awful braid of dinosaurs, basement, and cancer that frightened me so. And I know that the reason I'm thinking of these things is because I am newly afraid. I have a case of the fear that comes with having a new baby. It's a shadow that hovers nearby, reminding me of all the bad things that can happen. I don't think a day goes by that I don't think about the probability of an earthquake hitting Southern California. (Oh, that I could shut earthquakes on the other side of a locked door...)

I don't want to live in it, to run from one fear to the next. I don't want to let that shadow govern my life, let alone the life of my daughter. So I am taking refuge in scripture in a new way, seeking and receiving its blessing in the form of a sacred commandment. I imagine it spoke in my grandmother's gentle voice:

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

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