Dreams of Kindness, Love and Grace by Carolyn Berry
Her voice literally hissed through the AT&T voice messaging fiber optics and seared a hole through the center of my ear drum.
“This is (name). I have caller ID, and I know you called me this morning at 5:43 AM. I don’t know why in the world you would call me, but don’t ever call this number again!”
Not breathing, I trembled as I erased the message. My pulse raced. I blinked blankly, eyes wide. Was there anyone in my life who held the level of contempt for me which I heard in this woman’s voice? I felt strangely disconnected from reality. I suddenly felt afraid.
Then … I remembered.
I’m an early riser, you see. Must have come via the genes of generations of peasant stock, who rose early each day to tend the soil as amber dawn warmed the sky. This particular morning, I had showered and was heading for the newspaper and my daily crossword, when I decided to call my office to leave a message: my day was starting with a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting. I wouldn’t be in the office until late morning. I dialed the number quickly, savoring the aroma of my Earl Grey tea as it brewed in my favorite cup.
“Hhhhul-low,” a woman’s voice muttered sleepily.
“Oh, I am so sorry!” I winced as I spoke. “I’ve dialed the wrong number!” I hung up quickly.
How could I have done such a stupid thing? I know my office number like I know my social security number … and nearly as well as I know my two children’s birth dates and respective birth weights. Little did I know, as I carried out such an act of idiocy, that I had been caught red-handed.
At exactly 9:48 AM, according my answering system, the woman had called ME to clearly delineate a boundary. No future contact. No way. Nada. She didn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t call her again even if I wanted to. I had dialed a wrong number and to this day I don’t know what her number is!
This experience marks a very personal encounter with statistics that reveal growing numbers in our culture who seem to be quick to anger, eager to perceive insult, exaggerating the intentions of others, constantly on the edge. We all know fear. It is probably the most common human emotion, although we use myriad other terms to describe it: hesitation, misgivings, foreboding, qualms, suspicion, uneasiness, worry, nervousness, dread, panic, apprehension, butterflies in our stomach or—my grandma’s favorite—“the screaming meemies.”
I once heard fear described with an acronym: False Expectations Appearing Real. This strikes home for me, because more often than not, what we fear is not real. Rather, our F.E.A.R. is caused by our own imagination projecting something awful on the screen of possibility. It can lead to behaviors that seem to us to be rightful defense of injustices or impending danger, but … in reality … are over-dramatizations fueled by our own F.E.A.R. defending fear defending fear defending fear. And what’s at the core? Sadly … nothing. F.E.A.R. is interest paid on a debt you may not owe. It produces not only discomfort, but more fear. It isolates us.
There can certainly be moments of true danger in life, when all of our senses are called to instant attention to protect ourselves or those we love. And yes, there is injustice in the world. But there is no need to add to it. I believe—because I have lived it—that abiding fear is rooted in a sense of personal powerlessness, from long-term conditioning that whatever is “out there” will harm us “in here.” This kind of fear becomes inseparably linked with how we feel, what we think, what we dream. So here’s the news, folks. We’ve each got a choice. We can either continue to arm wrestle with ourselves, alone in the dark, or we can use both our arms to reach out to others as we embrace the potential for goodness in the world. Which will you choose? Here, take my hand ... and let’s do this together.
Carolyn Berry directs a community mediation agency in Salem. She is the mother of Andrew (age 15) and Kim (age 14). She is also a writer, a social/environmental activist, and a popular public speaker on such topics as simple living, authenticity, and peaceful problem solving.