There have been two times in the past four years of my life that I have been so completely scared that I have been unable to form words. In both moments, I knew that I had absolutely no control over the situation but waited clumsily for things to change.
One of these moments took place exactly four years ago. We had driven up into the mountains in search of the perfect Christmas tree. The kids frolicked in the snow as their daddy cut down the tree, and it seemed like an idyllic Montana Christmas. What we didn’t notice until we started the drive back down the mountain, was that rain had been falling and covering the snowy roads while we were Christmas tree hunting. The truck slid around on the icy, narrow road, and I began to feel a bit too close to the daunting cliff beside me. Shaken, I turned to my husband for reassurance, and saw a look of fear on his normally stoic face. After finally getting the tire chains on, and creeping our way along the slick road, we ultimately made it home in the dark.
The second moment of fear-induced paralysis took place just last night. My family and I were enjoying the festivities of the annual Christmas Stroll in our small, friendly town. The downtown streets were bustling, Christmas songs were playing, and lights were twinkling. And somehow, in the midst of all the activity, my 5-year-old son wandered off on his own. I am not sure how I survived the next 30 minutes, as I am convinced my heart stopped beating and my lungs stopped working. He eventually turned up, thanks to a friend finding him and calling me. I am sure I caught many curious glances as I frantically ran down the main street to get him back.
In both of these situations, I was so afraid that I could not imagine what the next moment might hold. Time stood still for me, while the world around me seemed to spin out of control. I am sure if you had asked me – I would have said there was nothing anyone could have done or said to make me feel any better.
And yet, in those moments, the presence of people seemed to remind my heart to keep beating and my lungs to keep breathing. In that dark truck four years ago, on the side of a mountain, I can still remember the feel of Lydia’s tiny hands grasping mine and somehow I knew we would get home safely. Last night, I saw friends and fellow parents stop what they were doing to come alongside of me and search for a lost little boy. And I was reminded – we are never really alone. We may feel alone in our weakness, and in the utter loss of control of our circumstances. And yet, if we allow ourselves to stop for just a moment and look around us, we find that there are others there, waiting for us to let them help. It may come from the most unexpected of places, but it will come if we allow ourselves to see it.
It would be so easy to cling to the embarrassment and shame I felt wash over me last night. “What kind of a horrible mother LOSES her son on one of the busiest nights in town?” But if I stayed in those feelings, I would miss the greater lesson that came from that experience. This is something I want to remember as I sit in my comfortable chair in my counseling office, and I listen to the pain pouring from a soul ravaged by depression and grief. This is a humbling and painful reminder of why I first entered into this work. Yes, I have taken lots of classes, read lots of books, attended lots of trainings, and learned lots of incredible things. But what I really want to know is how to come alongside someone who feels totally alone, and help to remind them that we are all in this together.