First Day Fear

“...[N]o man is free if he fears death...[T]he minute you conquer the fear of death, at that moment you are free." --Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love this quote, and it terrifies me. The truth of it terrifies me and the truth I know in my heart that I am still very much afraid of death. And illness and getting in trouble and not being liked and conflict and confrontation. Let's just say I have a ways to go until I am truly free.

I am thinking about this today because it's the first day of middle school for my older son and there is a lot of fear among parents around middle school, mainly based on their own experiences of it I suppose, but also a lot of the "talk" these days is about drugs and sex and social posturing - all of which supposedly starts in middle school. It's not that I think "they" are wrong necessarily, I am just beginning to wonder if we should fear it all.

When I think back upon my middle school (and high school) days I know I had it pretty easy, but I also know that it was really hard for me. I was anxious a lot of the time. About my schoolwork and my grades, but also about my friendships and boys, my looks and my weight. There were - as there are now - good days and bad days, great days and really shitty days, but overall I know I had it pretty easy. And I wonder about that. I wonder if that was necessarily "good," or if a little more struggle might have been somehow better.

As parents we spend so much time trying to get things "right" and make the world a better, safer, more comfortable place for our children - the "right" school, a "good" lunch, the "perfect" birthday party - but is this really what they need?

If they are going to grow and learn and, ultimately, conquer their fear of death and live free, isn't what they need a little bit of adversity, some challenges to overcome, a little heartache and a lot of opportunities to face their fears and to learn that they can conquer them?

On our trip to Japan earlier this year I was talking to one of the other moms about her brutal experiences as a single mom in her twenties. It was really hard, and she made some choices that she would not make again (not about having her kids, but about how she handled that), but, she said, it had made her the mother she is now and that, she felt, was worth it.

I started to laugh and said to her, "Yeah, it's funny isn't it? What we hope for our children is that their lives be easy and comfortable, with no pain and no fear, but what we should really be hoping for them is adversity and hard times because that's where the good stuff is. The growth, the learning, the building of strength and acquiring of life skills."

So that's what I am wishing for today for my sons - and I guess for myself - on their first day back at school. Not that everything be easy, but that it be full of growth and learning and opportunities to face their fears and overcome them so that they can know the true freedom that comes from this.

I love you boys. So much.


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