Sitting in the car on the way to the airport, my 3 year old Oscar fell asleep on my shoulder. His little hand relaxed in mine. I looked at him, his hand, his face. I felt an overwhelming, aching love for him. A roaring wave of gratitude. What did I do to deserve my children?
Nothing. Having a child is not about ‘deserving’. Just as nobody deserves the lack of a desired child, or the loss of a child. It’s not about entitlement or fate, good or bad behaviour, oh no. It’s about cherishing what we are lucky enough to experience.
Do you know what immediately chased this ferocious wave of gratitude? A barbed stab of anxiety. Fear of the unknown, of all the possibilities ahead. My sister Emily was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age Oscar is now. An utterance by a glassy-eyed consultant, like a lightening bolt that shook the foundations of our lives and changed us irreversibly, in the most unimaginable ways. A cheeky little toddler with bouncy yellow curls and a life sentence of treatment and drugs. A life sentence to her family of her absence.
In that moment today, this was my fear. Nobody can promise me that my children will outlive me. Nobody can swear on a bible that I won’t have to go through that heartbreak. It was many years ago now, but the echoes of experience are tattooed into my heart. And now, as a parent, it adds a dimension of insight into how it must have been for my parents. It provides fresh opportunity for fear.
Anxiety is when we rush ahead in our minds, whizzing through possibilities and fear their coming to fruition. Anxiety gives us a sense of control. We subconsciously lie to ourselves that if we project mentally through the worst case scenario, if it were to happen it would hurt less. It doesn’t. It saves us from nothing but succeeds only in robbing today of it’s enjoyment and robbing us of the ability to soak up the ‘now’ in gratitude.
This isn’t a post about making the most of every moment, as we know that whilst many moments are enjoyable and easy to be thankful for, many are mundane, tough or painful. This post is about increasing awareness of when anxiety tips the balance of gratitude into fear.
To hold in tension the enjoyment of these precious things we cherish within our lives, and the fear of the unknown is one of the challenges of life itself. I will let the roaring wave of gratitude be followed by the stab of anxiety, but I will try not to court it and to dwell on it, to walk in it and be consumed by it. Oh how two contrasting emotions can sit so closely side by side. That is love.
So (if you’ve made it this far), love and be thankful. I can’t tell you to love without fear, but I can encourage you to acknowledge the fear rather than immerse yourself in it. Notice it but don’t court it. I know this is far easier said than done! How can you change this? Well becoming aware of it is the first step. Awareness enables us to have a conversation with this dynamic, to talk to it.
So go, and love. And know that it’s okay to fear. How can we say it is worth loving if the idea of absence has no impact? But enjoy the love you have now – for that is all we have.