“I am going to be simply frightened stiff…”

I am going to be simply frightened stiff  theloveliesthour.com

Up until about 4 months ago, I was a news hog. I listened to talk radio, checked multiple news sites, social media feeds and prominent individuals each day to keep up with current events. Was I a news addict? Maybe. My friends and husband could always rely on me to know the latest on politics, natural disasters, local events and so forth. I found pride in the fact that I ‘knew things’ and had opinions and moderately interesting commentary of my own.

And then Newtown, CT happened and the news started to make me feel nauseous. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t even really care. I just knew that I needed to turn off the radio, delete my navbar bookmarks and read poetry instead of CNN.com.

It was like a big exhale, that turning off. At first I felt guilty, as if the world might be sad to lose my interest. As if my constant ‘keeping up’ mattered in some way to the cosmic running of things. But it didn’t. Everything went on just fine without me.

And now, after the sad events in Boston and West, those feeling have returned again. I find that keeping up with the news gives me no comfort, no answers, no added hope. Nothing but a bit of anxiety and a sour stomach.

And I think I’ve figured out why.

I find that many want to pin these tragedies on something. Or someone. Or some nation, or group or inspection failure or terrorist organization. News agencies were very quick to send reporters to Russia to ‘get into the minds of those brothers’ behind the Boston bombings. I watched live one night last week as the local Waco news anchors uncomfortably read stats stating that the fertilizer plant had not passed some inspections in 2006. In stumbling language they wondered aloud with raised eyebrows, frantically stacking papers. Ha! There it is – a reason! We can all breath easy now, because we found “THE REASON!”

And it seems as if we seek these ‘reasons’ and ‘explanations’ to hang the hat of our sadness and fear upon. If we can just find an answer that will explain it all, then we do not have to wonder, be afraid, pray, mourn and ponder why.

After the Newtown, CT massacre in December 2012, there was a plethora of news and commentary, almost instantly. Casting blame, discussing gun rights, mental illness, school safety, you name it. It’s as if our nation’s media just vomited up every thought they could possibly come up with, starting debates and arguments that still go on to this day.

But there was a group that proclaimed a fast – a day of silence. Who went ‘off-air’ from social media in honor of Newtown. They saw that it was time to be quiet and step away. Not just religious folks, but people from all walks of life. And in THIS I found my solace.

Because sometimes we just have to let ourselves be sad. Afraid. Worry and wonder and maybe even cry. We’re all so afraid of doing this that we’re willing to do just about anything to avoid it. But that’s really where we need to be – in our thoughts and hearts. It’s okay to not know why. To be left speechless. To see no clear road out. It’s okay to have no explanation at all, and to have hearts that are heavy with sadness and love and compassion. Because God will not meet us through news reports or media pundits or twitter hashtags. God meets us in our quiet, fearful, wondering hearts. And that is where we need to be.

Caryll Houselander wrote the following about the air raids she experienced in WWI:

During the war I was simply terrified by air raids, and it was my lot to be in every one that happened in London – sometimes on the roofs of these flats, sometimes in the hospital…I tried to build up my courage by reason and prayer, etc. Then one day I realized quite suddenly: As long as I try not to be afraid I shall be worse, and I shall show it one day and break; what God is asking of me, to do for suffering humanity, is to BE afraid, to accept it and put up with it, as one has to put up with pain (if it’s not druggable) or anything else. I am not going to get out of ANY of the suffering. From the time the siren goes until the All Clear, I am going to be simply frightened stiff, and that’s what I’ve got to do for the world – offer THAT to God, because it is THAT and nothing else which he asks of me.”

“Instead of kidding myself and trying to minimize the danger or to find some distraction from it, I said to myself: ‘For as long as this raid lasts–an hour–or eight hours–you are going to be terrified. So just carry on and be terrified, that’s all’–and at once the strain ceased. Oh yes, I was terrified: I’ve often had to resort to sheer force to hide the fact that my teeth were chattering, and been unable to speak as my mouth was too dried up and stiff from funk. But at the same time I felt that God had put His hand right down through all the well upon well of darkness and horror between Him and me and was holding the central point of my soul; and I knew that however afraid I was then, it would not, even could not, break me. I always volunteered (after the discovery) for most frightful things (if called on to do so only!)–like Mobile First Aid in the street, and fire watching on the roof Nell Gwynn: and always knew God was there in a special way, to accept the offering of fear. It’s only when we try not to experience our special suffering that it can really break us.”

-Caryll Houselander


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  1. says

    Oh I hear you on this… although I’ve never been a news addict, I do get way too caught up in these events, and then once it seems we have answers or someone to blame, I can release myself from keeping a constant vigil of sorting out the facts. Until then, it eats me alive. In reality, it should continue to eat me alive because there are people still suffering, even if it isn’t on the news beat 24/7 anymore. How quickly I move on… it’s kind of sad that I do that.

    Thank you for your words and this post.

    • Lauren says

      Thanks Kristen! I’m so glad I found your blog, and I loved the graphic you made for the day of silence. I like how you describe it as a “constant vigil of sorting out the facts”. Very accurate! And, yes, I move on way to fast, too.

  2. says

    This spoke to me, Lauren! I’m a big problem solver by nature, and nothing destroys me more when I can’t solve a problem in my immediate surroundings. But there are times for us to be strong and times for us to be weak. I’m always praying I can know the difference between the two! :) Thank you for sharing these thoughts!

    • Lauren says

      yes! me too! And I think we can be strong by letting ourselves be weak. Or at least unsure. I find myself trying so hard to wrap my head around some things that I can end up more frustrated at the end than when I began. And then I forget to pray…

  3. Tawanda says

    Those are some of my favorite lines of Caryll! What a relief. To know that sometimes life sucks and we should embrace it and offer it up. Really that simple. Stop trying to figure it out. And pray. For ourselves if we’re suffering or for others who are suffering.

  4. Gillian Brodie says

    Hi, I’m Gillian, born in London, England, now live in Regina, Canada. Came across the name Caryll Houselander today for the first time ever, because of my Catholic calendar Journey with the Saints. Today May 25 there is a quote from CH about Our Lady.
    I related to the blog writer’s comments on listening to the news to find easy solutions to problems. I also found it fascinating to read how CH got through her fears in WW2. I missed that (born 1947) but have heard many first hand war stories from those terrible days.
    How refreshing to hear a different approach to facing fears.
    I will visit this site again!

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