When Your Fear is What Heals You

When the world shut down and we all came home, I turned my red desk to face the window. It felt too vulnerable and a tad inappropriate to have so many eyes on my bed behind me. The door seemed an acceptable view for strangers on screens and so, the construction zone across the street became mine.

They started in earnest the day I turned my desk. For months it had appeared to be merely a site for big boys to move around dirt. But the first day I sat at the window for 8 hours, a fleet of yellow machines and cement pipes appeared. The daily rhythm of their work grounded me, proof that the world was still alive. It was messy and noisy and unsightly.

The day we all came home, we had already suffered so many cancellations that our hearts were bruised. In those early days, we held our breath and refrained from crossing out each significant event in April. As our world shrunk still more, the flow of notifications became hourly reminders that our grief would not abate any time soon. My heart bled with sorrow and anger and fear. I saw it splayed across the street amongst the dirt piles.

Even while I tended to my grief, I scolded my own disappointment. We were healthy. We were sheltered. We had toilet paper and food and internet. How could I possibly be angry or fearful, comparatively? Any loss I endured felt so small up against death. But that first week, we were invited to allow fear to teach us, What do you hold most dear? What does it show you that you long for?* And I went to school.

As messy, noisy, and unsightly as my insides felt, spinning out of control in a world spinning out of control, what I most longed for did not deserve condemnation. The beauty and order and stability I craved were godly desires. And they weaved a well-worn path through previous trauma in my heart. My heart knew the way through pain. Would I access it again?

The view from my red desk includes a barren Aspen tree and the fence which lines our property. When the yellow fleet is not moving, my eyes travel to the sidewalk that lines the fence and I watch neighbor after neighbor run, walk, bike, and drive past. And so it was, on a windy spring day, as I consciously took a step down that well-worn path to beauty, that I hatched a plan.

From the rafters in our garage, I pulled a bright mango-colored 25-foot long roll of photo backdrop paper, stowed years ago because I have a hard time letting go of my beauty-plans. It sat in the dump-bound heap for a few days before the plan was fully hatched. With our teens’ assistance, we stretched the paper down the length of our fence and stapled and taped it to death. In large letters, we wrote “What are you grateful for?” and “What are you praying for?” We wrote a few COVID-rules beneath “Public Art:” 1. Kid friendly, 2. Use a marker, 3. Trash the marker.

And from my red desk at the window, up above the fence, I watched beauty happen.

At first it was morning dog-walkers. A few older couples who paused to read. Then entire families, toddlers on pedal-free bikes and boys bouncing basketballs. Cars started to slow and after the local Health Department posted it on Facebook, it seemed that perhaps some of our contributors were pilgrims.

At night, when we went out to see for ourselves, we laughed at boyish jokes, and oohed and aahed over precious preschool stick figures and mom-translated prayers. And day after day, the mango fence filled as our neighbors used the space to bring a little bit of order to their insides.

The yellow fleet kept working. The dirt piles shrank as the site was leveled. Our mango fence held through rain and snow as the lilac bushes above sprouted green buds. And from farther up, behind a red desk, I witnessed the metaphor healing me.

When we all came home, I had no way of knowing that this view would be my path to wholeness. That fear would help me come home to myself.

*Red Tent Living COVID Zoom Gathering

Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.