Can a place be a location where fear dwells? A waste place? A place to avoid? Can a clearing in a dark, midnight forest contain ‘fear’ that seems like a palpable presence?
As a teenager I would often cut through Culpepper’s Wood on the way home, sometimes it would be approaching midnight. I am not an easily frightened person, never was, but at one point on my journey through the forest, there would be a sharp incline and I would have to take a sharp left turn, the trees then ‘give way’ to a small clearing, at least for a while before the forest ‘resumed’, and there it would be: Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree (is a rough translation from Welsh into English), as my grandmother used to call it.
To me, as a teenager it always felt that Y goeden mellt had a tangible fear-producing presence about it, as I passed it by. Friends would avoid this area. I seemed to have the opposite reaction. But, that’s just me.
‘Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.’ C Joybell C
It wasn’t the kind of Hollywood movie, malevolent, stalking, horrific, ‘evil’ fear, that would cause me to run past it; but more of a powerful, old-worldly, ancient, brooding, ‘positive’ fear, that quickened my heart, and certainly encouraged me to quicken my pace on a number of occasions, and the former still happens if I have to pass it by, today.
‘I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.’ Sarah Williams
I know this still happens, as last night, wanting to go for a walk before bedtime, I went for a long walk that took me to the lightning tree. I didn’t pass it by, it was my destination point this time, but the desire to walk past it or turn back quickly was certainly there, and my heart was racing. It was so dark. There was a chill in the air. Animals of some description scurried around nearby in the undergrowth. And, I sat of a felled log and looked at the lightning tree, some twenty feet away. I say twenty feet away. It could have been closer. It was difficult to gauge the distance as everything looks ‘flat’ against the dark sky.
Sitting there, thoughts started to ramble.
‘The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.’ Nancy Wynne Newhall
Do some trees attract lightning more than others? It seems this one did. I’m told ‘lone’ trees may suffer lightning strikes more so, and oaks which tend to be taller than other tree and have a higher moisture content definitely seem to attract lightning. And, doubly so if rain-soaked.
‘Beware the oak; it draws the stroke.’
But the ‘fear’ I had felt years ago, and which, yes, was still detectable last night as I sat in that clearing was ‘clean’, wholesome, even ‘friendly’ fear, one that made my pupils dilate, thus taking everything ‘in’ around me, made me alert, and ‘alive’ to the ‘commotion’ around me: owls hooting, things scurrying behind me, or in front of me when I turned to look behind me, and several things in the trees. Words from Gerald G May came to mind.
‘Fear, like any other strong emotion, can make you exquisitely conscious of living, perfectly aware of being in the movement. It can only do that, however, on those rare occasions when you don’t try to fight it, run away from it, cope with it, suppress it, tame it, or otherwise domestic it.’ Gerald G May, ‘The Wisdom Of Wilderness’.
I had read May’s book some years ago, and it was even more poignant some nine years ago because I had just got over three cycles of chemo, then, an operation and radio-therapy because of cancer, and after reading that book, I found myself in this same clearing, wondering what the future would hold. Fear? This was the place to be – looking at the lightning tree. But, such fear made me feel more ‘alive’ than ever.
And, those memories came flooding back last night.
Fear can be healthy, not ‘malevolent’. It can benefit us, if we ‘use’ it properly and ‘decipher’ its message, rather than run from it.
‘The basic lesson is this: Fear is not an enemy but a friend. Fear is something good, something alive, alert and wild in us. Fear may be a response to danger, but fear itself is not dangerous.’ Gerald G May
That sentiment has always been at the back on my mind, even when as a teenager I would pass this way, after dark. And, when I was here nine years ago – and all the other times. Fear is not the enemy. Nine years ago, facing the fear of cancer and recovering from the most invasive of operations, words of calm ‘fell’ on me in this clearing.
Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.’, said the Christ, as recorded in John 14:27
Then, I didn’t know how the proceeding years would unfold. But, they were kind me to. But, sadly, not so to some friends that I had met in the chemo lounge, and not so to some family and friends that had ‘gone ahead’. Memories. (But, more about the thoughts of these dear ones tomorrow).
That was the thought that sped through my mind as I sat on that felled log – the memories of family and friends that had ‘gone ahead’, and that were now in Bliss, and were sorely missed by me. That, and the thought that fear can be ‘clinical’, and can be beneficial if it shakes us our of our complacency, an keeps us alive to the moment.
I realised that Y goeden mellt, the lightning tree’, was no monster to be avoided, but a tree that I once feared, and still do, albeit in a more healthier, adult and mature way – and one that has taught me an invaluable lesson: Fear awakens us to the moment, and being aware of the moment is what we all need.
An hour later, I stood, and yes, I gave a slight nod, a bow in the direction of Y goeden mellt for being a silent teacher to me – or was it to the Unseen One who was there all along, the invisible, immortal, all-wise One, who was and is silently guiding me and you. The Friend.