Fear and Comfort

Besides the sadness and horror of the most recent school shooting, and the news in general, I’m afraid of a lot things right now. I remember back in my late 20s when I discovered Hemingway for the first time (really). I had moved to a new apartment (which I loved and which was a lot like my house now) and I’d psychologically (if not effectively) ended a hopeless relationship and was a few years out from divorcing an abusive husband. I’d finished my MA. My future had never been so open, but I didn’t know who I was.

Funny, but at the time, I thought finding out who I was would be a permanent thing, a done deal. It’s not.

In this apartment I had no furniture except a dining room table, two chairs, a dresser and a bed. I bought the bed with a loan I had guaranteed by putting up my VW Bug as collateral. “You can always borrow $100 on a VW Bug,” said the loan officer at the bank which was on the first floor of building of the law firm where I worked.

It was a futon bed, a platform, really pretty, spare and elegant, white birch. Anyhoo…

After work the only way I could relax and read was in the bathtub. I’ve never been a person who reads in bed, besides, there was no light in my bedroom (yet). It was a nice old-fashioned bathtub with a nice, slanted back, and it was in the bathtub that I read The Old Man and the Sea, for the second time (the first time was in 9th grade and I thought it could not possibly apply to me).

From Hemingway I learned that courage doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing what has to be done anyway. It’s going out after the fish ANYWAY. It’s risking a return with nothing but bones. I think I read that book in one sitting, frequently heating the water in the tub by turning on the hot water.

Over time, I got furniture, of course. My aunt gave me a beautiful red chair and a friend gave me an awesome day bed. I was set.

But fear. Last night I couldn’t sleep. All the unknowns and dangers currently in my little personal life pressed upon my mind. No one wants surgery, and I haven’t even found my doctor yet. My stationary bike — the Sainted Airdyne — has broken. It works, but it makes a godawful noise. Because of it, I’m able to walk. Without it? Well, no one should ever underestimate the importance of muscle strength and motion on their ability to keep moving. As a doctor said to me recently, “We all tend to move away from pain, so good for you. Keep working out, everything will go better.”

There’s other stuff. At my age, a person looks down the short road toward the end of the ride and when you have physical problems, mobility problems, pain, that location seems closer, sometimes even desirable. You sometimes involuntarily focus on what you can no longer do.

I have friends my age (and older) who haven’t hit any physical plateau in their abilities and they ARE younger than I am. I have too much knowledge. There’s also the fact that what I’ve been able to do physically has defined me to myself, has been the biggest source of my self-esteem. Not being able to climb a hill at all feels to me like failure. Right now, even stuff that would probably seem like good news, exciting and happy news, if I were someone else, scares me.

The message of  The Old Man and the Sea is a little more subtle than a trapped fish providing food for sharks. It is that the future is where we live. The real purpose for courage — beyond survival — is happiness. I don’t think Hemingway was much good himself at being happy, but Santiago, the fisherman he created (or observed?) was.

The other day I took the dogs for a short ramble. The first thing I saw was a magpie with a frog in his beak (happy bird!). I heard Sandhill Cranes everywhere, but I didn’t see them. After about 1/2 mile, I saw dozens staring at me from across a finger of the slough. Soon hundreds took flight to the northeast and calling out, flew above the river. Toward the end of the walk, my attention was captured by a raptor. It was a young, male bald eagle, a sign of spring in the San Luis Valley. He flew low and close, then found a perch high in a cottonwood tree.

In the wee morning hours last night, I got up to read. If you can’t sleep, a good stragedy is to give up. Bear told me she needed out, so I put on my jacket and out we went. The night was clear, not terribly cold (19). Small Colorado town silent. In the distance I heard something I love.


Sometimes I feel as if this valley literally reaches out for me. “Here, Martha. I know you’re scared and sad and you can’t sleep. Here’s comfort.”


Here are the cranes. To see them you’ll have to open full screen. ❤

36 thoughts on “Fear and Comfort

  1. Reading this at a time in my life when I am feeling down makes me realise that I am not alone in the world. Everything goes fine and suddenly you have a silly stupid accident and need to be convinced that it is not the end of the road. I too had my lonely moments when I moved to Switzerland. I knew no-one, lived in 4 walls and no-one called to ask if you wanted to go out. I learned that life takes time. I never thought I would grow old, that things would change for me. I was never really a fan of Hemingway, didn’t like his style, but I only saw the film The Old Man and the Sea, perhaps I should read the book. I have discovered that you must continue, do something different and look forward. It might be going down, but something might turn up (Mr. Micawber in David Coperfield). So let’s keep walking the path, even if we do have a few aches and pains on the way.

    • No, you’re not alone. It’s too bad we’re 5000 or so miles apart, or we could take “walks” together. :p I think The Old Man and the Sea is really beautiful irrespective of Hemingway’s style. It says what needs to be said (and I sometimes need to remember) which is “Go fishing anyway.” Pretty much what you’ve said! ❤

  2. I’ve looked through vast amounts of blogs out there. Yours is one of the few I read from beginning to end. I ‘ve read Hemingway. I will honestly tell you …U r a way better writer. Please keep sharing. “It’s okay to feel afraid., ” those are my son’s words to his sister because she has to perform a solo in front of an audience. He is right.

    • Thank you. Hemingway taught me a lot about writing. Sometimes I hear him in my mind when I’m working on a story. He said in A Moveable Feast that when he was writing well, he succeeded by stopping when he knew what was going to happen next. That’s really good advice.

      I ONLY made it through a piano solo in front of an audience once and that was the time when the solo didn’t matter; it was the reason I was playing it. My teacher was in the hospital during the time our recital was supposed to happen. We held the recital anyway and recorded it for her. I managed to play my piece because it wasn’t about me. That seems to be an aspect of fear, too. We fear for OURSELVES. Your son is right. Fear is information. ❤

  3. When your physical well being is compromised in any way, it’s so scary. I went through a period of needing to decompress after my surgery to repair a ruptured artery a couple years back. After the surgery, I took the requisite time off to heal physically. But then I jumped right back into my life without allowing myself the time to heal emotionally.

    I send you good wishes and I am thankful for this heartfelt post of yours on a day when I am in need of a human connection.

    Peace and better days

  4. I too have realized that “me and myself” are a rapidly moving target. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, the next time you look, it’s a different face and a pile of altered opinions and attitude. Probably — on a general scale — that’s a good thing. The only time I figure we stop changing is when we are dead … and who knows what happens on whatever other side may exist? Maybe that’s just another version of forever changing.

    I’ve been worrying so I’m having a lot of trouble sleeping. Different worries but worries keep you up. After realizing that I CAN’T get either a Refi or a home owner’s loan on this house without reabsorbing the (silent) $80,000 lien against this house HUD is holding on the property (Obama program that enabled us to keep the house 8 years ago), I am fearful of where we are going. Because we also can’t SELL the house without repaying that HUD lien. As long as we live here, we don’t pay anything on it. Not taxes, not insurance, nothing. It’s “gone money.” If we refinance, move — or I assume, die — HUD would like the money back (though I’m told it’s not hard to get them to let it go, either so there’s that).

    This means whatever we do, we’ll have to find a way to do it without additional funding.

    Meanwhile: I’ve got a little hint of flu and my doctor kindly reminded me that I’ve got two replacement heart valves (before the surgery is ONE worry — AFTER the surgery is another set) so if I seem to have any kind of infection, get to himself or a hospital and don’t pass go. Swell. Just swell.

    It’s always something. Makes me want another dog. I’m sending you another email about dogs. I have a friend in Nevada with a request for research about a rare dog breed she has come to have dibs on and I’m Ms. Google USA, but I think you may know something about this. Email to come!!

    • I refinanced my CA home through Obama’s Home Affordable Program. It was no problem when I sold the house. Of course, you pay off a mortgage anyway. But I didn’t have a deal with no taxes, etc. I think you’re “stuck” 😦

  5. Hard stuff. I have found the emotional part of physical loss, injury, surgery, recovery to be more challenging. Takes me deeper, facing more challenging stuff. It is interesting how much we identify with our physical status (and I am immensely grateful that I mostly got back to “normal”) She says after dealing with headache and exhaustion from one mildly short night of sleep–the leftovers of concussions. Mostly.
    And thus far I haven’t doubted my ability to care for myself. To me that’s the hard twist.

    Loved the cranes!

    • You just do it. It’s the pre-crisis apprehension that’s hard, I think. Heading into this I have to go to the dentist (which I hate) and drive to the Springs to see a doc, and if he doesn’t work, drive to Boulder all a chain of complexity that I didn’t choose (now but I definitely DID choose it years ago when I was careless and profligate with myself). I think I’m just at the point where I need to get it going. Reality is easier for me to deal with than this.

      Concussions are no fun — I’ve had several. yeah, yeah, I know… 😉

      • my organizing self copes pretty well with pre-time, once there is enough known (like a surgeon), Not a conscious choice years ago. At least for me, the consequences of activity and aging seemed like good theory and not personally relevant. Such a surprise to discover that I was included in “everybody”

      • I will feel better when I know who’s going to do it, what it’s going to be, where and when. No, definitely not a conscious choice years ago. I remember my first ski injury (knee) and I didn’t go to the doc right away. I did finally go to the doc and he said, “It’s too late for me to help you now. Do you know what an injury is?” It “healed” pretty well (I was in my 20s). OH well. Blood under the bridge, but I still don’t think aging applies to me or I’m included in “everybody” 😀 A good night sleep would help me now, I think.

  6. I so enjoy the way you think and your honest heart. A coyote has moved into the woods on the hill above my house (a new thing for south-central PA) and the developer who owns the land is trying to trap (kill?) him. He plays awful recordings of animals dying to try to attract it to his trap every night about the time I am outside bringing my horses in. I know nothing about coyotes and his presence has made me anxious (the recordings aren’t helping!), so it was interesting to read that you found them comforting. I will try to see his presence with a different attitude. I worry for him, and the others that must be close by -this area will not welcome them.

    • I’m not pitching my book but you need to read it. I’ve had a lot of experience with coyotes. I had heard they were moving back east to some of their former haunts. Humans and coyotes coexist well, except if the humans are poultry farmers and the birds aren’t in a covered pen. Recordings of animals dying isn’t going to mean ANYTHING to a coyote. SMELL is everything. The coyote wouldn’t hang around if there were no food there. Coyotes have played a pretty big part in my life. I like them VERY much. Edward Abbey called them, “God’s dog.” ❤

  7. I enjoyed the Old Man and the Sea. I read it in school too. It is an invaluable way to look at the world “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Really enjoyed this, Martha, very much.

  8. This hit home, Martha. And reading everyone’s comments, you said the unspoken. It is some small comfort that a lot more people than I think have concerns, especially when our health is compromised–it’s like that is an added fear on top of the other ‘regular’ fears we all have. Thanks for putting your thoughts into words.

    • ❤️ it helped me to articulate it and I felt a lot less self-indulgent about it when I saw others’ responses. That was a good lesson for me. I know you know what this feels like

  9. Hey Martha Kennedy, are you wallowing? Seriously though, I think deep down we are all shit-scared of growing old, of infirmity, of losing our minds. You will adapt until can’t adapt anymore. I think fear can be both rational and irrational. You seem to have a good handle on yours. Doesn’t make it any easier though, especially when the reptilian blame bundles all the fears together. But thank Heaven, you are in a better place now. So, thank you for sharing your nighttime fears with us. Writing it down does seem to help with the thinking process, so I hope that helped you.

    The recovery from the surgery won’t be pleasant, but hopefully you will be more mobile when you’ve had it. So that’s got to be a good thing, right? At the risk of sounding like a ra-ra person, I know where you are coming from. I really do. Please remind me of this conversation later, when I’m doing my own wallowing. What I admire about you, Martha, is your honesty, and how you don’t put yourself on a pedestal. It’s just one step at a time for you. Now get on with it, lady. Give those dogs a hug for me. And those cranes – I felt soothed immediately.

    PS. Wish we could get some of those angry young teens more engaged with the wilderness, as custodians, not conquerors. Things might be very different for them and others then.

      • P.S. Nothing to take back. We all have our ways of working through our shit. I grew up completely disenfranchised from my emotions. They just didn’t matter in my family because of all the other possibly, probably, more serious stuff going on. It was a very long journey for me to learn WHY we have them and why they are important to notice. They actually have some information in them. It took therapy to show me that. That’s another long story and we all have them. 🙂

    • ❤️😊 I don’t want to wallow— and I’m not — but ignoring the emotions is a bad plan, too, as I’ve learned the hard way. It was a lousy night last night, writing this was clarifying and it (to my surprise) made some others feel less alone. You liked “Spiritu Sanctu” well that story isn’t over. That’s troubling, too, in its way. It seemed like the great gray unknown ganged up on me last night

    • P.S. I’ll be a lot more tranquil when I’ve found a surgeon, know what the procedure will be, can plan the whole thing — when it’s more concrete. Rehab is a bitch, but I’ve done it before. If all goes as I hope it will, by August I hope to be back on flat trails with my dogs. That would be great.

  10. Beautiful, Martha. I agree, there is always comfort out there for us in the midst of fear. Whether it be a loved one, a friend, old memory or a familiar sound in the middle of the night.

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