When I was a kid I spent a vast amount of time exercising my imagination. My earliest memories include huge adventures in faraway places such as the basement laundry room and the space under my grandmother’s coffee table. I could turn any spot I found myself playing into a fantasy land filled with colorful characters, amazing landscapes, and endless opportunities for exploration. I don’t play pretend with my kids as much as I probably should, but they all share that same love of adventure in imagination. There is something purely magical about watching them create a scene and have an entire world come to life just by picking up a random everyday object. The imagination muscle is probably the most important one to prioritize in life.
I’ve always been fascinated by watching the movement of water. The rhythmic flow of a body of water is naturally calming and soothing. The funny part is that I’m somewhat afraid of being in the water, there is something unsettling to me about the unknown world below its surface. Fear is something I could talk a lot about because I find myself discovering new fear frequently. It creeps into my thoughts and plays a role in how I process my feelings. But fear isn’t always bad, there are times that fear is what drives action. There is a river in my mind. Sometimes it flows as a gentle mountain stream. And sometimes, it is raging toward turbulent rapids; my thoughts tumbling over themselves like the frothy water over rocks. It’s those fast moving thoughts that usually are tainted with fear. It is when I recognize these thoughts that the great imagination I’ve built grabs hold of the fear and magnifies it with an intensity bigger than itself, pulling me under. My fear takes many shapes. When will the well of my creativity dry up? How can I allow my kids free range freedom and guarantee their safety? Why do I find it so hard to make time for self care? Am I giving enough to the maintenance of valued relationships? Most of the time I take these rushing thoughts and gently push them aside. Occasionally, though, I confront the fear and the most amazing thing happens: it transforms into strength. I wish I could do this all of the time, but for some reason I don’t always remember how to.
About a month ago I wrote about my natural impulse to protect my children. It’s one of my favorite posts, if you haven’t read it you really should. I told a story about instinctively reacting to save my daughter from danger. Only I didn’t really tell the story. My husband read it and said: “I really loved that blog post, but why didn’t you tell the whole story? From a reader’s perspective, I was left wanting to know more.” Of course, he knew the full story, he was there with me when it happened. I guess the reason I didn’t share the exact story was because of my fear. Fear of being judged, fear of reliving it in my mind on repeat, fear of sharing my deepest thoughts. As my adrenaline wore off in the aftermath all of my emotions remained very real and raw, but soon enough the incident began to fade into memory. Being one of the scariest moments of my life what persisted was the fear that pulsed through me in the moment it happened. These thoughts weren’t just tainted with fear, but were thoroughly saturated in vivid, dramatic, colorful fear. We were fishing on the shore of Lake Superior at the mouth of a river, it was a beautiful evening and the water was gently rolling in and out against the shore. My daughters eagerly picked through the many rocks under our feet, the puppy happily played in the sand, and my husband and son stood relaxed while casting their lines. Soon we decided it was time to head out and get back to our campsite for dinner. We were all getting tired, all except our two year old daughter. She was happy and within arm’s reach the entire time we were there. The second the words left my mouth saying it was time to leave she took off at what seemed like an impossible speed running away from us. The memory of what happened next holds the single greatest moment of fear and doubt I have ever known. As a result of that fear I have questioned how easy it is to take for granted the things we hold most dear to us, I have questioned my capacity for courage, and I have questioned my own vulnerabilities. I know I screamed her name. I’m pretty sure my husband did too. It takes the average human brain 0.25 seconds to react to a visual stimulus. I’m certain that I decided much faster than that to transform my instant fear into a powerful surge of action rather than a panic induced frenzy. As my muscles caught up to the pulsing of my drive to react I saw my husband launch forward next to me. Fortunately, my husband is the calmest person I know and in moments of stress, panic, or pressure he shines brightest. Our sweet little daughter had run right onto the river’s edge, unaware that the water of the river cut away the sandy shore to about six feet deep. Her tiny body was swept up into the slow movement of water. I have no way of estimating the length of time it took us to reach her, the memories of that moment seem frozen, as if time itself stopped. Luckily, instinct caused her to hold her breath in the water. As fast as it happened it was all over. We lost a nice fishing rod and an iPhone that day, but we didn’t even care. We piled into the car completely soaked, shaken, and extremely grateful that we were walking away together.
My imagination is a playground for fear. When I was a kid I believed that if I thought long enough about something then it couldn’t happen for real. Dodie Smith’s character Cassandra in I Capture the Castle said something similar: “…I have noticed that when things happen in one’s imaginings, they never happen in one’s life, so I am curbing myself.” But I think as I’ve grown wiser with time I’ve discovered that allowing my fear to sprout in my imagination is less about tempting fate and more about learning to challenge my fear. Fear is powerful. It can hold you hostage. But, in moments of great fear it can command a hidden strength you may not have even known you possessed.