Fear

Friday and Saturday, my son and I went down to Mystic, Connecticut. The main reason for the visit was for James to see penguins live and in person. He’s always loved penguins, but never had seen them in person and had received the gift of tickets to the Mystic Aquarium. So Friday we spent at the aquarium, and the next day we went to Mystic Seaport.

If you’ve never heard of Mystic Seaport, it is a reconstructed 19th century seaport town, with buildings that have been moved from all over New England and reconstructed. Besides things like stores and churches, there were many crafts to support old sailing ships such as rope making, rigging, and sail making.

There is also a shipyard, where they are reconstructing several ships, fishing boats, and sailing dinghies. There was a full sized replication of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II. Several small catboats. And there was a small cutter being restored. As you walked into the shipyard, the cutter dominated the landscape, freshly painted and beautiful.

If you walked behind it however, the back side was still raw and unfinished. There was scaffolding everywhere and the planking was raw, recently stripped and a man was painstakingly pulling old caulking out from between the planks.

It brought back some serious memories. When I was in college, my father bought an old wooden sloop. Twenty-six feet long, it had cedar beams, mahogany planking, and teak and canvas decks. It had lost its keel in the Chesapeake bay and after being pulled back to shore safely, the insurance company let it go for the dry dock costs. He had it carried to Richmond and with a crane, dropped in our back yard in our nice suburban neighborhood, and began systematically stripping it down to rebuild it. I am sure the neighbors loved us.

One of the things I remember doing as we stripped apart that sailboat was digging out the old caulking.

Basically, the caulk in these old boats is a thin piece of rope soaked in pitch. and stuck in between the dried planks. When the boat is put the water, the wood swells and compresses the rope and a tight seal is made. Over time however, the rope rots. The pitch dries up, and you have to dig it out and replace it. Pulling it out is hard work. You have to have the strength to dig it out, and the precision to do it without harming the planks. It’s slow. It’s smelly.

As I stood below the scaffolding, I was talking to the man at work and within minutes he had me up on the scaffolding, had found a second set of tools, and for the next half an hour, I worked with him. We didn’t talk, we just each slowly chinked and pulled out the dried stringy caulk, feet and feet of it.

It brought back such memories. As I wandered through the rest of the shipyard, it all came back to me. The language of boat building. The tools. The techniques. I don’t think I realized how much I learned in those years of working on the boat (It took three years to restore our boat), but as I walked through the piles of planks, rigging and hardware, it was like a flood. It was kind of exhilarating.

It was also kind of sad.

My dad smoked his entire life. Packs a day. He was an alcoholic. He was depressed for at least the last 30 years of his life. And as he aged, that combination took its toll. I watched him go from a sharp man who was a fountain of information, able to restore anything – furniture, boats, cars, to a man vague and unable to do any kind of project. This was not normal aging – people in my family tend to live to be old, and alert into old age. But not him.

It’s not that he was dumb. He knew how smoke and alcohol was damaging him. He knew what he needed to do to regain his mind and health. The doctors and my mom urged him to face the issues. But he chose not to.

The reasons are not important. At least not now. But remembering all I learned remembering that old sailboat, and remembering watching my father decline, and his choices not to heal had me wondering why people make that choice. We live in a time where we know how to deal with most issues. We have remarkable abilities to help us move past things physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual. The fixes are there. And yet, everywhere I turn, I see people who have made a decision to not do the work, not take the medication, not explore the options to move past where they are.

I see it in business, with clients. Just a couple of weeks ago I had a consultation with a client who told me, actually told me, “I know everything you’ve given me is true. I know your path is solid and would work. But I can’t do it.” (Excuse me while I pull my last hair out.)

I see it in everyday life, with people battling depression, or other emotional issues, or relational issues, or, or, or. Such a list! I see it in my work as a part-time pastor. I rarely have to tell anyone what they should do to deal with their problems. They already know. And they already have their list of reasons they “can’t”.

On the drive back from Mystic, I thought back to my own life. There have been times I knew I had to do something, or stop doing something, or get help, and I resisted it. Hard. Really, really hard. Looking back, I had trouble understanding why. What madness made me think I was so different, so unique that I could ignore proven ways to get well? What pride made me ignore what had I knew had to be done? What fear held me back?

Looking at myself, I realized that the last one was the big barrier. Fear. Fear of change. Fear that I was weak?.Fear of what people would think?.Fear that an admission of weakness or flaws would make me less of a person?. Fear of hurting or inconveniencing someone. Fear of the work involved. (Because often it’s hard. Really hard). Fear of failure. Fear of success (and what that might mean in terms of change, loss, or challenge).

All of the above, in my case.

One of the things my few years of counseling taught me is that I am not nearly as unique as I would like to think I am. That when I have issues or problems to overcome, more times than not, plenty of people have been through the same thing, suffered the same thing, battled the same thing. And more times than not, listening to their paths helps me find my own, even when it’s scary.

And it often is.

In my case, I think I had to hit rock bottom emotionally and spiritually to rethink the fear.I seriously don’t recommend that for anyone. I had to get to a alce where I could realize that when I think fear is a reason for not doing something, I am generally wrong. To learn that pushing past the fear is the path to not just growth, but to something better. That’s been my experience, anyway. That better always, ALWAYS, lives on the other side of fear. Does that make me fear less? Nope. But it does give me courage. It’s allowed me to overcome a lot of fears. It will get past more of them.

In my sermon this week, we were reading from John 5:1-9. Jesus is talking to a cripple and he asks the cripple a question: “Do you want to be healed?”. That question haunted me all week. It haunted me like a ghost when I was the shipyard in Mystic. It haunted me on the long drive back. Because I still fight demons. Because so many people I love, or I know have battles, hurts, scars, and challenges that they have lived with for years, for decades, for lifetimes. Why?

Fear. The very thing that is our barrier, I have learned, is also part of our path to where we want to be.

I wish we spent more time teaching kids, and teaching ourselves, how to attack fear. How to make it the enemy. And most importantly, how to realize that just on the other side of that fear, lies all the things we want in life.

Do I have answers? Not completely. I think the answers are there, but the are often unique to each person. Or at least that is what I have learned the past few years as I have managed, coached and mentored people. There does not seem to be a once size fits all answer to fear.

But there is a universal first step. To admit it. To name it. We don’t like admitting fear because it makes us feel weak. It makes us feel vulnerable. But it is the start, I believe, to saying “Yes, I want to be healed. I want to get past this. I want to be…… better.”

Once we admit the fear. Once we claim it and give it a name, then the solution is there. Because others have been there. Remember, we are more alike than we are unique. And once we find those others, we have a path past our beautiful fear.

Of course then, the games up. We can’t hide from it. The question becomes the same one Jesus asked the cripple : Do we want to get well?”

Which is scary in itself, isn’t it?

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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