On Fear

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been afraid of the dark.  Notice something there. I said “ever since.”  In other words, at the risk of losing my man card via this blog post, I’m admitting I’m still afraid of the dark.

Actually, there are two things that terrify me. Electricity, and the dark.  Electricity terrifies me for a pretty good reason – as a toddler, about 3 or 4, I managed to grab a hold of a faulty electrical transformer that we used when we lived overseas to convert power for our American devices.  The device should have shut off, but it didn’t, and what occurred afterward was rather terrifying. Some people say when bad events happen it can appear as a “blur” or be remembered as such. Not me. Even though I was a young toddler, I can still close my eyes to this day and remember starring down at my hand as my skin melted off my bone from the electrical charge. I remember my brother reacting quickly, in essence probably saving my life.  Surgeries and skin grafts later, I still have pain in one of my fingers from the graft occasionally, and I can’t write very long with a pencil or pen without arthritis-like pain. Most people actually notice my deformed index finger on my right hand before they do the graft itself. Thank God for small miracles like keyboards.

Anyways, If you took that above paragraph to any psychologist, they’d probably say it was pretty normal for me to have deep rooted fear of electricity.   Giving that I work in IT, it’s often hard for me to avoid it, but I do when I can.  I literally start shaking when I have to manipulate 208V power in the Datacenter – it’s just not something I like to do.

But getting back to my first confession – the dark?  I don’t really have a good story for that one.  As I have gotten older, it’s sort of morphed into an uneasiness more than outright terror.  As a child, I couldn’t stand being in a completely dark room.  My mind would immediately start wandering, and images would pop up in my head.  I’d feel the darkness, in a way I guess, more than just “see” it.  I often wondered as a kid if I was being haunted.  Looking back, it might all seem a little silly, but maybe not.  I’m a firm believer in Ghosts, but that’s a topic for another post, I think.

I’m still the most comfortable today with a small light in my bedroom.  I never like it to be completely pitch black.  In the middle of the night, I often walk at a very fast pace to turn on a light when I walk across our dark house.  Doing it, I always feel silly and embarrassed, even though I know nobody is watching. But I don’t care, I just don’t like it.  I’ve shared this with others on a far-less public medium, and they all say that if I wanted to, I’d probably be able to get to the root of my fear.

So here’s the real kicker – I don’t want to know why I’m scared of the dark.  Not one bit.  The mysteriousness of a grown man being afraid of the dark has opened up a level of inspiration to a whole new avenue.  As I write this, I’m working on compiling years of work and brainstorming of what will probably be my first attempt at a novel.  It might fail horribly and never see the light of day with any publisher – but truth be told – this blog included, I don’t write particularly for anyone else but myself.  Any writer who is honest will tell you that writing is mostly a self-serving art, even if enjoyed by others.

As I write my story, my main protagonist is terrified of the dark, but not for the reason you would ultimately expect.  As I’ve been writing it, I’ve been discovering things about myself I didn’t even know.  Reliving memories long, long forgotten.  That’s the beauty of being a writer, especially an formally untrained one… You learn inspiration in the weirdest places.  I’m sure if I had a degree in Creative Writing, some class would have me writing about my fears as a source of inspiration on page 52 of “Sharping Your Writing Skills Workbook.”

I guess I just did just that.

So what are you afraid of? Tell me, I’m curious. Maybe I’ll find inspiration in it.

For me? Lights on tonight, dear readers..

– Grant

On Pilgrimage of the Heart (The Trip to Grandma’s)

I know many of you were not blessed with strong families or parents growing up.  Many of my friends and people I hold close to me have grown up without a family at all, severely broken families, parents that abandoned them, and current families who are too interested in their own selfish goals and lives to focus on what matters most.  It pains me to see this, but I’m encouraged by watching the majority of my friends break the cycle as they start families of their own, complete with new traditions, pledges of love and protection, and the goal to encapsulate all that is a family within their own they are creating.  In my eyes, doing something so noble without a past example is probably the most powerful legacy one can leave.

I can’t say that I fall into the group of broken families.  I was blessed, and am blessed, with a great and large family.

At any rate, The Holidays often bring or force upon (depending on your perspective) situations where we reconnect with family. This year, I had the opportunity to take my entire family to Ohio to spend Christmas with my Mother and Father, my Grandparents, my Aunts and Uncles, and my cousins.  For those of you who have children, you know that traveling long distances with any number of children, especially with three children sucks.  Halfway through the ride you start to question your sanity for taking trip.

But then you arrive.

In the span of three days, I enjoyed conversation and meals with my parents, a ceremonial viewing of It’s Wonderful Life with my Dad, special time sharing memories of my childhood Christmas’s with my children, laughter with my wife, a visit to the Gravesite of my Great Grandmother and Grandfather – and a Christmas dinner with 4 generations in the same room.

As I looked around the room at family members from 4 generations, and then back at the patriarch and matriarch of the family – my Grandparents (my children’s Great Grandparents – how cool is that?) I wondered if my generation, or the generation of my parents would be able to keep the glue that brings my family together strong even after my Grandparents move to their Celestial home.

Certainly, each generation that passes seems to grow more connected, but less filled with deep relationships.  Sure, I’m friends with all my cousins on Facebook – but ultimately, I know little about them beyond childhood memories and quick catchups during the Holidays.  I often share more personal thoughts with my coworkers.

I’m convinced that shouldn’t be.  I’m convinced that Family will become more and more important than ever as the years go before us and life on this Earth eventually gets darker and less intimate.  I have a certain reverance above and beyond respect for my Grandparents.  They’ve managed to keep my family together through decades of changes, growth, and mileage.

People come not out of obligation, but because it’s become a pilgrimage of the heart.  The more and more I think about it, the more I realize I intend to find out what creates that pilgrimage, so that my children – and their children still will take that trip to Grandmas.

I think I’ll just call Grandma and ask her the secret.  After all, she likes when I call.

– Grant

On Christmas

I’m going to tell you a story that has changed my way of thinking so considerably, I doubt I’ll ever look at Christmas the same way again. Over a month ago, I asked my wife to start figuring out the Christmas wishes for the children.  We’re a single income family, and while we do just fine, we’re on a tight budget – so I like to know as far as advance as possible how to adjust the household finances for the Holiday season.  While we always have plenty, my wife would be the first to tell you I am always stressing about the finances.  Stressing about finances is one thing I happen to be really good at.

Anways, I got a call from my wife at work shortly after making the request.  It went something like this:

Tori: Um, we might have a problem.

Me: Oh, great? What now? What broke? How much? Who needs to see a doctor? Who got in trouble this time?

Tori: No, not that. It’s Emma – she’s decided she doesn’t want anything for Christmas.

Me: What? Why?

Tori: We got this unsolicited catalog in the mail where you can buy items like medicine, farm animals, food, etc. for poor countries and their people so they can help themselves.  Emma started flipping through it and decided she wants to use whatever money we’d spend on Christmas for her on these things instead.

Me: Oh, wow. Well, I’m sure she doesn’t understand that means she won’t get anything.  I wouldn’t worry. She’ll forget. We can talk later.

Now, I’m ultimately ashamed at my first reaction: I was completely certain to myself that my 7 year-old daughter couldn’t possibly understand the sacrifice she was suggesting. In truth, I was worried. As I mentioned before, we are on a tight, one-income budget with 3 children.  Forgoing Christmas presents for these gifts would really mean that – forgoing Christmas presents.  My wife and I have a strong pact we won’t go into debt for anything but an emergency, and I wasn’t about to jeopardize our finances for that.  It’s simply really: if we buy the items Emma wants to give, there’s really no money in the pot for Christmas gifts for Emma – not that we are poor – but we would never go against our budget.

I started having these visions of Emma waking up on Christmas morning, realizing her brothers had gifts and she didn’t, and then realizing the cost of her decision.  I spent the better part of two weeks trying to talk her out of it. Explaining to her what her sacrifice meant. Worried, as a parent that she’s too young to understand such a sacrifice.  I mean, a 7 year old without Christmas morning? What kind of memory is that?

We asked Emma to pray about it, giving her every out we could.  Giving her another chance to donate “less” to another cause so she could still have some for herself.  The next morning, she told my wife that she had a conversation with God in her dreams, and God told her the little kids needed the farm animals and food, and she should give those things more than anything else.  Oh the faith of a child, to have a conversation with God in her dreams, and speak of it so nonchalantly. How have I missed such an opportunity in my adult life?

That’s it. We were stuck. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. We had to move on.

So, the next paycheck we set aside the money for Emma’s ducks and chickens that she would be buying a village. She explained to us that with the ducks and chickens we were buying, some would be used for food, and some would be used to help grow a farm – and years from now, the number of ducks and chickens would grow based on her gift.  Not only did she understand giving – she understood the eventual reaping of her harvest.  My wife placed the order.  We were worried, but we were proud.

Shortly after, actually – the same day – I got unexpected word of a small financial blessing.  Not large, but not tiny either.  I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t even thinking about it – but there it was.  All of a sudden, I realized it’s purpose more than ever. And with that, I began to understand the true meaning of Christmas more than any sappy movie or song could ever tell me.  I understood the spirit of giving, of Christ, and the fat jolly man we call Santa Claus.

So with a bursting sense of pride for our children, my wife and I sat down tonight and wrapped Emma’s new American Girl doll, and a couple other small gifts for her.  I realized, at that very moment, that my 7 year old daughter understands Christmas more than I ever have in my 29 years on this Earth.  One day, I’ll share with her the secret I will share with you all below – but for now, tonight, my daughter will experience a little bit of Christmas magic, courtesy of her own heart.  Attached to Emma’s new wrapped doll, I wrote this note:

FROM THE DESK OF SANTA CLAUS
NORTH POLE, THE ARTIC
DECEMBER 23, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE DELIVERY

 

Dearest Emma Hope Dawson,

 

I have learned from my sources in Africa and South America that they have received a shipment of ducks and chickens!

 

I have also learned that these ducks and chickens came from you! It has come to my attention that you have done a selfless deed, and have asked your parents to forgo purchasing Christmas presents for yourself, in hopes that these funds can be used for other little children in need of food and animal friends.

 

Here at the North Pole, we have been touched by your generosity.   While your parents may have an agreement with you to not purchase gifts in exchange for the ducks and chickens, Santa Claus has some extra buying power for such wonderful little girls  as yourself.

 

I hope you enjoy the extra-special gifts that my elves and I have put together for you.  Keep being you Emma. Your parents and Santa Claus are very proud.

 

Your friend,  Santa Claus.

 


P.S. continue to Be nice to your brothers and parents. They love you.

 

On Roller Coasters

When I was a teenager, about 14 I think, I went on my first roller coaster.  It was with my father and brother at Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida.  I really didn’t know what to expect. Back then, I wasn’t much a thrill seeker – but I was a seeker of the approval of my Dad and my brother.. so I think reluctantly, that’s what made me get on the ride.  Truthfully, I hated every moment of it. It may have been obvious from the fact that I spent the entire time staring at the floor of the roller coaster car promising my inner conscience that I would never, and I mean never do that again.  After getting off that ride and feeling as though I might truly lose my Busch Garden’s Hot-Dog stand lunch, I honestly meant to keep my promise.

When I walked away from the ride with my father, there was never a moment where he pulled me aside and said something like

“Son, what you just experienced? That roller coaster? That’s how life is.. Up, then down, then up, then down – and when you fnally think you have it all figured out? Yeah, that’s when it twists you around so you’re not sure which way is which and you’re so confused you feel like you could just lose your hypothetical Busch Gardens Hot-Dog stand lunch.  Yeah, son – that’s what life is about.”

That moment never happened.  Arguably, it could have been a great moment for a Hallmark movie, or something Ron Howard could put in that show “Parenthood” that my wife likes to watch – but let’s be honest for a moment – nobody talks like that.  Instead, my Dad and my brother had a good laugh at my dizziness, a quick cheer and a slap on a back, and we moved on to the Gorilla cages.  If I recall, after that I spent a good amount of time staring at the Gorillas.

Anyways, fast forward about 15 more years from that moment.  Throughout the years, I’ve become more of a fan of roller coasters, willing to ride them when the opportunity presents itself.  But I’ve also learned the lesson that roller coasters might be the best analogy anyone could give you for life.  My boss makes a lot of house and car analogies.  We give him a hard time for it, jokingly, even though most of the time his analogies do make some sort of sense.  I think my legacy might be roller coaster anaologies, starting first with life:

Roller coasters are scary. If you stand next to a roller coaster and look up, you’ll be a little intimidated.  They stand high, usually have plenty of loops and twirls, and are mostly loud.  They’re built to thrill. Life’s also just as terrifying.  There’s plenty of stuff to be scared of.  Bills. Jobs. Friendships. Relationships. Illness. Kids. Parenting. Future.

Roller coasters don’t travel in a straight line.  They go up and down, over and out, sideways and upside down, then right side up.  Life? One minute, your healthy – then you’re at a Doctor’s office. One minute your kid’s a baby rolling around on an activity mat, and the next thing you know they’re 2, 3.5 and 7 – talking, walking, and asking questions you don’t have the answers to but lie about anyways.  One minute your’e on the right track and cruising, making the promotions and banking the money, and then the next minute you’re not sure how you’re going to pay the rent.  One minute, you’re deeply in love with someone, the next minute you’re fighting like you’ve been war enemies your whole life.  Life’s complicated.  Life’s not a straight line.

Roller coasters are fast.  They’re designed to fly by, thrill, then get you off to get the next passengers on.  By time you have a chance to not be scared or understand the intricacies of the ride, to map out your expectations for the next loop and corkscrew – it’s over. Life?  Your kids grow up. You grow up.  You go from in-shape to out of shape.  From young and dumb to old and wise.  You want back on the ride, to open your eyes this time and raise your hands and scream with happiness, rather than close your eyes and hope it’s over soon – but the rides over. Get off. Next on board.

But most of all friends? Dear readers of my inconsistent, rambling mess of a blog…The most important analogy? Roller coasters are fun.

So is life.  Because even though we grow old, even though things break and life throws us the sudden dips, we know in the end – it’s worth it.  That the ticket we were given to the theme park is so extra special, that in a fleeting moment, that day is done – one for the scrapbookers. One for the memory books.  One, that if we could, we’d do all over again.

Remember my thoughts on my Father, and that he never gave me the life lesson over roller coasters you might see in some sappy movie? You wanna know what he really said?

He slapped me on the back, grin on his face, and said “Wasn’t that a blast, Grant?”

Something tells me when my roller coaster ride of life is done, my Father upstairs might have the same question.

Me? I’ll answer “You bet!.”