“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” – Seneca
I remember running over the threshold of my playhouse when I was 7-years-old. As my right foot landed on the wooden floor, my childhood friend gave me a playful shove. I lost my balance and fell forward.
Sitting up-side-down was a child-sized ironing board. There was a metal prong exposed. The force of my leg landing on top of it led to the prong slicing into my skin.
Being that I was horrified of anything having to do with hospitals, doctors, and blood from the time I can remember, I nearly had a panic attack as I stood to my feet.
I ran to my Mom’s room, blood gushing down my leg.
It was obvious I had to have stitches – so Mom gave me a towel and had me apply pressure to the wound — then quickly ushered my sobbing being down to the car.
“Mom, I’m not going to have to have stitches, am I?”
The closer we got to Dr. Slayback’s office, the more freaked out I became.
“Jennifer, you may have to and it’s going to be okay,” she tried to reassure me.
My 7-year-old brain was swimming in fear. I had never had stitches and was sure I wasn’t going to make it through the procedure.
“Mom, maybe I’m not going to have to have them. Maybe he can just tape it together.”
I imagined with horror that he’d stick a needle into my skin and was certain it would be the death of me.
We entered Dr. Slayback’s office and he stood there to greet us. He had been a friend of my mom and dad before I was ever conceived.
“Dr. Slayback, I think you can just tape my leg together and I’ll be fine. Just please tape it.”
He took one look at it and shook his head.
“Jennifer, I’m going to have to give you stitches. There’s no other way.”
I did everything I could not to cry my eyes out. By that time my pride had kicked in — I didn’t want him to see that I was terrified and weak.
“Okay, Jen. Let’s get this started,” he said.
I was about to lose it and decided to stall.
“Mom, I need to go to the bathroom. Can you come with me?”
She followed as I limped along.
I sat on the toilet – my legs dangling a couple feet from the ground. Tears welled up in my eyes.
“Mom, I’m scared.” She took her fingers and brushed my bangs out of my teary eyes.
“Will you pray with me Mom?”
I held her hand and she asked the universe to protect me. To give me strength.
“It’s all going to be okay, Jen. You’re such a brave girl.”
There was something about Mom that always guided me to a higher state of mind and sense of peace. She was always giving me lessons about using “mind over matter” and her strength dove right into my bones.
When I was calm and ready, she walked me back to where the procedure was going to take place. I leaned back and held her hand in a death grip. Dr. Slayback brought out what seemed to me a monstrous needle. I began to panic inside and did my best to hide it.
“Just close your eyes,” Mom suggested. I leaned back and followed her instructions.
Dr. Slayback waited for a bit as the numbing medication took effect.
“Alight, I’m going to start. You’re being really brave Jenny,” he said.
I asked to see the needle he was going to use to sew my leg up. He held it up for me to see.
“Is it going to hurt?” I was on the verge of panic again.
“No, not at all.”
I closed my eyes and gripped Mom’s hand again.
A minute or two went by.
“Are you going to start?” I asked.
“I’ve already started,” was Dr. Slayback’s reply.
I was shocked at the fact that I didn’t feel anything at all. I opened my eyes to see what he was doing.
Then something really strange happened. I became fascinated at what was going on. I sat up and was transfixed — then watched as he slipped the needle from one side of my wound to the other.
Mom let go of my hand and stood back. I’m pretty sure she was amazed at my new found strength.
When it was over, we headed out to the car.
“Jen, I am so proud of you. You did such an amazing job in there. You nearly watched the whole thing!”
I remember feeling a new sense of freedom – having faced one of my biggest fears.
As I read the quote, “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality,” this morning — my childhood experience with stitches emerged from my memory bank.
Our minds are often so filled with fears that are never realized. We fret for hours, days, weeks, months and even years about things that never happen.
My mom use to drill the concept of “buying trouble” into my mind. “Jen, the more you think about something and fear it, the more likely it may happen,” she’d explain. “Your thoughts affect your actions and then there’s no turning back.”
Even up to the last days of her life during her cancer battle, she’d school me on this concept.
For example, I’d walk into the room and she’d be so quiet. My imagination would make me believe she wasn’t breathing anymore. Her eyes would snap open and she’d say something sarcastic.
“I’m not dead, Jen! I’m perfectly fine!”
Her reactions were strangely funny, and we’d both giggle a bit. Then she’d give me a lecture about not being so scared of what was going on in her body.
“What are you going to do when I’m gone? You’d better get your head screwed on straight.”
She was right.
As the weeks went by during her sickness, I was increasingly infused with the strength I needed to get through it all. Things got tougher for her. Sometimes she’d panic and ask for me to pray with her — just as she did during my first bout with stitches.
“What am I going to do, Jen?” she asked me one night.
She needed for me to be strong, and all I wanted to do was weep.
(It makes me wonder… did she feel like weeping when as a child I came running to her with my leg split open? Did she want to weep when I asked her to pray with me?)
I stared back at her and did everything I could to assure her that she’d be okay. Her soul was going to be fine.
“Mom, you are such a special human being. Everything is going to be okay.”
I stroked her head and tried to calm her.
All I know at this point is that each day, each moment is a new opportunity to look my fears in the eyes and not be overtaken by uncertainty.
“Don’t buy trouble”… I try to use my Mom’s words and wisdom to fight my own invisible dragons — those fears that will probably never become a reality.
It’s all in the here and now. The real question I need to be asking myself is what can I do in this moment to live and breathe my full potential. How do I use my mind and my talents that will lead to a better and more beautiful future?
There is nothing to be gained by living in fear – by being frozen in “what ifs” and unfounded fears.
I want to dig in and reconnect with the kid I was when I learned that stitches weren’t going to kill me. And know that living within me is the strength of my mom whispering softly, “you’re so brave Jen. Everything is going to be okay.”