One fateful day in seventh grade my class took a trip to The Wilds Christian Camp, where the biggest attraction is the sixty-foot-tall Giant Swing that lifts you up, up, up into the air and then swings you back and forth like a pendulum. For whatever reason, I agreed to ride the Swing with my friend, Karen.
I barely fit into the gaping harnesses the workers strapped onto our bodies. As the workers pulled the straps as tightly as they could, I imagined my tiny body slipping out of the harness and dashing to the ground. Ignorant of my imminent death, the workers led us to the platform and attached us to the thick cables that would pull us into the air. As we picked up off the ground, I whispered to Karen, “See you in heaven.” We climbed higher. I asked Karen to hold my arm. If I was going to fall and die, I wasn’t going to do it alone. I was reassuring myself that my family would receive substantial compensation if I died on the Swing, when a horrible click interrupted my thoughts.
All at once my body sliced through the air so fast that my vision turned green. I screamed for dear life, waiting in dreadful greenish darkness for my sight to be restored. Beside me, Karen serenely took in the view of the entire camp, which I would’ve also seen—probably even enjoyed—had I not been struck with temporary blindness.
I was “scream girl” in math class for the rest of the year, and even the teacher joined in on the jokes about me. It stung a little bit. After all, none of my classmates had been in my place, in my tiny seventh-grade body, wheeling through the air without vision. For a moment, I was blindsided, and my world was topsy-turvy. But these instances of tumult fill our lives, don’t they? At times our situation catches us by surprise, and we feel as though the peaceful river we’re navigating suddenly turns into violent white rapids. And no, catastrophe in life is usually not nearly as trivial as a two-minute Swing ride, but those same feelings of fear and dread that I had are present in all of life’s scary circumstances.
When others laugh at what terrifies us, it hurts; they’re not me. They’re not you. They haven’t gone through what you or I have gone through. All I needed from my math class was a little bit of understanding. So offer a little understanding to frightened people, even if their fear of spiders seems really irrational to you. Don’t degrade that high schooler who faints at the sight of her own blood, or a child in tears over his “damaged” drawing. After all, everyone—including you—wants a little bit of sympathy when it feels like the world is ending, so pay it forward. Trust me, you don’t want to be equated with my seventh-grade math class.