My father taught me to never run from the cows.
My parents had a farm when I was growing up, and my second brother and I sometimes followed my father around while he worked.
One of the things we loved to do was to ride the hay wagon as he pulled it with his Farmall tractor from the stable down a dirt road towards the tobacco barn, where he had dug a silo for silage to feed his Black Angus cows.
This dirt road ran through the pasture where the cows fed, and when we stopped at the silo, some of the cows would gather around as my father used a pitchfork to throw out the feed from the silo and the hay from the wagon.
I was a timid child, and I was afraid of the cows.
My father’s oft-repeated advice was something like, “Don’t run from the cows, even if you get scared. Just walk away.”
And I didn’t run. I could stand amongst the cows even if I was uncomfortable or afraid. I could remain standing or move around slowly.
Apparently, I carried the lesson about the cows further than my father could have expected.
When I was in first or second grade, I waited for the bus alone one morning.
It had rained during the night, and there were puddles in the sandy soil where I waited. Earthworms moved around, leaving tracks in their wake.
I crouched down and reached out my finger towards one of the earthworms. I don’t remember now why I wanted to touch an earthworm.
As my finger got closer, I looked more closely at the earthworm and saw that it wasn’t solid brown like the others. It was a lighter brown, with dark brown markings on its back.
It was a baby snake. A copperhead.
I was terrified of snakes. Fear shot through me. But I didn’t run.
I remember thinking, if I run, it might chase me.
So I slowly straightened, turned around, and walked up the driveway towards the house.
I felt the eyes of the snake on my back. I was afraid it would come after me. All I could do, though, was to keep walking until I reached my mother, who had come outside from the window inside where she was watching me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“There’s a snake down there,” I said.
My mother did not have a happy look on her face. She was probably even more terrified than I was.
But she walked back down the driveway and picked up a big rock. She took the rock and killed the snake.
Let me say that I’m not sure how I feel now about her killing the copperhead. At the time, though, it seemed like the only thing to do, to rid our driveway of this poisonous snake.
Looking back, I see a pattern I developed of trying to act unafraid, not just of animals, but of anything.
I developed ways to act like everything was fine and nothing was bothering me, even when I was afraid, or anxious, consumed by obsessions and compulsions, or depressed.
In the larger scheme of things, that’s OK. That’s a part of being competent, as I wrote about in yesterday’s post. Sometimes I need to put my head down and do what needs to be done. Sometimes it’s not a good idea to appear vulnerable.
But if no one ever knows I’m afraid or hurting in some way, then how can I get the support that I sometimes need?
When I am afraid, I can say it out loud to only my husband. I can pray it. And I can write it.
Then I’m not pretending anymore. And then I can receive the understanding that I need. We all can.
What are your thoughts about this? Do you think we learn as children to hide our fear? When is it OK to show our fear?