Just after putting the kids to sleep a few nights ago, the piercing tones of the smoke alarm cut through the quiet night. As I walked down the hall to see what was happening, water dripped down from the ceiling onto my head. “Oh, this is not good,” I thought. Rosie yelped and peed on the floor. Griffin squealed with delight. I closed my eyes hoping I had in fact, fallen asleep, and this was all just a dream.
With my husband, Nick out of town for three weeks at this point, it seemed nearly everything that could go wrong while he was gone, did. Our dog, Rosie nearly died at the vet hospital, but for now has managed to bounce back. Griffin was attacked by mosquitoes, leaving lumps all over his face and body, one of which I was convinced was a tick bite and that the ensuing fever was caused by Lyme’s Disease. Turns out he just had a little virus and a mild allergic reaction to the mosquito bites. I received some very unpleasant legal documents and experienced a four-hour period of violent vomiting from a bad kiwi. This all with a newborn baby who wakes 3-5 times in the night for a snack, a dog that needs to go out every three hours due to her diuretic medication and an energetic three-year-old who wakes at dawn.
Before Nick left for his trip I stood opposite him while making the bed and said, “I can’t do this without you.” But as the words came out of my mouth, I heard other words just as clearly in my head. “YES, YOU CAN.”
Three weeks later, crouched in the attic, using my iPhone flashlight to look for the leak that was causing all the smoke alarms to short circuit, I realized that I had spent the better part of a month going to all the places that scare me.
I hate taking Rosie to the vet, and in the past, even the thought of her demise has invoked panic. But this time, sitting in the vet hospital waiting for her prognosis, which was not good, I was sad, but not panicked. I also hate taking the kids to the doctor, but even with the idea that Griffin may be sick, I did this too and again I felt calm.
I did not however, feel calm while trying to get that damn smoke alarm to turn off. After shocking myself by trying to pull the wet unit from the ceiling, a kind emergency electrician told me over the phone how to turn off the breaker to avoid getting shocked while unplugging the alarm.
He reminded me that when we try to plow through our fears without acknowledging them we get shocked. And if we ignore them, eventually the ceiling will cave in on us. If we go to the origin of the fear, which is not the event, but rather our whirling mind, we can turn it off at the source and do what needs to be done.
In her book, “The Places That Scare You”, Pema Chodron writes, “A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. ”
When I stopped struggling and looked directly at what was threatening me, I saw the same things that threaten us all- fear of being alone, fear of failure, and fear of pain- my own and my children’s. In letting go of the struggle, I could just be with it all in the unfolding, knowing that the Universe, which had whispered in my ear, “Yes, you can,” was right. In truth we are never really alone, (so many friends and family stepped in to help us), we cannot fail and we can all withstand far more pain that we think. (Ask anyone who has given birth.) When we are forced to go to the places that scare us, we most often find, not something terrifying that overwhelms us, but a new level of strength we would have never known otherwise.
When Nick finally came home I was so excited to see him, not for what he could do to help me, but just for who he is. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t glad that he is there to take out the garbage again, fix the leak in the attic and call the insurance company. But I also know now, without a doubt, that I am strong enough to do it myself.