Let me tell you a little bit about fear.
A few weeks ago, my husband, son, and I were heading to church on a Sunday morning. We got pulled over on the freeway, for speeding, evidently, though it appeared he was going with the flow of traffic. My husband was driving, and I had dozed off, not being a morning person. I was in the backseat next to our son. A CHP officer came to the side window, asked for license and registration. And white hot fear poured down my spine like gasoline. He seemed friendly enough, not intimidating. Just an officer doing his job, like most officers. But I kept looking at the gun on his hip and my husband’s brown hands flat on the steering wheel. I leaned up and rubbed his shoulder. Oh god, oh god, I kept thinking. Please let him see he has a family. Please let him see that I’m white. Please let my whiteness protect him. Oh god, oh god, please protect us.
We were ticketed and went on our way. Frustrated, of course, because we weren’t going faster than anyone else, but everything was fine. It was a standard moving violation. The CHP officer was just filling his quota (and has there ever been a more ignorant method of “justice”?). I’m sure there was no racial bias in his decision to pull us over. Right?
Because I don’t know anymore. We’ve all heard the news stories. An unarmed black man is approached or pulled over by police. He ends the encounter dead. The first few of these stories seemed like coincidence. But then it kept happening. And happening. And happening. Sometimes to black women. Sometimes to teenage boys. God help us, once even to a child playing in a park. And it stopped feeling like coincidence.
I know not all police; not even the majority of police, are people who would commit such acts. But I’m at a point in my life where I’m afraid of all of them just the same. I keep my eyes on them, shy away from them, leave the area where they are. I mark where their guns are, mark how they watch my husband and I as we go about our business. I see their hands touching the metal at their belts, that little weapon that can end it all in a second. Always, their hands rest on their guns.
My white friends have no idea what this is like. I had no idea what it was like either. Not until I fell in love with a black man. Now I can’t stop seeing it. Now I can’t stop being afraid around police officers. I know it’s not fair to label all officers by the actions of the few, but then again it’s not fair to label all black men by the actions of a few.
I’m afraid. Every day I see more and more news piling up and it’s all bad. Mass shootings Children snatched at the border. Rising sea levels. Temperatures rising. Babies starving to death in Venezuela. Women coerced into abortions by a system that has failed them. Wildfires ravaging our forests. White nationalist rallies. The normalization of pedophilia. Asbestos. Russian spies. Trade wars. Sexual assault. Ignorant leaders with almost limitless power.
Oh God, make it stop. I’m scared. I’m so, so scared.
When I was a child, I struggled with anxiety so bad I stopped being able to sleep at night for a time. I stayed up until all hours, getting up many times to wash my hands, which never felt clean enough. I tossed and turned, oppressed by anxiety and dark voices in my head. I paced the room. I pulled my hair. I couldn’t sleep until the sun rose for months.
I’m not pacing or hand washing or hair pulling, but I still toss and turn at night, imagining a world that we have made so uninhabitable that my son dies choking on poison gas.
I wonder how people throughout history have coped with what felt like the end of the world. How did the Greatest Generation make it through the war? Surely it felt like the end of the world then. What about all of those wars, calamities, and terror that preceeded this? What about the disciples in the days after Jesus’ crucifixion?
Maybe living in fear is part of being human. One of the things Jesus repeats most often throughout the Bible are admonishments not to be afraid. Somehow, even in the worst and darkest times, through slavery and siege and genocide; God’s people persevered in their faith. The Jewish people have been one of the most oppressed people groups in history. But they have endured. And continue to endure. God has not abandoned them. And, if we are to believe Jesus, we are his children too. Jesus says:
“…do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”- Matthew 6:25
Or, to put it another way, in The Lord of the Rings, a fantasy story about people struggling against incredible odds against a seemingly immortal and unknowable evil embodied by the One Ring, the unlikely hero, Frodo, laments to Gandalf, the wise wizard, “I wish it need not have happened in my time”
To which Gandalf replies, “So do I. And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, spoke from experience. He lived through both World Wars, and fought in the first. He saw what looked like the end of the world; what looked like unbeatable evil. But Tolkien was a man of faith. He believed that, even if we failed in this life, there was a life beyond it, and our job was to simply do our best with the circumstances we are given.
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Find that white star. Be anxious for nothing.