This Memorial Day week-end seems like an appropriate time for a brief reflection on fear as we remember those who “gave the last full measure of devotion.” Anyone spending a few honest moments at one of our war memorials cannot help but feel the frightening awe and gravity of the “ultimate sacrifice.” Because of such sacrifices, most of us will never know the fear and doubt of the final moments of those who experienced them.
However, ours is an existence marked by fear and doubt and we will know it in many forms before our own end. Fear of what might or might not be. Fear of what others think. Fear of failing. Fear of suffering. Fear of being humiliated. Fear of not mattering. Fear of fading. Fear of loss. And yes, fear of our own death.
The Merits of Naked Ice Cream
Walking our dog earlier this week, Sally and were passing the home of our daughter and son-in-law when their front door burst open and our two oldest grandchildren (almost 6 and 4) ran into the yard to greet us. The sun was setting and the kids were winding down for bed with a little ice cream snack as we pulled up to greet their exuberance. One glory of grand-parenthood is our illusion of being as important as royalty in such moments.
After a few seconds of high-energy updates on the day and excitement over their ice cream, number three threw the front door open and emerged, naked and equally enthusiastic about his day, his ice cream, and his Nanny and Poppy. Children are forces of nature in all of their forms but there is a certain kind of freedom and energy that accompanies a two year old…particularly a naked one.
Watching Fulton run circles around us, his siblings, and our dog, I was struck by how exuberantly unencumbered he was. He possessed not even the smallest iota of self-consciousness, doubt, hesitancy, or fear as he laughed, gibbered-on in his partial words and sentences, and danced about like he was celebrating the most exciting moment in his life. Clearly, I have not tried the naked ice cream experience frequently enough to understand the true extent of its merits.
Grabbing the leash of Edie, he decided he needed to walk her around the yard a bit though it was unclear who was walking who. He was completely free, completely joyful, and completely innocent. His nakedness was completely appropriate to his state of mind and struck me in its purity. No spot or blemish. No shame or doubt. No concern with what any of us, or anyone else in the neighborhood, would think.
Naked and Afraid
Consider for a moment the notion of running forth from your front porch, buck-naked, to greet friends. What first comes to mind? Propriety aside, your mind likely goes to the red-faced humiliation of your own nakedness. Maybe your mind’s eye sees the imperfections in your naked form. Perhaps you imagine how you look to your friends or what might run through their minds. Likely, you can tune-in to the absolute vulnerability of being so blatantly exposed.
Even the most self-confident of us likely squirms at the thought of such exposure. We have been conditioned to associate nakedness with vulnerability – physical and emotional. I’m not suggesting this is silly or priggish, our physical forms need to be covered for safety and survival, and that covering helps provide emotional protection as well. Nakedness is risky for us and we completely understand the fears that come along with it. There are real reasons for that fear.
Glorious Lightness of Being
Now, consider where nakedness feels normal or joyful? First and foremost to enjoy nakedness, we must feel safe. Safe in our surroundings. Safe in the presence of others. Safe physically. Safe emotionally. Considering Fulton’s joyful romp around the yard, there is no question that he felt completely safe. He could not imagine anything in the world hurting him. Moving past the fear, that nakedness starts to feel normal. From there, it can begin to feel joyful. Perhaps even innocent.
We put clothes on to cover our nakedness, adding layers to help protect us. Some of those layers are necessary to reduce our exposure to dangerous elements like cold or heat. Protection. Always protection.
What about the other layers? What else are we putting on to protect ourselves? We go to great lengths to cover our vulnerabilities. Sometimes we put on airs. Occasionally we put on a brave face. Often, we put on a mask in the hope that some blemish or weakness may remain unseen. Each layer brings its own weight, turning the lightness of our nakedness to something heavier, something burdensome.
Honest and Dangerous
“Your dangerous, ‘cos your honest” opens the U2 song, “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses.” When is honesty dangerous? As I watched Fulton run around his yard, free, unburdened, and fearless, I recognized his innocence. It was pure. It was honest. It was powerful. Such nakedness, such honesty, is dangerous.
Dangerous? Yes. Imagine for a moment what you might do if you were fearless. What choices might you make if you knew without a doubt that everything was going be ok? Who might you be if you knew that you could be naked and unafraid? You would be a force to be reckoned with. You would be dangerous. You might find yourself fully alive in a way that only a 2 year old can understand.
Aspiring to More
There is a profound freedom in nakedness. An unencumbered liberty to be something more emerges when we stop fearing what we’re not, how we might be seen, or our worst-case scenario. There is a limitlessness that lies beyond the naked fear of our own doubt, within the comfort of a faith that says everything is going to be alright. Not a false optimism or blind ignorance to reality. Just the honest nakedness of knowing you don’t have all the answers, don’t need to be perfect, and will be just fine.
This week-end we remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion. In that remembering, we have the opportunity to face our own fears and strive to ensure that their sacrifices are made more meaningful through our full measure of living. Fully naked and unafraid.