When I was in 4th and 5th grades, we lived in Wheaton, a west-side Chicago bedroom community.
Whether it was a developmental thing, or just much going on, I have lots of memories from that time.
I got my first glasses and a whole new focus on the external world.
I broke my ankle playing soccer in gym class and went on my first Girl Scout camping trip with a plaster cast and a trash bag duct taped to my leg.
Alice, a Golden Retriever puppy, “followed us home” from the county fair and became my best friend as long as she was with us.
Then, there were the tornadoes. Lots of them, there in the Midwest, on the edge of the Plains states.
I spent a lot of my time at Lincoln Elementary School kneeling in the hall, a book over my head, leaning into the coat rack. I was never quite sure how that was supposed to help.
I was actually ok with the whole hallway and book plan, though. The kids at the nearby Catholic school had to go outside and get in the ditch during tornado warnings. This made less sense to me!
These memories bubbled to the surface of my consciousness a couple of days ago. Apparently it was tornado season in Atlanta.
More specifically, it was tornado season directly over my house.
The beasties and I were home, still trying to get it together after a broken kitchen faucet and severe weather, complete with a power outage, earlier in the same day. The A/C still wasn’t fixed so I had the windows open.
Then I heard it. Or didn’t. That same odd silence all the cells in my body somehow remember so vividly from my childhood. Chills up the back of my neck.
A quick grab for the remote. Food Network didn’t seem like my best option just then.
The local news was ominous. According to pilots at Hartsfield Jackson and weather radar, there was a cluster of “tornado-like” activity moving in a band headed straight for our house.
A strategy seemed in order.
Luther’s not checked off on the basement so the hallway upstairs came closest to fitting the criteria of seeking shelter.
The dogs were already anxious so I undertook stealthy preparations while checking the news.
I felt like Winnie the Pooh. Subtle. “I’m just a little black rain cloud…”
A baby gate in the doorway to the breakfast room. Doors off the hallway gently closed. A flashlight. A bowl of water. Treats for the dogs. A couple of windows still opened an inch or so. A small stool with a pillow for those of us who don’t sit well on the floor. A towel just in case the glass doors broke and there were flying shards. Some special cookies for Luther. And a lead on his collar. My cell phone in my pocket.
I actually put shoes on, which doesn’t happen in the house, ever.
And then I realized that I haven’t been really afraid for quite a while. Which got me to thinking about the difference between fear and anxiety.
Anxiety lives mostly in the past or the future. Memories of kneeling in the hallway while a nervous teacher read aloud, ironically from Little House on the Prairie, in a shaky voice. Concern about Bill flying home the next day.
Fear lives more in the present. Tornadoes moving through your neighborhood in the next 6 minutes. Volume up on the TV so I could hear from the hall. A bonding moment with the dogs in a very small space.
Then they called the all clear for us and I burst into tears.
Tears of concern for those in the path of that storm who were not yet all clear.
And tears, no doubt, as a primary way our bodies release stress. Laughter works, too! Also, dogs licking my face!
Finished with their contribution to my sanity, the dogs went back to sleep.
I’ve been pondering fear ever since. Which ones exist outside me? Which in my imagination?
Is there a difference?
Chemically, no. Stress chemicals in our bodies do not differentiate.
Strategically, I think so. I felt at least concerned. Ok. Afraid.
But, somehow, staying in the present allowed me to take action in a way that wasn’t burdened by the remembered past or imagined future.
I’m glad to be here, without any of the many undependable pine trees around our house in the center of the kitchen.
Today, I decided not to act out of fear. To choose acting out of love, instead. It is, apparently, a choice that takes a bit of practice!
It’s not easy, but it begins with a choice. Mine. Yours.
This I can do. I can choose. I can help my girls learn to choose. And even the dogs.
It is, I suspect, a timely reminder.