I remember as a very young child, the fear that World War II leveled on us after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I remember standing in line with my mother at the “truck huckster” station to purchase, with red and blue card board coins, the rationed foods and other goods we needed. I don’t know if “truck huckster” was the official title of the driver whose truck was full of these items but that is what we called him in Millvale, Pennsylvania, near the steel mills of Pittsburgh. I remember flattening tin cans and putting them curbside to be collected for the war effort and I remember collecting “gumbands” and string for the same purpose. But of all the memories of that time, the terrifying one was the air raids which set off alarms throughout the city mandating everyone gather in one room in the house and turn off all lights. Street lights died; lights on businesses and buildings were extinguished. You would be penalized if you lit a cigarette during the blackouts, something my father learned one unhappy night.
No one in our living room spoke during air raids. Not my mother or father, or grandmother, or aunt and certainly not my brother nor I who snuggled into the bosom of whichever adult we sat next to. We all attended Sunday Mass and benediction, with me in tow, and we said the rosary after dinner. When we walked the streets, we blessed ourselves and offered a prayer for every family with a star in the window indicating a family member was serving in the military. All of these rituals were part of our faith effort to assuage fear while pleading for peace.
I’ve been thinking of these memories, a time when the world teetered on the abyss of annihilation. Fear can sabotage the usual restraint of a mature adult and the playfulness of a child. Similar fears are mounting among us now: What happens if I get sick? What if my children get sick? How will I pay the mortgage, the car payments, utilities? How will I get through a job loss? What will happen to my depleting retirement, my savings? Another, but subtle fear gripping people of faith at this time is: What if I’m not doing enough to help? It goes on and on. The worries. The fears. All legitimate, and all very real.
This is now Post-Easter when an immeasurable fear linked the followers of Jesus so much that they locked the doors where they gathered to try and digest what had happened to their beloved Teacher and to the Movement he had inspired. Like those formidable air raids I spoke of, all present huddled and spoke in hushed voices aware that an enemy could approach at any time.
But now, let’s think of John’s first epistle where he wrote, “In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by love.” Scholars tell us that John is saying that if we recognize we were created in love, then we will love naturally and help, in simple ways, to dissipate the fear that challenges our faith. We can help dissolve fear by doing simple things out of love. Maybe it is staying in place, resisting the urge to shop or play basketball in the park. Many of us feel like columnist Peggy Noonan, who while nursing her own COVID-19 symptoms wrote, “We all want to get out and help in some way. Isn’t that what you feel? We all just want to pitch in.” Pitching in might just mean sacrificing our preferences, our routines. I like the quote from Belden Lane, author and environmentalist, “No need to fear doing the small things.”
What are some of the ways you are handling fear at this moment in history?
Can you share ideas that will help others?
A little prayer that might help you when facing fear comes from Frederick Buechner, a respected clergyman and writer
“If there is not Christ enough
to save the day,
there is Christ enough
to make it bearable.”