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A moment of terror

I had a moment of terror on the first night I got back here, in the French Alps. The flight went well, I even had a full row to myself between San Francisco and Frankfurt, then a quick change of plane and a short flight to Geneva. Then I took the ski bus to the French resorts and by that time, I was struggling to keep my eyes open. A friend came to pick me up and brought me to the chalet, another friend who has the keys had turned on the heat in each room the day before. I unpacked, I called the retirement home where is my mother and told them I would be there the next morning and they confirmed once more that she was fine, I wrote some emails, made myself a cup of hot chocolate and went to bed. All in all everything was fine and I was glad to be finally in my bed. It must have been early, around 8pm local time.

I woke up to go to the bathroom thinking it was the middle of the night but, as I learned when all this was over, it was actually fairly early, it must have been 10:15pm. Going over the whole situation, afterwards, I realized I had made two mistakes right away: first I got up without putting my glasses on, and second, I had not turned on the night light in the bathroom as I usually do, which can be seen a bit from my bedroom since I leave the door to the hallway open. But I got out of bed (on the right side!) thinking I was still in San Francisco and found myself in the dark, stuck in a small space between the bed and a window. First I was surprised and puzzled but with my two hands extended, I kept “feeling” what I was encountering and it seemed odder and odder by the minute. I was sure I was in my apartment in San Francisco and could not understand what was around me. So I got uptight, fear crept in. I found a lamp and my hands wrap around the bottom of the bulb which is where the switch is in SF. Nothing! There was nothing and I could not understand it. (In France, my lamp has a cord and the switch is further down in the cord,).

By this time, 5 big minutes had got by and I was utterly confused. My hands found my desk with my computer on it and I thought that’s good but I could not find the second little lamp in the back of my desk. This whole scene is in the dark because the house my father built has thick walls, one foot wide, and when the wooden shades are closed, which is the way it is done in this corner of the world, it blocks all moon light or street light. Anyhow, the first road light is a mile away from the house….

I had a couple of very weird thoughts, which to me shows I was definitively “awake” but completely off my rockers! The first thought I had was that “the little one is sleeping here and I’m going to walk on her!” but right away, I dismissed that thought. No Marceline is not sleeping here tonight, no need to worry about that. But the second thought was even more stupid and I’m embarrassed to mention it but here it is: I though “this is it, I’ve got Alzheimer, I am in my bedroom and I’m completely lost” but even that thought was moved to the back burner because what was the point of it at this moment?

I was still trying to find my way around in the dark, thinking the walls were closing on me, I said an urgent prayer to Jesus, I begged him to help me since I had no idea what was going on and I also invoked Saint Philomena, one of my favorite saint. I was ready to sit on the floor and start crying but when I came to the end of my desk, I kept going leftward and I hit a door and found a light switch. I turned it on and the whole room was lit and that is when I realized I was in France! I was completely stunned and bewildered. In my last 40 years of going back and forth between the two countries, I have 4 or 5 times run into something similar on my first night. Except that it would only last a minute, I would get up on the wrong side of the bed and realized my mistake. This time, for the very first time, it felt like it went on for 15 minutes, which is an awful long time. The fear went away as soon as the light went on but I was left with an uncanny feeling for a while. I made sure to plug in that nightlight, I opened a book and forced myself to read a few pages. Actually, the first thing I did was to say a prayer of Thanks.

It amazed me how easily I went into a moment of terror although I was physically fine, in a safe and comfortable house, and happy to be there. I had empathy thoughts for all the people who live in terrifying circumstances because of wars and terrorism, because of mud slide or planes disappearing, because of unstable dangerous environment or domestic abuse… the list is very long and the news constantly remind us of such circumstances.

terror in my room

I went back to sleep knowing I would be fine. Nevertheless, the feeling of having gone so easily into this dark moment in the security of my own home made me humble. My rational brain can explain it by fatigue and stress, my mind knows that nothing should be taken from granted, not even the next breath or the next heartbeat, the test can be right around the corner! My heart and soul very actively try to practice what I believe, which is faith and trust in God (and by the way, I should have prayed earlier…) still, it took me by surprise.

Should I write about it? I mulled it over for a few days and then started typing. Why should I share it? To get pity and compassion from friends? Of course! I am all alone here, I’ll take whatever sympathy I can get. No but really, why tell my story? So a few more people will go out and buy a night light or a flashlight? Yes, right there is a good reason! Plus it’s liberating for me to be able to laugh about it. When I think of myself trying to touch and feel each furniture in the dark, I do find it foolish and stupid enough to smile now!

Am I reminding everyone to pray when in need? Oh Yes, I have no problem walking around with a sticker on my forehead saying “Pray constantly!” But the truth is that not all prayers are answered, certainly not always right away and certainly not always in ways we can see. I did ask God why I had to go through this. And then I remembered my own resolution and wish for Lent of 2014, which was to grow in my trust of God. Yes, that explains it! Didn’t someone said once we should be careful what we ask for? Sometimes we get little nuggets of grace and sometimes we get drenched from a bathtub turned over our head filled with trying grace. I need to accept it all. I also need to admit to myself that I can be a fearful person in many ways, and it’s not getting better with age. But trust is the best antidote for the poison of fear. So let it go Michele, you were never in real danger, it was all in your head. I got out of bed and made a wrong assumption and held on to it doggedly for 15 minutes - which shows another lovely side of myself and it is called being obstinate …

Before typing tonight, I wondered if I should just turn my bed around here and put it in alignment with the one in SF. But now I am sure about the answer to this: Ah! Non, pas question. Don’t mess with it, let’s just leave it as it is and grow in trust and put that flashlight under the pillow…

Michele Szekely @2014-2021


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