To match eternal light with how I live my life
Of course, I was forced to retreat
From victory I accept defeat — Avett Brothers, Victory
This summer I took my daughters on a 3,000 mile road trip through Texas, New Mexico and Colorado to mark Catherine’s graduation from High School. It was a lifetime experience I will never forget, nor will there be sufficient time before I die to adequately thank to God for those precious days. They pass away, but the memories remain.
One of our stops on this trip was in Buena Vista, Colorado where our dear friend Austin Ashcraft was leading white water rafting rides down the Arkansas river. Though our time there as a whole was electric, I knew going into this that the ride down the river would likely stir awake the hornet’s nest of my lifelong battle with anxiety. And it did. But I refused to allow fear to keep us from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As we prepared for the seven hour rafting trip, I felt the first stirrings of anxiety boiling deep within. I’ve had panic attacks since I was a child, and so I know its early tremors very well. As we drifted down the river, I deployed all my best weapons against anxiety to good effect — the rhythmic Jesus prayer, displacing my focus, breathing exercises, and so on. But when we came to the place where we could stop and jump into the chilly river for a fun splash, my anxiety erupted in full fury and sent me into a downward spiral. The best word to describe this lifelong experience is terror, as you sense your psyche is fragmenting from within, and all ability to control your inner world has been lost. As we got back in the raft I managed to hide it from the girls right up until lunch, but when we disembarked again and went to sit and eat together, the armor cracked.
My daughters could tell there was something wrong with me, though I kept doing my best to hide it. I’m quite expert at that. Catherine said, “Dad, are you okay?” I said, in a likely unconvincing way, “Oh, yes. Fine.” Maria said, “Dad, no you’re not. It’s okay for you to not be okay. You don’t have to be strong for us. We’re big girls.” Well, with the detonation of that bomb I quickly made an excuse and went off to a side area, out of sight, and briefly cried. As I collected myself, I thought of a line from Wordsworth, “The Child is father to the Man.” Going back to the girls, I said, “You’ll never know how much both of you saying those things helped me. Thank you.” Catherine patted me on the shoulder and said, “No problem. Now have some SunChips!”
The greatest ally of anxiety is isolation, secrecy, self-reliance, going it alone — all fueled by fear. And I fall into those as easily as anyone. But there along that river bank my daughters broke down my resistance and lifted me up from the ground by the hand. I was able to accept defeat, accept that the anxiety was beyond my strength to battle alone. But with their beautiful love, unafraid to see their father a broken Man, the Children were victorious. Omnia vincit amor.
The next few hours of the trip, while still challenging, were entirely different. I was no longer alone. And sometimes “I am with you” is all you need to know. Love indeed is the real victory, The rest simply follows…