Fear is like this: at least once a year, for every year of her short life, Josie has accidentally sat on an ant pile, the little biting kind that leave mean, hard red bites that swell and stiffen and form to a hard white pustule at the end. They burn more than itch. She's had them on her feet, her legs, her hands, her arms. And because they hurt for several days, she remembers.
It's spring in Georgia, everything is waking up. The daffodils are almost through with their job of heralding the season change. Trees are blushing white, pink, and purple, there's more green everyday. The world feels like it's holding it's breath for just one more moment until all the good, green living things will burst forth.
Unfortunately for my daughter, this also means that the ants are back. She saw one yesterday, a big lumbering carpenter ant in our bathroom, looking for water. She screamed and ran to her bed, terrified. She put shoes on her hands and feet and refused to come out until the ant was gone. "I am never goin' outside again; the ants are back," she vowed, giant tears dripping off her chin.
In the following minutes, she trembled at the sight of a black fuzz on the carpet, at a small black lego in the corner, at dust bunny under her bed. Nothing I did could console her.
Fear is like a schoolyard bully. It will tease you, glare at you, steal your lunch money until you stand your ground.
So I picked my daughter up and told her, "I know you're scared, but you're going to kill the ant."
She shrieked and clawed at me and tried to get away but I held her fast--gently but firmly. She hovered over the poor, clumsy carpenter ant, writhing in fear.
I had to shout at the top of my voice to be heard over her: "it can't hurt you. It's not the kind that bite. Kill it. Kill the ant. I won't let you be afraid of it. KILL IT. KILL THE ANT. KILL IT. KILL IT. KILL. IT."
This went on for a while, 10 minutes, Caleb came home with pizza for dinner, he let it get cold while he and the boys huddled in the family room, listening to us. Finally, Josie stomped hard and fast and smushed it. Then she melted into me, she thought she was done. I told her to pick it up and throw it away. She balked, so I made her sit there and stare at it until she was ready to throw it away. She howled, but her heart wasn't in it. She was no longer terrified, she was simply unsure of her own resolve.
Sometimes at night, I wake up in a sweaty panic for no good reason. There are a hundred fears and anxieties that know better than to show themselves in the daylight; They know what they are, whisps, small nothings, just uncanny shadows made by a curtain waving in the dark. But at night, they seem monstrously large, looming, and unassailable. I pray really loudly then. I scream and writhe inside, trying to cast these ant-demons out. I'm so loud I can't hear God shouting at me: KILL IT. KILL THE ANT. KILL. IT. KILL IT. THROW IT OUT.
After a few moments, Jo got bored, she got a tissue, squashed the ant one more time, just to be sure, and tossed it in the trashcan with forced nonchalance. She took off her shoes, walked out to her father, and calmly informed him, "I'm a brave, strong girl. I killed the ant. I. KILLED. IT."
Caleb said simply, "Yeah, I heard."
Seasons in life change all the time, with each new growth and push forward, there are hundreds of ants that wake up. There's only one thing to do with fear--face it. Kill the ones that can be killed, kill them and toss them. For the ones that can't, hold your ground. You can only serve one master: fear or love. Choose love and proceed on and out toward the sunlight and daffodils and swingset and your best friend who lives next door and is just waiting for you to come out and play.
It's okay if it gets loud for a while when you get down to do your dirty work, it's okay if you cry, it's okay if it takes a while, just get it done--be a brave, strong girl and kill it, because everything else is waking up, after the fear comes the freedom, you don't want to miss the wonder.