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Sharon Randall column: Freeway to freedom

By Sharon Randall

Few things are as terrifying as driving for hours on a freeway surrounded by bumper-to-bumper bats out of hell.

I was headed home after spending a week visiting with my son and his wife and their little guy in Northern California.

I expected traffic, but not like this. My car’s GPS kept trying to reroute me, dumping me on side roads that were even worse.

Sometimes, when we try to get around a problem, we realize that there is no getting around it. The best we can do is just sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

That is what I did. For seven hours. With one stop for gas and a bathroom break. Followed by 10 minutes of handwashing and sanitizing everything I touched.

I can’t say I enjoyed the ride, but it gave me time to think, and my mind seized on something I keep trying to understand.

It’s called fear. Maybe you’re trying to understand it, too?

When I was a child, my mother would say, “You have to learn to watch for danger or it will sneak up on you!”

I wasn’t sure what kind of danger she meant, but I didn’t want it to sneak up on me. I got really good at watching for it.

Especially after I became a mother. My kids would tell their friends, “What’s the safest thing in the world? Our mom will tell you 20 ways it can kill you!”

I learned from the best. Like my mother, or any good parent, I watched for danger and tried really hard, like Wonder Mama, to shield my children from it.

I still do. Now they do it for their children. And I help.

Here’s the thing I don’t quite understand: How do we watch for danger, and try to prevent it, without living in fear of it?

Watching for it is wise. But fearing it robs us of joy. And peace. And sleep. And health. And a whole lot of good times.

In 2001, on 9/11, when terrorist attacks took the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans, I feared the possibility of another attack. For a while, that fear — of something that was merely possible, not a reality — changed how I lived. I let it steal my freedom and my peace of mind.

But in time, I realized the goal of terrorism is not just to kill. It also aims to terrorize, to force us to live in a prison of fear, not in the kind of freedom we love.

My mother was right. We need to watch for danger. But every moment we spend fearing what “might” happen tomorrow is a moment we will miss seeing the beauty and reality of today.

After 9/11, I began to pray that I would learn to live unafraid. That was nearly 20 years ago. I’m still learning. Like you, I’ve known other terrors in my lifetime: The Cuban Missile Crisis, when my friends and I left school sobbing, certain we’d be annihilated that night; the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that lasted the longest 15 seconds of my life; and the day my first husband finally lost his four-year battle with cancer.

Now we’re facing a pandemic, an invisible terror that’s already taken far more lives than 9/11.

Last week, I watched how my 14-month-old grandson lives free and unafraid. Jonah wakes up each day ready to conquer the world, eager to do all that his mom and dad can do, open any door, empty any cabinet, dance on the table, bang his head falling down and clap his hands for every success.

We should all be so blessed to live like that. Thankfully, Jonah’s parents (and his nana) watch for danger and try to shield him from it. He will learn to watch for it, too. But I pray that he will never live in fear.

Here’s what I realized on my seven-hour drive: I can’t always choose what happens in my life. I can only choose how I live.

I’ll watch for danger and take precautions — wearing a mask and social distancing and avoiding crowds — if need be.

But with God’s grace, I hope to dwell in the joy of today, not in the fear of tomorrow. I want to stay alive, and to be alive, body and soul. Like Jonah, we’re all born to live free and unafraid.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley, CA 93924, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.

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