(NOAA Weather Photo of the storm cloud that produced the May 22, 2011 Joplin Tornado, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Those who survive them the pestilence buries, and their widows make no lamentation. Though they heap up silver like dust, and pile up clothing like clay--they may pile it up, but the just will wear it, and the innocent will divide the silver. They build their houses like nests, like booths made by sentinels of the vineyard. They go to bed with wealth, but will do so no more; they open their eyes, and it is gone. Terrors overtake them like a flood; in the night a whirlwind carries them off. The east wind lifts them up and they are gone; it sweeps them out of their place. It hurls at them without pity; they flee from its power in headlong flight. It claps its hands at them, and hisses at them from its place.
A friend of mine recently showed me this post from 8th Day Planner. It's a brutal and tragic story, but a couple of things in it really hit home for me as I also ponder what happened recently regarding the Joplin, MO tornado.
In some ways, the reading from Job I chose above is a statement about PTSD. When we survive tragedies, there becomes a constant battle to "keep our worlds from becoming smaller." We don't always succeed.
Living in Tornado Alley, I am well aware of how tornadoes make some people's world smaller because of fear. People I know who are afraid of tornadoes won't leave home or won't be away from a house with a basement for a large variety of clouds in the sky, even ones that obviously are not tornado-producing storms. "They might become tornadoes." I even know someone who won't visit my house when there isn't a cloud in the sky b/c "There might be a tornado and you don't have a basement." When I say, "But it's sunny outside!" the reply is, "Yes, but the sky can turn dark in no time flat."
"Well, I have a weather alert. You'd have plenty of time to get somewhere safe."
"Oh, no. The Weather Service screws up sometimes."
"But it's January!"
"We've had tornadoes in January in Missouri before. It could happen again."
What's odd is people can get this way, even if they have never been anywhere near the destruction a tornado has wrought. The person I'm telling you about has never lost a home or a relative to a tornado.
Yet, for some reason, that fear never touched me. I am not sure why that is. I've never been in a tornado, I've never lost a home, but I have had several "near misses"--being missed by five minutes of being in the path of one, having one coming right after me and literally jumping over the ditch I was in, seeing the Macon Highway Patrol Tower turned into a twisted mass of metal before my very eyes a half-mile away, and being in a microburst that took the roof off of the store I was in. But I think about how the same things that don't bother me--some of them the very same experiences--affect other people.
By the same token, some of the things I DO fear--and I mean fear in that heart-pounding, sweaty armpits, can't speak I'm that paralyzed way, don't bother others. I have blogged before about how certain behaviors in other people make me "twich." I have talked before about the nervous tics I had as a child, how they sneak up on me with no warning. A certain type of icy, disapproving stare can make me dissolve into a mass of twiches and grunts, and I do believe there have been people in the past who have "learned how to make me do that," to manipulate me.
What's funny is I think most people find me to be rather fearless. There's this other side of my personality that is "in for a dollar, in for a dime." There's a part that, frankly, is a little on the cocky side. I remember in one of our book discussion groups at church, we got on the discussion of "what we would or would not do for a million dollars." One person said she would not lie in a box of snakes--not even for a million dollars. I said, "Oh, I'd do that for a million bucks." She looked at me and said, "You'd do it for ten bucks!"
Neither face of "me" in those two stories of fear--the anxious tic-ridden person and the person seemingly too dumb and bold to know enough to be afraid--is a healthy part of me. The latter person is the person who was trained to stuff fears, in the same way people are trained to stuff emotions. The former person is all stuffed full of ancient fears and they get re-animated by PTSD.
There's an acronym the twelve step communities use for "fear"--False Evidence Appearing Real. I think that's pretty accurate. The more a fear grips us, the smaller our world becomes. A person doesn't have to have true agoraphobia to become spiritually agoraphobic. Take that tornado. Now, when a tornado really IS coming, getting in that safe room or basement is a great idea! But when a tornado really isn't coming, all one is letting the fear of tornadoes do is shrink their lives and miss out on some wonderful opportunities.
I know people like that who have food aversions or so-called food "allergies." Now, of course, there are people who really DO have food allergies, and I am not really talking about them. There's a diagnosis called Picky Eater Syndrome, where people gravitate, oddly enough, to brown foods and white foods. They particularly become fearful of green foods, interestingly enough. They claim all these foods make them sick to their stomach or have diarrhea. I find that incredibly sad. There's so much enjoyment out of experimenting with food, trying new foods, etc. But these people manage to control themselves and others--not only do they make their own world incredibly small--imagine never wanting to eat in a Mexican restaurant--but it means those close to them must cave in to all these weird food demands to go out to eat or fix supper.
That brings up another thing about fear. When we become slaves to fear, not only do we make our own world smaller, we also either inadvertently or purposefully place attempts to control the worlds of others. Is that what we truly want? In its basest definition, it's like we want to be God--to control everything around us--but it's so small, yeah, we become like God--but we're "god of nothin'." Yeah, that's useful. NOT.
What I keep reminding myself is we know from science the nature of the universe is to expand. It's a big waste of entropy to keep trying to shrink my world or to shrink the world of others. God's evidence on Earth--what we know from science about the universe--is the universe expands. Why waste all that energy attempting to "contract" and make "less random" for something that the universe--entropy--expansion and randomness--will always ultimately win?
Yes, there are real whirlwinds. In those times we do need to hunker down and be small, centered, and safe. But not every breeze is a whirlwind, and not every storm is meant to bear down on us, personally.