The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Other Concerns in this Political Season
By Dana Bowman | July 18, 2016
When I was six years old, I flunked swimming lessons. My swim coach was a dashing fellow with beautifully feathered hair and red swim trunks, who looked like Ponch from that police show we all watched. And then, at the end of the final lesson, he broke my heart.
“You didn’t pass,” he told me. I nodded, staring at my feet. Water dribbled down my nose and onto the front of my red swimsuit. “You know, Dana, you could have tried harder.”
Yes. I could have. But I had been afraid.
The final lesson had us jumping off the side of the pool into the deep end, where we had to swim down to the bottom, pick up a sprinkler nozzle, and bring it back to our instructor. And as much as I adored my Erik Estrada coach with all his big teeth and dimples, I had refused. I had my limits. The bottom of the pool is not a place for foraging. Who knows what could be down there?
If asked to do this today, I would politely say, “I don’t think so. I am simply too afraid.”
Fear and I have been best friends forever. We should be. We have spent a lot of quality time together through the years. We grew up loathing roller skates, lake water, and carnival rides. In my teen years we avoided all scary movies after a sleepover involving a Freddy Krueger film. In my twenties, we started working on fearing more mature things, like taxes.
And then I had children.
I had children because I got married, and found out something rather unexpected. Marriage is also terrifying. But children? Children toddle up to you, all cute and squishy, and they sweetly lisp, “Here, Momma,” and hand you a gigantic Pandora’s box of things to really freak out about. Inside the box are all sorts of miseries that parents dread: broken bones, bullies, rebellion, puking, and worse. I still find myself muttering fervent prayers over both boys at night. “Please, Lord, you have blessed us so much. And I thank you. But please, keep my babies safe. Keep them well. Keep the bad people away. You know I’m grateful, right? Okay, thanks.”
I stand there, in the shadows of their room, resting my hand on their soft cheeks, brushing back their hair and breathing them in. I pray for their sweet lives to stay sweet. I pray for mercy nearly every night, as all parents do.
And now it’s 2016, an election year. I am still lugging around my Pandora’s box, and both kids just slapped election stickers all over it. My six-year-old looks at me with his big brown eyes and asks, “What is a Trump, Mom?”
I’m not sure how to explain.
I don’t fear Donald Trump. And I don’t fear Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. My fears float around them, true, but alight instead on a basic fear of conflict. We gobble up those awful photos of Trump (does he take any good pictures?), where he is grimacing or smirking or stabbing at the air with his fingers. And then we hate him. We post sarcastic memes about Hillary and Bernie and skim the comments. We start to hate them too. We are on a political fast food diet, and it’s giving us nothing but indigestion.
Fast food is bad. Michelle Obama tells us this, and even my ultra-conservative father would have to grudgingly agree with her. And our fast food culture has created a big fat problem in our nation: we live, breathe, and eat conflict, but we don’t want to try to actually deal with the complex pain and brokenness lurking behind all the yelling. We are all pitted against each other in a very important and increasingly loud battle, and my children are watching. They can’t help it. It’s too deafening to ignore.
The other night at bedtime, Henry came over to me and curled up on my lap. He was wearing his Captain America pajamas, and his hair was damp and fragrant from his bath. I cuddled him close. We were having this moment that all moms cherish—that blessed time of night right before sleep when all the day’s annoyances slip away, forgiven under the mantle of footie pajamas. Henry lugged over The Bible Story, volume four, and said, in his soft voice, “Will you read the Bible at me, Momma?”
And he pointed to the story—David and Goliath, always a favorite. As I read to the boys, I offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving that they look up to David—a hero so small and yet so strong. When the story was over, we sat and rocked for a moment while Henry pored over the pictures. And then he said, “I wish they had a picture for the end.”
“The end? When he slays Goliath? Yep. It’s exciting.” My inner Sunday-school teacher had now locked in on a teachable moment. “David, as you know, was so young and small, and yet…”
“No,” Henry said. “I mean, I wish they had a picture of when he cut off his head. Do you think there was a lot of blood?”
So much for the teachable moment.
This election year, to be sure, has its share of gore. Images of Trump’s spray tan are pretty grisly. The opinionators, official or Facebook qualified, are out for blood. What frightens me the most, however, is that all of this crimson will snare my children, and all of us, in a permanent state of fear that forces two reactions. My main reaction is overwhelmed horror, and like a frightened rabbit I freeze and just hope all of this will go away. I call this my “Jesus is on the throne so I will just go sit down and wait” technique.
Or, I can attack. I can turn into that bloodthirsty white bunny from Monty Python, and go for the jugular.
There is no middle ground.
Perhaps I lied. Maybe I do fear Trump. In our culture of yelling over each other to make a point, Trump seems to be the loudest of them all. I am not sure how to say this without making someone mad, but I kind of feel like if Trump wins the election, I’m going to hear the doorbell, go to answer it, and it will be one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. “Hi,” he’ll say. “I’m here to let you know that, yes, it’s true. He is your president. So, I’ll be moving in down the block. Have a nice day.”
As I write, it’s the national day of prayer. After dropping off the boys, I spend most of the morning working on this article. But every twenty minutes or so, I find myself wondering if anyone has gone to our church to pray. It might be my attempt to avoid writing about this topic, but finally, I decide to go see for myself.
The sanctuary is silent and cool, the air fragrant with peace and the Holy Spirit. I sit. And I wait. I try to listen, hoping that maybe God will lean down from heaven and thunder:
“DANA, IT’S ALL GOING TO BE OKAY. RELAX.”
Instead, the silence seems to stuff itself into my ears, and suddenly I find myself crying.
“Father, I don’t know what to pray for. We all seem to be kind of a mess. I want something better than all of this. For me. For my boys.”
I look up. We have a stained-glass picture of Jesus there, reaching out for us. He seems to understand the mess. He also seems to not be too perturbed about any of it.
“I am so afraid. We seem so lost and so far from you.”
More tears. More silence.
“It’s not fair. I didn’t ask for all of this.”
Of course, Jesus knows that. And here, with my fervent, passionate, tear-stung prayers, my fears are anointed and understood—and forgiven.
I still have so many questions, but all the answers are Jesus. This, too, sounds like a Facebook meme. I look up at the picture of Christ, the same one I have stared at for countless Sunday mornings all these years—now it seems different. Alive. “Start here,” he says. “Start with me and see what happens.”
That morning I think Jesus wanted me to stumble to him with my fearful, fervent prayers. That is what fear does. It reminds us of our place in this world and who is our true north.
As I was heading back out to my car I had a thought that was so foreign to me that I knew it had to be from God. I am simply incapable of such optimism.
“What if you are stronger than you know?”
I stopped walking. David had gathered the stones, true. But God is the one who delivered his people.
We feel fear, and then we pray, and then we can go in search five smooth stones in the riverbed. It was a perfect spring day. I had hope.