Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Where are you going, where have you been?"

If you leave a dangerous situation quickly, are you always "running away"?

Flight is, physically, a running away, regardless of motivation. Whether you're physically running away doesn't say that much about whether you are running away in the sense of being a coward, though. Sometimes the hardest thing isn't the right thing. Sometimes trying to deal with a problem is the source of a new problem. Sometimes you have to leave.

Courage is facing your fears, is doing the right thing in the face of fear, of hardship. But if you have fears pressing you in every direction, courage also means running away from some things. You look one fear in the eye and walk towards its object determinedly, head up, heart beating fast. The monster looms large before you, horrifying. Your feet drag, your eyes dart. You hesitate, look around. And then you choose to keep going. You see the monster, and you continue towards it.

The thing is, in choosing that direction, that monster to face, you have turned your back on a host of other fears. The faster you move toward the monster you have chosen, bravely, to face, the faster you are running away from the other threats. They snarl and slobber behind you, and the onlookers shout and jeer that you are running away.

You are running. But "away" and "toward" require a frame of reference. You are running: away from the starting line, toward the finish.

Whether your running away is more important than your running toward pertains primarily to your motivation. Motivation: the moving force. Fear of the monsters behind you? or courage to face the monster before you? Activity, or passivity? Are you the agent, or the acted upon? Do not let a fear be the agent. Fear is meant as a message, as a tool, as an energizer. The decision is yours to make. You, not your emotions, are the agent.

I made my choice. I picked a direction. I am going there, and I am necessarily going away from where I am now. I am running. Forward.

"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2) Away from sin and hindrance, toward the right and the Light. Toward the person who turned away from shame, turned toward joy. Turning, turning, turning, away and toward. Turning into the person I want to be: being "transformed by the renewing of my mind." (Romans 12:2).

[note on the title: from Judges 19: 17, via Joyce Carol Oates.]

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