My childhood God spoke in the cadence of King James. As I remember, He often told me to “fear not.”
… fear not … peace I leave with you … let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid … take therefore, no thought for the morrow … be not dismayed … the Lord is my helper, and I will not fear … the Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? … fear not
I’ve been compiling a “brave/not brave” scorecard for my childhood self. Believe I was middling-brave. I enjoyed the usual childhood activities. I rode my bike all over my small, Midwestern town, roller skated, and swam pretty much daily during summer vacation. Ice skating was a large part of my winter play.
Team sports weren’t for me, mostly because I wasn’t good at them. I was always chosen last for gym class baseball games, and was lousy at all gymnastics. The only phys-ed activity where I showed some aptitude was track. My long legs made me a pretty good hurdler.
I have many memories of being afraid when facing a physical challenge. I didn’t want to climb trees or rocks. Jumping across, over, or down made me fearful. I would never, ever, do something just for the thrill of it.
My body was a scaredy-cat, but my mind was brave. I was raised to think clearly, organize my thoughts, and to speak out. I chaired groups at school and tried out for the school plays. I spoke at church, and was able to meet adults comfortable and confident. I could be fearless in the mental arena.
Here I am, at 76, still pretty much that same person. Expectations are different; no one expects me to run, jump, or throw a ball. I’m a bit braver physically – parasailing off the coast of Puerto Vallarta was the highpoint of a vacation not all that long ago. And I believe that I have retained and honed my ability to write and speak my mind.
In this time of pandemic and protest, though, I’ve become confused about exactly what bravery is. Is it brave – or timid – to continue my stay-in-place practice, despite pushes to get back to normal? Was I being thoughtful or wishy-washy when I changed my mind, and changed it again, about meeting up with my writing group, knowing the five of us would be masked and seated more than six feet apart? Am I wise or cowardly as I choose to support the protesters with my prayers and admiration, but not my physical presence?
I have two new heroes. The first is Darnella Frazier, the seventeen-year-old African American from Minneapolis, who captured the murder of George Floyd on her phone. Darnella, a high schooler, with a boyfriend and a job at the mall, Darnella said “The world needed to see what I was seeing. Stuff like this happens in silence too many times.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune praised her for her bravery, presence of mind, and steady hand, naming Darnella the Rosa Parks of her generation.
Samantha Francine, from Whitefish, Montana, is my second hero. A photo of her has become an iconic image on social media. Samantha, a 27-year-old African American, was at a peaceful protest when a visibly angry white guy confronted her. The man, standing several inches taller, yelled hateful, curse-filled words at her face. Samantha responded by raising her face, and staring directly into the eyes of her tormentor. She later recounted a lesson from her father: “No matter who the threat is, no matter what the threat is, you look them in the eye so that they know you’re human.” She added, “Surrounded by so many awesome people, I just knew what to do.”
Two heroes. Two young women who “just knew what to do.” Surely, they were bolstered by a belief system that reassured them, “fear not!”
Bible experts say there are 365 verses in the scriptures that promise a sense of safety and security through rough times. Besides the ones quoted above is this, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” In the midst of these hard days, I take particular comfort in these words from 2 Timothy 1:7. I rejoice in the numbers of brave protestors on the streets. I also honor those of us who know that our best life can be lived out by keeping ourselves safe, making our personal decisions, and dedicating ourselves to educating ourselves and supporting others. These strange days call for bravery in many guises.
Fear not, friends!