I felt sort of strong. And sometimes, feeling strong can make fear easier. Even when you’re driving in the dark. Being strong. That counts for a lot.

Nighttime. I’m driving a two-lane highway. I like two-lanes. I like old fence posts. Old barns. I like all sorts of things.

I like driving. It puts me at ease.

You have no reason to care about this, but I used to worry a lot. After my father passed, I was afraid of everything.

As a boy, sometimes I’d lie in bed and feel so scared I couldn’t catch my breath. I don’t know what I was afraid of. Nobody tells you grief feels just like fear.

I was afraid. Plain and simple. Afraid my family would die. Car accidents were another particular fear. I was afraid of vacant houses, doctors, hurricanes, tsunamis, realtors.

Of course, it wasn’t like this before my daddy pulled his own plug. Once, I played baseball, ate ice cream, and fished in creeks.

But fear has a way of taking over. At night, I’d wonder if death was going to swallow me whole. Irrational, I know. But young boys aren’t rational.

When I was fourteen, my friend and I snuck out of Saturday night prayer meeting. We were there with his grandmother. She was a sweet, white-haired woman who memorized Bible verses and smoked like a tugboat.

My pal leaned against his grandmother’s car and jingled her keys which he’d taken from her purse.

“Wanna go for a drive?” he said.

“Right now?” I said. “During prayer meeting?”

His smile was a wild one.

I didn’t want to. I was—you can probably guess—too afraid. I was afraid we’d wreck. Afraid we’d wake up in county lock-up with orange jumpsuits and a roommate named Bad Bart McThroatslicer.

But my friend wasn’t like me. He wasn’t afraid. He begged me to get in the car.

It was terrifying, but I did it.

We rode his grandmother’s vehicle down gravel roads at slow speeds. We saw deer cross the highway. We avoided possums and coons. We didn’t pass a single car, only empty farmland.

It did something to me. It calmed me. Neither of us said much. We only took in the country miles.

Finally, he parked near a creek. He pitched me the keys.

“Your turn to drive,” he said.

“ME?” I said. “No way.”

“Suit yourself,” he said. “But I ain’t driving us back. We’ll be in a heap of trouble if you don’t.”

He jumped out of the car and sat on the edge of the creek, legs dangling.

Why couldn’t I be fearless?

My breathing got fast. Sweat accumulated on my forehead. I took the keys and started the car. He jumped in.

And thus, I drove us home with both of my trembling hands on the wheel.

That’s it. I know it’s not a great story, but that night I did feel something. I wish I could tell you that I felt less afraid, but that wasn’t it.

I felt sort of strong. And sometimes, feeling strong can make fear easier. Even when you’re driving in the dark. Being strong. That counts for a lot.

Right now, I’m passing farmland. The stars are putting on a great show. It all reminds me that the fella writing you is stronger than he knows. And the same goes for you.

So I don’t know where you are tonight, or who you are, or what kind of private hell you’re going through. But some fella you’ve never even met stayed up late to write this for you.

It’s okay to be afraid.

But don’t forget how strong you are.

33 comments

  1. Rebecca - February 9, 2018 8:32 am

    Thanks for this. I enjoy reading your writing.

    Reply
  2. Judy - February 9, 2018 9:35 am

    Amazing…

    Reply
  3. CaroG87 - February 9, 2018 10:57 am

    Oh myyyyyy……. beautiful!

    Reply
  4. John - February 9, 2018 11:18 am

    Thanks. Needed that this morning.

    Reply
  5. Linda Hall - February 9, 2018 11:30 am

    Thanks. I needed to hear that.

    Reply
  6. Jovita Williamson - February 9, 2018 11:49 am

    You’re writing to me … I’m so afraid for my dad
    And what the world will be without him- shingles has hit him terribly – 4 mos now lost vision in one eye and other one blurring – doctors say – there is nothing we can do… I’m so afraid for him

    Reply
  7. janiesjottings - February 9, 2018 12:45 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Caroline Picking - February 9, 2018 12:54 pm

    I can’t say enough how timely your sharing this piece is for me, as my own mother’s death has become imminent—–really scary. I just read today’s column after sharing my fear with a dear friend, and now you have shared with me.

    Reply
  9. Rita - February 9, 2018 1:07 pm

    I needed this today. Thank you!

    Reply
  10. Steve Scott - February 9, 2018 1:26 pm

    When I was nine, growing up in Fairhope, Alabama, my father left at his own hand also. The well-meaning old ladies, in an effort to comfort me, said “Well, you’re the man of the house now. You have to take care of your sweet mother.” I was terrified. I didn’t know what it meant to be the man of the house, but was certain I wasn’t up to the task. And how could I be the man of the house when I wasn’t a good enough boy to keep my Daddy from leaving us (wild irrational child thoughts)? It affected everything about me and around me and I felt like I never measured up in anything. I didn’t really deal with it until I was in my 50s. It is sad that a few words meant in kindness can have such a damaging effect. At 75 I have managed to do a lot of good things in my life but I often wonder what I could have done without the words that reduced me to lime jello the day of the funeral. I would like to talk with you some day. Please… and Thank you.

    Reply
    • Cathy Humphries - February 9, 2018 4:33 pm

      My father left us too when I was 12 years old in 1967.. I’ve wondered my whole life how a father could do that if he loved his little girl..the first day I went back to school, a boy said “My mama said to stay away from you cause your family is crazy.” That was over 50 years ago but it still hurts me just as deeply today as it did on that day.

      Reply
    • theholtgirls - February 10, 2018 2:15 am

      Steve Scott, just for you, I offer ((((((((((((hugs)))))))))))) and prayers. I am so sorry that you were burdened by words that missed the mark of comfort. I pray that the last 15 or so years have been good ones for you, and that the rest of your days are filled with blessings from God. When you cannot trace His Hand, trust His heart?

      Reply
    • Pam - April 30, 2018 12:24 pm

      I pray for you Steve. But more importantly, I pray that I will not be one of those old ladies who say devastating things that affects lives. I’ve heard too many do that.

      Reply
  11. Mary - February 9, 2018 2:32 pm

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  12. Steven - February 9, 2018 2:47 pm

    I’m going to comment. I have to think many of my folk know you and read you. I may be recognized. I may get a call, or an email, I guess I’ll deal with it if it happens. My maternal great grandfather took his own life. This was a man who was the father of fourteen children. Multiple sets of twins so there was efficiency in assembling the brood. Through some almost unbelievable misfortunes several of his beloved and precious children died in a pile – different causes but the same heartbreaking devastation. I never knew the man but what I’ve been told was that he was so grief stricken he just couldn’t go on. But that left Granny and all the others. What about them? The short version of all this is my grandfather had to become the head of the extended household. He was the oldest child. He had his own family by that time. But he did it. I think some of the younger ones hated him for it. But he did it. But it affected the way he lived his life. If you were awake he expected you to be doing something productive. There was little time for idle. Leisure was an unknown concept. That affected my mother and her siblings. That, ultimately, affected me and my sister and our cousins. I have tried to break the pattern. It’s hard. We were raised to be driven. We are. My children have goals. They achieve them, usually with five stars. But they are much better able to sit back and enjoy a moment than I have ever been able to. I hope they appreciate the gift.

    But I do enjoy a two lane country road. And fence posts. Trouble is, I count them as they glide by. Each and every one.

    If there is a switch I’ve yet to find it.

    Reply
  13. Phil Benson - February 9, 2018 2:51 pm

    “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear”; the opening line of “A Grief Observed”, by the great C.S. Lewis. An excellent book if you haven’t read it, Sean.

    Reply
  14. Julie - February 9, 2018 2:53 pm

    I needed this. Brought tears. I’m a mom — 47 and afraid. Both kids with crohns. One with psoriasis. The two best kids you will ever meet. Please pray for their cures and my courage. I’ve never been so sad and afraid.

    Reply
  15. Sandra Smith - February 9, 2018 3:15 pm

    WOW !
    I NEEDED this one today !
    Thank you, Sean !

    Reply
  16. Sue Cronkite - February 9, 2018 3:18 pm

    I needed it too. Sometimes I forget that I am strong inside, where it counts.

    Reply
  17. Michael Bishop - February 9, 2018 3:29 pm

    In his book A GRIEF OBSERVED, C. S. Lewis wrote words to the effect that had never known that grief felt do much like fear. I was reading that book, again, because we had recently lost our adult son in yet another mass school shooting. And I did not feel strong at all. It’s been almost eleven years, however, and we have somehow survived, through the strength that the many, many kindnesses of friends, family members and sometime total strangers have extended to us because, like you, Sean, they wanted to affirm not only our common humanity but also our common, sometimes hidden capacities for endurance and strength. Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Connie Suttle - February 9, 2018 3:49 pm

    Thank you, Sean. You have no idea how much this means to me right now.

    Reply
  19. Nix LaVerdi - February 9, 2018 4:16 pm

    Beautiful soul. Beautiful writer. Thank you.

    Reply
  20. Betty - February 9, 2018 4:21 pm

    I was married to the same man for 37 years. He was a good man when I married him and he was a good father but
    he became a different man after many years. So we divorced when he was with another woman. So I understand being afraid, I am not a young woman any more. I don’t trust like I once did. This man I trusted with my life but I was wrong.
    All I am saying I understand where your fear came from and I understand your fear. Glad you have overcome. Enjoy reading your stories.

    Reply
  21. Cathy humphries - February 9, 2018 4:21 pm

    This story took my breath away Sean. One of your best. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Reply
  22. Jack Quanstrum - February 9, 2018 4:55 pm

    Fear and strength, what a beautiful paradox. I have lived every day like that. And it’s okay. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  23. Jack Darnell - February 9, 2018 5:05 pm

    Thanks Dude. I just forwarded this to a sister who needs it. I think it will help some.

    Reply
  24. muthahun - February 9, 2018 6:20 pm

    Paternal grandfather, Christmas Eve. Tried to take my grandmother, aunt, and father with him. We are a fragile species, but we do so much better with some good encouragement from friends. So glad you’re writing, Sean.

    Reply
  25. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - February 9, 2018 7:35 pm

    I needed this today. I am sick and my husband is dying with cancer. Fear is a big part of my life now and fear isn’t from God.

    Reply
  26. Cindy - February 9, 2018 8:35 pm

    Thank you so much for this today. My 14 year old cat may be crossing the Rainbow Bridge soon and this was a “God tap on the shoulder” that I needed. Blessings to you for speaking straight from the heart.

    Reply
  27. Sharon - February 10, 2018 3:42 pm

    Another beautiful story, and needed. I have been complimented on my strength in dealing with life’s curveballs. I have wondered if anyone sees the fear lurking below the surface.

    Reply
  28. Beverly h - February 11, 2018 3:11 am

    I needed to hear this tonight. Not a good day. Thank you.

    Reply
  29. Faith Howell - February 16, 2018 8:14 am

    Thank you for this post! I have to face a monster in court tomorrow that vernally, emotionaly and physically abused for 9 years. We are asking for an extension on our restraining order to protect us and our address and phone number. Lije you I know I am strong because we left but still afraid to face him in court.

    Reply
  30. Linda Carullo - May 1, 2018 2:06 am

    Thank you Sean…I really needed that today….

    Reply

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