My stomach has been tight with fear today. It’s been building all week, a fire slowly being stoked right underneath my chest cavity. I’ve tried to ignore it, but fear has a sneaky way of slipping through the cracks. I have learned over the past years that pretending my house isn’t on fire doesn’t keep me from getting burned. So today, I tuned in. I threw tinder on the fire and let it blaze, filling my core body with smoke, making it hard to breathe.
I tell myself, it’s fine. I tell myself, the only way out is through.
Death comes in twos. When I was twenty, my mother and grandmother within three days. Three years ago, my best friends Caryn and Kate within six months. This week another two – and while this time it was not immediate family or intimate best friends, I cared for these people very much and I am heavy-hearted with the loss. I have mental connections between this loss and previous ones – in my head, I can follow these connections, like a string. A macabre daisy-chain of deaths. It becomes almost unreal at times, unbelievable. But really, what does that show other than we are all so much more connected than we ever really realize? There is talk of what are we doing wrong, what are we missing? Maybe we can shift the question. What are we doing right? Can we do more of that? Maybe.
Sometimes though, what I do doesn’t matter. I am powerless over death. Aren’t we all, eventually? And this knowledge is the root of my fear. I have known loss. I will know more. I wait with baited breath, hoping for a long enough reprieve in between. The fear tells me there is no reprieve. No one is safe.
I made some decisions a few weeks ago. I think I am now deciding to take them back. Death does that – makes me re-calibrate what is important, what is not. At the end of the day, what is important?
Have I served? Have I helped? Have I loved? Have I tried? Have I held my breath as the smoke from fear’s fire filled my lungs and kept walking anyway? Have I learned? Have I grown? Does the fire of my determination outpace the one of fear? Does my story throw light into the shadows? Can I guide others through their own flames?
Maybe. Maybe. I’ll try. I’ll swallow the smoke, but I’m afraid.