How to survive when you’re terrified of everything?

Local Life September 7, 2012 0 Comments

by Elise Seyfried

To say I am easily spooked, would be like saying Itzhak Perlman plays little violin ditties well: the understatement of the century. I never progressed beyond age 5 in the bravery department. I attended my one and only horror movie, “The Exorcist,” just because I was dating my husband Steve; a crowd was going to the midnight show, and I didn’t want to wimp out. Luckily, in the darkness, no one could tell my eyes were shut and my ears plugged.

Rosie Seyfried of Oreland (center) went to Thailand as a high school junior, but when she didn’t dial in on time for her family’s infrequent Skype sessions, her mom, Elise, was positive that she was being held for ransom by the sinister girls in this photo or under a mosquito net sweltering with malaria.

As a new driver, I crept hesitantly out into the traffic, cringing at the thought of an imminent crash. Horns tooting behind me, I maintained a snappy 35 miles per hour on the expressway and still felt imperiled. Mind you, I’ve never had an accident, and my only ticket was the result of parking on the wrong side of the road during a street cleaning. But I’m due for a disaster; wouldn’t you think? So I venture out to Shop ‘n’ Bag for groceries in the rain, muttering “Hail Marys” under my breath, the very model of how NOT to operate a motor vehicle.

As you can imagine, I made the ideal parent. Every stomach bug was the plague, every fever, meningitis. When baby Sheridan slept too little, Evan too much, Rosie not at all; when toddler PJ chose screaming over speaking and newborn Julie failed to respond to sound as much as I felt she should, something was always capital “W” Wrong. I’m surprised our pediatrician Dr. Lockman didn’t add a nuisance charge to the Seyfried bill for all my extra calls and questions over the years.

The kids’ teenage years gave me ample opportunities to be fearful. Sheridan, at 18, moved downtown to an apartment, solo. (The Curtis Institute of Music did not have dorms.) I tried not to think of the danger he undoubtedly put himself in, but thought of little else. One night, late, he called to “chat.” I enjoyed our phone visit at first. When conversational topics ran out, and we were looping back to The Weather, Take Two, and still he talked…something was capital “W” Wrong! Finally, he said, “I just turned my key in the lock, mom; I’m home. There were two weird guys walking behind me all the way from the train station, and I felt safer talking to you.” “Oh, honey…” I began, horrified. “OK, bye.” He hung up, next stop Dreamland. I, of course, was awake all night.

When Rosie went to Thailand as a high school junior, my fears for her general well-being were legion. Rose tried to calm me with her description of Chiang Rai as totally safe, and the Thai people as gentle and completely non-violent, but I wasn’t buying it. When she didn’t dial in on time for our infrequent Skype sessions, I instantly had her held for ransom somewhere, or under a mosquito net sweltering with malaria. Rosie came home at last, with nothing but the MOST wonderful stories of her year in Asia — gorgeous scenery, fabulous food, friends for life.

You’d think after that, I might lighten up a tad when she decided on college in Boston. Not a chance. Just before her departure, I sought out mace or something similar. I was surprised to find that the likeliest local spot to purchase was a nearby gun shop. I darted in, looking quite the opposite of a seasoned firearms buff, and asked the clerk if the store carried pepper spray. His immediate response? “Where is your daughter going to college?” Wow, how did he know?

Needless to say, I don’t think Rosie carried the pepper spray once. She has never agreed with my vision of the world as a Dark and Frightening Place — and neither have the other kids. That bad things happen in this world, no one can dispute. But simple common sense can go a long way towards protecting us from trouble. And when trouble comes along anyway, despite our best efforts, we can either quake in fear or face our fortune bravely. Some of the most challenged folks I know have the most upbeat and optimistic points of view. Meanwhile I, a lucky duck by any standard, lie in bed and dread the unknowns of each new dawn.

How much of life is perception? Why is my perception so often skewed in a negative direction?

When will I stop being so scared?

Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She is also the author of a self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life.”

 

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