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Ann Cannon: Things to remember when you feel afraid

Published June 30, 2016 10:57 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Southern California •

Yesterday we took two of our grandkids to Disneyland. When we boarded the Pirates of the Caribbean boat, our 6-year-old granddaughter took it upon herself to warn fellow passengers about the hazards that awaited them. "YOU MIGHT GET WET!" she said. "ALSO, IF YOU'RE AFRAID OF PIRATES, CLOSE YOUR EYES!"

But my favorite thing she said was this: "WATCH OUT FOR TOXINS!"


Where did that come from?

The more I thought about it, however, the more sense her warning made to me. Seriously, this world is filled with all kinds of toxins. Physical toxins. Emotional toxins. Intellectual toxins. And being able to recognize them and the forms they take is an excellent life skill. So when I sat down to write my column first thing this morning, I decided to list all the things I hope my granddaughter will avoid as she makes her journey into adulthood, such as prolonged exposure to the Kardashians.

But then I heard the pounding of waves against the sand. I inhaled thick air scented with salt and saw the sky spread like a smile over the Pacific Ocean, and I wrote this letter instead.

Dear Bean,

You are now old enough and smart enough to understand that life can be scary. That's why you were warning us on the boat. People who recall childhood as a purely carefree, magical time aren't remembering its very real terrors — the nightmares, the casual and not-so-casual bullying, the complete dependence on people older and bigger than you, the lack of control over your own emotions.

As you grow older, you'll discover more things to fear. Some of those fears will grow out of internal anxiety rather than any real threat to you or the people you love. But some of those fears will be legitimate.

That's why I want you to remember this: No matter what happens, the world is a profoundly beautiful place. Carry this knowledge with you always and learn to draw upon it when you feel afraid. Keep your senses engaged and rediscover the natural world around you every day.

See the colors and shapes of plants. In particular, notice the varying shades of green — silver and moss and olive and Kelly.

Step out onto your porch at night and track the phases of the moon.

Hear the conversations of birds and watch the patterns of flight they weave.

Feel cool grass beneath your bare feet and warm sun in your hair.

Run your hand over a lavender plant on a morning walk and carry the scent home with you.

Learn to smell a rainstorm before the rain even falls.

And while you're noticing the natural world, watch the people who inhabit it, especially when they perform small thoughtful acts for one another — holding the door open for a stranger, taking a meal to someone who's ill, distracting a fussy baby to give the mother a break, giving directions to someone who's lost, laughing at a kid's knock-knock joke even if it isn't funny, holding someone's hand, paying for the guy behind you in the line at McDonald's, mowing a neighbor's lawn week after week (thanks, Joe).

These are small things, yes. But in my experience, taking the time to notice them can act as a partial antidote to hopelessness and to fear.

Meanwhile, Bean, carry on. I'm so glad I get to be a part of your journey. And thanks for warning me about the pirates.



Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib






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