Santa started “Tonight I want to focus on fear. I had a different plan. But I know that we are all thinking of someone who is out there lost right now. The fear makes us stupid. We simply cannot think clearly why we are allowing fear a voice in our head. I don’t know about you but my imagination is pretty incredible. Whenever my mother goes missing, every time the phone rings I assume that it is the police telling me that my she is dead. Sometimes I even hope that it is true. I hate that. But I want to be honest. I hate the pain.”
“I feel so powerless,” whimpered Roger. “I simply don’t know what else to do. Over the past two years I have lost jobs, driven halfway across the country and gone out of my mind. My baby is so lost. Even before she disappeared almost a year ago, she was not the little girl that I held in my arms so long ago. There was this lost look in her eyes.” Roger broke down and could not continue.
“Mine still calls every few months, telling me of some new get rich quick scheme that she or her so called boyfriend has come up with. They need just a few bucks to get the plan rolling. I have sold most of what I own to keep her close. When I don’t have cash she accuses me of lying and I don’t want her mad at me.” Angie was trembling now. “Sometimes I think it would be better if she simply vanished from my life. But I really can’t imagine my life without her.”
“Fear shakes us to the core.” Angie looked resolved.
Others shared some stories of loved ones who came and went. Even Rosie opened up a bit more about her loneliness and what it was like to have a husband who came home every night but did not even seem to know that she was alive. That is unless she did not make meatloaf on Wednesday nights. If she failed that mission he became her worst nightmare, unless he was sober.
As the room got a bit quiet, Santa decided it was time to share the lesson for the night.
“Right out of high school I joined the Army so that I could get the GI Bill and get much of my college paid for. Right after basic training I got the opportunity to go to Airborne school. I could hardly wait to get there. Let me tell you a bit about Airborne School. Airborne school is at Fort Benning, Georgia and is designed to prepare soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to jump out of airplanes and silently fly through the air and when landing be a viable fighting force. The school is essentially two weeks of learning how to hit the ground hard. Each day feels like late summer two a day football practices. Imagine falling to the ground hundreds of times each week, learning how to fall so that it does not hurt. Several training evolutions deal with dealing with fear. I remember looking at each challenge and initially being frightened. My mind would always imagine the pain that I would feel if I did it wrong, or even worse the emotional pain of not being able to do it right. We were trained to deal with our fear. Funny thing is each challenge started out scary but turned out to be a total blast. Once you had done it a couple of times you wanted to keep doing it. Always before you though is week three. Week three is when you will jump out of the airplane in flight. You have been taught all of the things that could go wrong. The night before our first jump it seemed that everyone in the barracks was living deep in their minds, most got religion, and the barracks was silent. The next morning we arrived at the airfield and that airplane had our full attention. Was that our make shift coffin? While normally there was lots of horseplay and fun conversations before a training evolution, there was none that day. Silence ruled the morning. Sergeant Airborne (the training instructors all have the same name) gathered a group of us together and asked us if we were afraid. Everyone said, “No.” Knowingly he looked around and told us that were idiots. A smart person would be terrified to jump from 3000 feet in the air and depend on some canvas to save your bacon. We all smiled. He told us that we were stupid to trust in those who packed the parachute. “What if they just got dumped by their best girl or guy or were otherwise distracted?” Wow he was not helping matters any. But then he told us the most important piece of information that I received during that training. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway. Typically, you don’t need much courage in normal every day circumstances when all things are going well. But how do you summon that courage when you need it?”
Santa paused for a moment but went on quickly so no one would disrupt him. This was the first week that he was leading this group and he actually was pretty nervous.
“Step one is that we must embrace fear.”
All heads looked up at him for a moment a bit surprised.
“Men particularly seem reluctant to admit when they are afraid. I know for a fact that they often are terrified. Many have been the times that I have clenched up and braced for the worst. It would be impossible to count the number of times that I hesitated to answer the phone when it was someone I know who could be passing on bad news. Some strive to rid themselves of all fear. Let’s be honest here. If you are going to be successful at anything and make a real difference you must take risks. Real risks require danger. Danger leads to fear. Embrace the fear. Let it motivate you. Allow it to make you smarter in your preparation. One of the most common fears is the fear of failure. This one is mine. I own that I fear failure. Every day the potential to fail is huge. I took on a mission to turn around an organization that may have invited me in too late. I moved my family, left my friends and took on this challenge. I risked failure and it scares me from my deepest core. Now I could have let that fear prevent me from taking the job. Another possibility is that I could avoid it by cowering in a corner and hoping for the best. But the fear drives me to work harder, to develop new ideas, and to keep experimenting until we find the right direction that will cause us to succeed. I have embraced that fear. Another fear that I struggle with is the fear of ending my days in a nursing home. Several times I have visited these places. Every time I think, “I don’t ever want to live here.” Again I embrace the fear. I think of that nursing home when I want to eat a piece of cake or that dozen donuts. When I don’t want to exercise I imagine myself there in the wheelchair staring at a tv with the volume too high sitting next to a guy that is sitting in his own poop. No I will exercise. I will push myself. I will live a healthy life. Embrace fear.
When I think of my mother and how I know that somewhere she has hidden her booze and her pills in her house I am terrified. I could use that as an excuse to break off all ties with her. But because I love her I embrace the fear and risk being the one that finds her dead from an overdose. I risk confronting her when she has a hangover. To do that I must embrace the fear of offending her.”
All in the room thought of times when they had confronted and it had gone poorly.
“Step two is that we must face the facts. Lies and denial will never help our loved ones to find freedom.”
Santa paused to let everyone take a few notes and then continued.
“Most of the time the things we fear are pretty unlikely to actually take place. If you watch enough of the news you can get the sense that we are going to be killed by terrorists or the latest plague. It is true that all of the people who died of those things did not expect that to happen. They most likely believed that it happens to other people. But face the fact. Nothing can stop those things from happening to you if they are going to happen. How is worrying about it going to help? Face the facts. Of the billions of people in the world the number of people killed by terrorists and the latest plague really is miniscule. If you start to feel afraid take some time to do research. What are the actual odds of this happening to me? The things we fear most really are usually unlikely. Those things that are more likely usually offer some escape. If you fear lung cancer, quit smoking. If you fear diabetes maybe quit eating too many donuts. If you fear your spouse leaving you, treat them better than they can even imagine. Face the facts and make the needed changes. Bring in evidence of their addiction. Confront them with truth. To do this effectively we must do it without all of the emotion that so easily gets us flummoxed. Remember what Mike said a few weeks ago about those in addiction trying to confuse you?”
A few nodded, but most looked confused.
“Mike had said that when he used to confront Bruce that Bruce would change the subject or in some other way confuse the issue. Denial always came first, followed by very creative and often convincing lies. If you want to win, then we must confront with love and truth. Bring evidence when you can. But stick to the truth. Give me the facts, just the facts.”
“Is that why Mike recommended leaving the mess that my husband makes around the house when he is drunk?” Rosie interrupted.
“Step 3 is yell ‘Geronimo’”
“For several years I was living in Oklahoma where the Apache chief Geronimo is buried and that gave me a special affection for this legendary warrior. Just the fact that men who are wanting to summon courage shout his name shows you something of his character and strength. He is not the only symbol of courage in our world. Do some research. There are tons of books out there about men and women who lived incredibly courageous lives and overcame all those fears to accomplish great things. Study their lives. Hang out with other courageous people. Having been a soldier I can tell you that courage is contagious. Being near courageous people will enable you to take on your greatest fears. Yell out Geronimo! That is why I love this group. There are those who are survivors. Others are still in the midst of battles. Others really don’t know what is happening.”
Santa again paused to let everyone catch up on their notes and give a time for anyone that might want to ask a question. No one seemed to have any so he pressed on.
“Step four is handle your fears”
As he said this Roger started to get up, “I’m sorry but I am running out of time I need to get home. Curfew, you know.”
“Give me two more minutes and you will have it all.”
Roger sat down.
“It has been said that if you can keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs you will be an incredible success. This has been proven by warriors and sages throughout history. Learn to manage your emotions and handle your fears and suddenly you will be asked to lead. Consider the glory of your achievements like a seven year old boy about to jump his Big Wheel over his kid sister. Handle your fears by thinking of the triumph. Set aside all of the things that might go wrong. Put your mind on what will happen when you succeed. When you do that you will be able to handle your fears and succeed.
We all made the jump that day, we all lived and the barracks was rowdy that night as always. But that truth has sat with me ever since. I went home from airborne school feeling invincible. I have often been filled with fear but I press on anyway. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather being afraid, going forward anyway.”
When Santa finished there was complete silence in the room. His passion in the conclusion was unbelievable. Suddenly the entire room burst into applause. Roger looked weepy but said nothing as he stealthily moved out of the door.
There was much animated conversation around his lesson. “Fear seems to be the common factor in all of the addictions that I know about,” said one middle age man. “I am afraid that my fear of losing the relationship with my daughter kept me from addressing the obvious,” whispered Sarah. In her mind she determined that this week she would make a list of all her fears and she would begin to face them. Well maybe not all of them at once. That very thought scared her.
A few yawns and stretches later the group was all heading out the door.