Five years ago, I was on the DC metro. Just two more stops and then home. The train entered the tunnel after L’Enfant station and jerked to a stop. It lurched forward and stalled again. Nothing unusual – until smoke started seeping in from the ceiling vents. It even got the attention of passengers glued to their phones.
The conductor announced plans to back up the train. He said: “stay inside. I don’t want to run anyone over. The 3rd rail could electrocute you.” ...
Moments later, the train lost electricity -- no movement or intercom and limited emergency lights.
Side doors were locked—we are trapped in a smoke chamber.
Fear was as thick as the acrid smoke. As the smoke increased, so did the noise level of passengers. One man cursed and tried to wedge the doors apart. He beat on them with fists and backpack...
Another passenger sobbed: “We’re going to die.”
Panic was spreading.
All we knew is that we were stuck on a train, in a tunnel, with no escape.
... In the limited light, I noticed it was clearer near the floor. My survival instincts kicked in. I yelled: “Get down. It’s less smoky by the floor. Most people dropped. We waited…….
About an hour after the train had stopped, I heard rescuers – Evacuation started from the rear. Many of us were treated for smoke inhalation. One woman died.
Today’s readings bring back these memories...
In the first reading, Jeremiah says: “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side!’”
Fear may start as a whisper, but the volume increases as the emotion gets stronger.
Fear is like a virus – invisible at first but then, it shows up -- in words and behavior.
We know these things about fear:
· Fear is natural. The fear response starts in a part of the brain called the amygdala.
· Fear is contagious. The yelling metro passengers scared others. When we feel lost and helpless, fear spreads like a virus.
· Fear can be lifesaving. It’s survival mechanism that reminds us to be careful– don’t get too close to the edge; you might slip.
· But fear can also be life-denying. It can be a delusion that says: “Don’t. You might get hurt.” (...)
· Don’t say “yes” to giving a speech; you might freeze or look like an idiot.
Or Don’t try -- what if you fail? (...)
Yes, Fear can be a monster of our own making.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Twelve: “do not be afraid.” And not just once but three times. And, others have counted– The Bible tells us over 300 times – do not fear.
In Matthew 10 verse 26, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid -- Speak out -- proclaim from the roofs.”
In verse 28, He says, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body. They cannot kill the soul.”
And in verse 31, He reiterates, “Do not be afraid.”
How do we overcome fear? It’s more complicated than someone saying: don’t be afraid. Taming this emotion requires more than a command or suggestion, even from a trusted source.
Since you’re listening, it means you trust Jesus.... Trust carries special weight in the fight against fear.
But, even so -- it’s easier said than done. When you’re anxious, someone screaming: “Calm down!”
Well, sometimes that just doesn’t help…
So, What’s the solution? Do you remember grade school fire drills? Stop – Drop – Roll?
Here’s a modification. Think of it as a fear drill: STOP – DROP – PRAY
STOP: .... Take a deep breath and collect yourself. Assess your surroundings Is the threat real?. Should I be worried? Stay calm and then carry on…
DROP: Change your perspective. Drop -- to your knees or the floor. Maybe it’s less smoky near the ground. Shine a light and take a look where it’s clearer.
PRAY: Ask for help. The Serenity prayer is my go-to:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference.
Serenity means accepting that our power is limited. Don’t waste energy fighting what you can’t control.
Courage: Change requires bravery.
Wisdom is deciding -- what can I control? “Is fear keeping me from harm or is it keeping me from something life-giving?”
First discern, then act.
Everyone will face scary things– it doesn’t have to be a smoky metro. Fear doesn’t have to define who we are. We can learn from the tests life throws in our path.
Fear is like a virus, with no quick or easy cure.
Courage is like a vaccine against fear.
And -- we can draw strength from Jesus. His words remind us of the antidote: “Don’t be afraid.”
STOP – DROP – PRAY -- ...
listen carefully, choose consciously, ask for help
May God’s grace give you peace and courage on the journey. Amen
Joan S. Grey
Joan S. Grey
From being first-generation American to being in the first class with women at West Point and a 2019 Harvard graduate, Joan Grey hopes her "Didn't See That Coming" experiences may ease the journey for others.
Injuries during an Army parachute jump ended her military career but opened her eyes to hospital chaplaincy. Serving as a chaplain in trauma centers, she discovered few people expect illness, injury, or death. A lack of planning compounds the ordeal for ER or ICU patients, whose concerns range from the mundane – "Who will walk and feed my dog while I'm hospitalized?" – to existential -- "How long would I want to be kept alive on machines?" Not everyone has a pet, but we all face an expiration date.
While studying for a master's degree in religion, the urgency and importance of dealing with impermanence was reinforced. In consecutive years, Joan was trapped on the DC metro during an electrical fire, had a tree fall in front of her car on the highway, and was hit by a bus. Thus, fate helped with the choosing of her thesis topic: Awakening to Mortality. We deny and resist, but no one escapes death.
Joan continues exploring the road all will travel, wondering if we can re-frame death from being a limiting constraint to a liberating force, a theme she incorporates into writing Passport for Life™ (PFL): Preparing for the trip of a lifetime.
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