Jessica’s kitchen is warm and inviting with its buttery colored walls and clear countertops. At her birthday party this year, three of us stood in a semi circle talking: Jessica, her neighbor and myself. Jessica took a moment to explain to her neighbor how she and I knew one another, and it was then that she told the story of the first time her family came to our house for dinner. We had just asked Jessica and her husband to act as godparents to our son, Chester who was being baptized in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. We thought it might be nice to have her family over so that we could all get to know each other better. “That was the time Miles greeted us at the door with a hatchet,” she said casually.
She then turned smiling broadly and continued the story to the shocked young neighbor, “I heard Angela inside before she opened the door saying, ‘you have to put that down. Put it down!’ And I thought maybe she had a dog, but no, when she opened the door, sure enough, there was Miles standing there with a hatchet.” She laughed, I laughed, and the young woman nodded her head with a confused, horrified look that was badly masked by her polite smile.
I should explain about the hatchet.
Miles is my youngest child. He is 9, going on 30. Ask him about any subject and he has a strong opinion. He once explained his theories on reincarnation to me and, frankly, they sounded pretty convincing. I sometimes forget he is only 9, and that makes things tough because I forget that he has no fear, and yet he has all the fears. I joke that he likes dogs better than people, and there may be some truth to it, but I think it’s more about fear than favor. Dogs have some secret language he speaks. Even dogs that have barked at him, showed their teeth or tried to bite him receive only love in return.
He trusts them, he understands them, once saying of a dog that snipped at him, “he was scared, he didn’t know me.” And he forgives them without question.
“Do you think there are ‘bad’ dogs?” I’ll ask.
“No,” he says, “they are scared I think, or hungry.” He’s very sweet when he wants to be.
It’s true, though, that the sweet kid who loves dogs greeted Jessica and her family at the door with a hatchet. I should say, Miles didn’t actually threaten anyone with the hatchet. He simply held it up, maybe a little too proudly saying, “Look what I have!” And well, maybe he laughed manically to get a response.
Still, it was a real hatchet, solid and sharp, with a bright yellow handle and a black, menacing head. He got it at Home Depot with my husband one week and when he wielded it, the weight sort of got the better of him. It was heavier than it looked. He could only lift it so high before it would wobble. I admit, when I opened the door, he must have looked deranged.
To be fair, my other two boys picked out stuff at Home Depot that day too; while the oldest, Chet, chose a headlamp, my middle son, Henry came home with rat traps- the spring-loaded kind. To say that I flipped out about it is an understatement, but Dave had his reasons. I think those reasons had something to do with learning responsibility or the virtues of being adventurous or some such thing. The difference is that neither of the older boys greeted our guests at the door with their treasures. That seems to be an important distinction.
When I got home from Jessica’s birthday party I asked Miles about the hatchet story. He remembered it right away and he smiled a little. “Were you trying to scare them?” I asked. “Maybe,” he said. “Why?” I asked. He shrugged, “I didn’t know them.”
“You were scared,” I said, and he nodded.
Because he was not baptized with the other two boys, we’ve been looking for a godparent for Miles this past year. “It has to be someone unflappable, ” I told Dave, “you know, someone who won’t blink an eye if he greets them at the door with a hatchet.” I worry that Miles will be judged badly for his odd antics. Dave brushes it off, “it makes a good story.”
I perused the congregation of our church, asking loaded questions to various people, watching how they react to Miles and his direct, tactless style of conversation. He has a habit of saying just what he is thinking and, of course, he is always thinking. The trouble is, he has no filter. I think maybe he’s a writer.
Miles scares himself with his ideas. He once told me that he was afraid to use the bathroom near his bedroom because a spider the size of his head might come out of the linen closet and attack him. The only way I could get him to use that bathroom again was to make him write down that story. We both sat on the floor outside of the bathroom door with my laptop, and I typed the story for him as he told it to me -word for word. I had him flesh it out, really dive into it to give me all the details of this “head-sized” spider. When the story was done, I read it aloud to him. He nodded and said he felt better and then ran into the bathroom with renewed courage, bursting bladder, or both. He hasn’t had a problem with that linen closet since.
It’s like that with fear. It sneaks up on us, from inside, and we are mostly defenseless in that moment. We hear the voice in the back of our head, that lingering whisper of stories and films and urban legends and we have only a few options: go back to safety or go forward into the fear
. Maybe we choose to run away and insulate ourselves from people, from the Internet, from the billboards along the expressway, but that’s a losing proposition for the long run. Everybody has a hiding place: we can’t hide forever.
Maybe we move forward, running headfirst into the fear with caffeine, alcohol or delusion-fueled courage- a metaphorical hatchet with which to show our command of the situation- but that, too, is a short sighted solution. Everybody has a hatchet- but that fuel burns too hot to last.
We scare ourselves with our ideas, we pick up hatchets to cut our way through, we hide, and we hinder our own progress in that way, but perhaps it is in the story that we can finally find solid shelter. It is in the story we find real courage
. It is in the story we find hope and redemption, patience and perseverance. Everybody has the choice- a hatchet or a hiding place – but ultimately, it’s the story that saves us.
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