Once upon a time there was a little girl who was afraid of almost everything: bugs that flew, caterpillars that crawled, lightning that flashed, winds that blew, dogs that barked, rumors of robbers, sirens that screamed in the night, vegetables that looked unfamiliar, people that spoke with difficult accents.

In tears she often ran to a wise man, asking him to protect her, sobbing out her question: how could she feel safe when everything seemed so frightening? This wise man was her father; he would hold her until her tears dried, he’d say some soothing words, then send her back out to play. He could not protect her from every scary thing, but he could console her until she was old enough to hear the answer she sought to her question: How could she feel safe?

When the little girl was ten or so, the wise man decided it was time for her to be told the secret to not being afraid. “This,” he said, “is my family’s secret. Your grandfather knew it, your grandmother knows it. Your aunt knows it. I know it. It is a secret that is shared with those who are wise enough to use it. So now I pass this secret on to you: Every day, you must do one thing that scares you. It doesn’t have to be a great big thing. It can be just little tiny scary thing. At the end of the day you may tell me what scary thing you have done, or you can keep it as a secret for yourself. But do it – one scary thing each day.”

For ten years the girl practiced the wisdom of her father: almost every day she did something scary. Because she was facing them, paying attention to the scary things, somehow they didn’t seem quite so fearsome any more. Sometimes she wasn’t sure they even counted as her daily “one scary thing.” So she moved on to bigger scary things – she accepted leadership responsibilities; she auditioned for (and won) the position of drum major in her high school marching band; she sang on the stage; she traveled across the country by herself; she ended a toxic friendship; she moved away from home to live on a college campus.

Now this twenty-year-old young woman finds herself in a world that has become very much scarier than anyone can remember: a global pandemic growing to monstrous proportions; people killing each other over whether or not they will wear protective masks; racial tensions breaking loose in city streets, with political civility and maybe even democracy seeming to be things of the past. She lives in the midst of climate change, with hourly extinctions of flora and fauna. She has what seems to me (her grandmother) to be a bleak future.

But Jessica has perfected the rhythm of one-scary-thing-a-day. And so, in spite of what the future may hold, she moves forward with plans for how her life will serve others. She will be an elementary school teacher. She’ll finish her education degree in another year. She has plans for graduate study. She has learned to discern what’s worth the energy spent on fear (not much, in her experience) and what isn’t. She knows how she will help her young students face scary times.

Once upon a recent time – last week, in fact – this same young woman, who once was afraid of almost everything, did yet another scary thing: she walked into a tattoo shop to have her own wisdom inked permanently into her skin, just above her right inner elbow.

 

In Jessica’s wisdom, and the determination of so many others in her generation, I find courage for myself, and a glimmer of hope for our future.

 

 

30 replies
  1. Claudia Walker
    Claudia Walker says:

    Joining the chorus here Cynthia in thanking you for this wonderful story of your granddaughter Jessica. She and many like her are the hope for our world. She is blessed to have you for a Grammy and It’s clear you feel blessed to call her your beloved granddaughter! Much love, Claudia

    Reply
  2. Ann Linnea
    Ann Linnea says:

    Oh, my, this is so very hopeful, Cynthia—so exquisitely written. Yes, all of us are facing so many scary, changing things every day. It makes us tired—one psychologist has coined this “caution fatigue”. But I find the same resilience in our grandchildren as you do in dear Jessica. “Wow, I never thought I would live through this much history!” said our 9-year-old recently. And I cannot tell you how much this uplifts my spirits.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Granddaughters with perspective and courage seems to be the theme-du-jour, doesn’t it (i.e. Christina’s article in Island Times). We need that bright ray of hope, so let’s just keep lovin’ ’em and watching’ ’em with admiration.

      Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      And sometimes the wisest thing a mother/grandmother can do is to sit on the sidelines and let the child-rearing unfold in its own way, rather than the way she’s tempted to “recommend”!

      Reply
  3. Allan Ament
    Allan Ament says:

    Great advice from the father. I wonder if I could have been so disciplined as Jessica. Inspiring story, beautifully told. Thanks for sharing it.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Trust me – facing her fears didn’t always LOOK disciplined – there were a lot of tears and whinging along the way. But she faced theme anyway (which, I guess, is what “discipline” is about).

      Reply
  4. Anna Trenshaw
    Anna Trenshaw says:

    Isn’t she a great human? I hate to think that we wasted many years not even able to tolerate each other. I am grateful that we have learned to get along, and even enjoy spending time together! Thank you for writing a story that portrays her so well.

    Love,
    Anna

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Seeing two sisters beginning to like each other – nobody enjoys that more than a grandmother watching from the sidelines for twenty years!

      Thanks, Anna – Jessica has a pretty wonderful older sister. Luv ya!

      Reply
  5. Mary Vander Ploeg
    Mary Vander Ploeg says:

    Such a beautiful description of your grandaughter and the wise man as well. I have so enjoyed watching her grow and mature as a member of our church community. She is a delight; equally charming to young and old. Always willing to serve, she is a joy to work with. You can always count on her for stimulating conversation. Love your writing and use of language.

    Reply
  6. Margaret Rode
    Margaret Rode says:

    What a gorgeous post, and a gorgeous soul. Blessings of grit, courage, and open-heartedness to Jessica. Today, she’s my heroine-model.

    Reply
  7. Becky Myrick
    Becky Myrick says:

    This is very inspiring indeed! It’s about using your courage muscles, and not letting them get slack. That’s your granddaughter, Cynthia?
    I have my little Wally and parents here for 6 weeks from DC. It’s amazing. Just so wonderful! We are lucky to have a cottage.
    I hope you are well,
    Becky

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Yes, this is my youngest of four grandchildren.

      I am well, and missing having afternoon teas with you . . . perhaps this fall we can indulge in tea, sliced apples, shared photos, and grandma-talk, all mixed into a melange of theology and poetry!

      Reply
  8. Mary Ann
    Mary Ann says:

    Dear Cynthia how wonderful to see a picture of Jessica and to hear about her wise father.
    I was just describing Frodo to a friend yesterday which made me think of you.
    Stay Well, Love, Mary Ann

    Reply
  9. Fenna Diephuis
    Fenna Diephuis says:

    I agree with Linda Cynthia! So artfully crafted as myth personally experienced! And how lovely to see your granddaughter Jessica! I’ll be passing this on to friends and family!

    Years ago a client of mine gave me a card with the words: “all healing is essentially a release from fear.”

    Thank you for this moving power story as a reminder! Much love to you; and Linda, it was a gift to read your words to Cynthia! I feel so blessed to have been touched so deeply by both of you!

    Reply
  10. Linda Albert
    Linda Albert says:

    Oh, Cynthia! Your writing continues to be more and more wonderful! I loved the way you told the story about your granddaughter, in such perfect and gentle fairly tale language. And also, perfectly, the outcome came as a surprise. I wasn’t expecting a real live Jessica, your real live grand daughter to be the subject of this story. Maybe you. Or your daughter. Or a mythical person. And for sure, I didn’t expect the heroine to be just 20 years old. Somehow, I would have figured for a longer time to overcome such a daunting list of fears. But that’s just what a really well told story should do. Especially a teaching tale! And so perfectly timed – just exactly now – and such an inspiration for Jessica’s contemporaries and for her parents and grandparents who are standing by while we watch the world we thought we knew fall apart. Would it be possible to pass it along to others – with proper attribution of course? It’s a much needed tale! And if so, how might that be accomplished. Do you have a link? (Are you on Facebook? ) All my thanks for sharing this, Cynthia. I send you love! Linda

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      No one could appreciate “be not afraid” more than the Founder of the Giraffe Project! Thanks, Ann – this means a lot!

      Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      Most responses to this compliment would sound phony or self-effacing – so I’ll just say “thanks” with a big appreciative grin on my face.

      Reply
  11. MJ
    MJ says:

    This is beautiful, Cynthia! Teary-eyed, understandable. Jessica has a whole world in which she is and will be gift to so many. Oh, how our world needs her!

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      I’m afraid we’ve made a mess of the world we’ve left her and her generation to work in and to work with. I hope they are as clever and as kind as they’ll need to be . . .

      Reply
  12. Mary
    Mary says:

    Although I met Jessica only once, I am so not surprised! Watching from afar it seems her whole branch of my family does amazing scary things! And I too try not to be afraid.

    Reply
    • Cynthia Trenshaw
      Cynthia Trenshaw says:

      It always could be otherwise. Being unafraid is mostly a choice, not a given . . . and there are times when fear is a wise – if temporary – choice.
      It’s good to hear from you, Mary. I’ve been thinking of family a lot lately.

      Reply

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