Somebody told me once that overcoming fear is the heart of love and I did not understand. To my poor perception, that strange little phrase made absolutely no sense. In my experience, love had always been an emotion derived from the happiness it brought me, and to say that love could originate from something so appalling as fear perplexed me. Love was beauty, I reckoned, love can’t come from such an ugly creature as fear. I thought I knew what love was, but then again, I had never really truly been afraid.
When I watched my great-grandmother die everything changed. I experienced a million different emotions ripping through my consciousness. I felt the violent monsters of fear, sadness, confusion, and bitterness seem to clench their thick claws around my throat, crushing my airway, suffocating me until my vision was dark and blurred and there dwelled no sensation but the horrifying weight of my terror that seemed to pin me against the wall. My eyes could not meet the glassy gaze of my dying great-grandmother who flopped as limply as a baby doll in the clutches of the monstrous hospital bed that had invaded her living room. I watched her chest rise and fall slowly and with frightening irregularity, as if with each ragged exhale, death was about to stealthily drag her away while we weren’t looking. My mother and grandmother bravely fought off the vicious predator that was circling the bed, speaking soft words to my great-grandmother as they washed her ashy face, but death still crouched in the room, waiting patiently to take her away. The flickering candle of my resolve was extinguished and I fled from the room, unable to stop running until I was far enough from that living room that my courageous mom and grandmother would not be able to hear me sobbing like the coward I was.
Laying inside the bushes by the shed behind the house, silent tears streamed down my face as I hid from the fear that was crouching inside. A selfish fear owned me as I prayed to be transported back to a home a thousand miles away. Escape seemed to be the only option, I called my father, and begged to be saved. I confessed how terrified and useless I felt, pinned against the walls and being slowly choked to death, a hangman’s noose wrapping around my neck, tighter and tighter with each frantic heartbeat. I begged to have a reprieve, to escape the prospect of watching my great-grandmother slowly succumb to the ice-cold fingers of death. My father was silent for a long time, and even in my hysterical state I knew pardon was impossible and I would have to walk back into that room invaded by death one way or another. He finally took a deep breath and spoke a phrase still etched in my conscience, “The only way to beat your fear is to fight it with love. Just love Maddie.”
I did not want to go back inside to that cavernous living room with the intruding hospital bed and my gaunt great-grandmother with one foot securely in the grave. I did not want to have to breathe in that air, laced with chemicals and the sickly-sweet smell of aged flesh. I did not want to go back but I did and I reluctantly walked in the living room, cheeks still red from my cowardice and self-pity and I strode to my grandmother, exhaustion in her eyes, and asked to take the next shift. My grandmother slowly nodded and handed me a cup of cool water and an eyedropper, the only way to get fluids into my great-grandmother who was lying unconscious on the bed beside us. I was left alone in the room, just me and her.
“Water…” My great grandmother croaked, her parched lips gaping. I quickly dipped the eyedropper into the cup and squeezed the drops into her mouth. I had not seen her this close before, how small and frail she looked in the enormous bed. I reached out my hand and touched her cracked and wrinkled wrist, feeling the erratic pulse beat against my fingers. Gingerly, I took her hand in mine, an action I had done so many times before she got sick, and I placed my other hand on her forehead, mimicking a soft circle with my figures that she had once done to me when I was ill. I held her hand and I gazed at her closed eyes, remembering all the beautiful memories we had shared.
She suddenly opened her eyes and looked at me with a clarity that no one had seen in days and she smiled with an expression that seemed angelic. “Madeleine, will you sing me a song.” She said softly.
I smiled and nodded, and racked my brain for her favorite song. Slowly, I began to sing, “Glory, Glory, Glory” my shaky voice filling the room as my great-grandmother’s lips moved slowly in time. As the last notes faded away, I felt tears rolling down my cheek, but they weren’t tears of fear or terror anymore, they were tears of pure love overflowing in my heart towards my great grandmother. She saw the tears and looked at me with soft eyes. “You’re a good girl.” She said with a smile, “Full of love.”
I will never forget that last moment I shared with her, nor will I ever forget the way the love in my heart made me feel so at peace. Nothing existed in me at that moment except the greatest sense of love and contentment that I have ever felt in my life. I was truly at peace in a way that let me overcome the cold claws of death and let me give a simple goodbye to my great-grandmother. I believe that overcoming the greatest fears in life is what allows the greatest love to grow. I was afraid, and I experienced the fear completely, then I let it pass through me and leave only love in its wake. I believe that is what they meant by “overcoming fear is the heart of love,” when you overcome the most intrinsic emotion of all, fear, you can finally achieve the most beautiful.