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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 I did a quick change of plane and hopped on a short flight to Geneva. Then I took the ski bus to the French resort 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 so 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 the wall. First I was surprised and puzzled but with my two hands extended, I kept “feeling” what I was encountering and it seemed more and more stranger 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 on the cord,).


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


I had a couple of very strange 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 my grandaughter is not sleeping here tonight, no need to worry about that. But the second thought was even more strange 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 fairly quickly because it seemed outlandish and was certainly not going to help me so 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, so 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 suddenly 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, in my family chalet in the Alps! 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 is gone! 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 sympathy thoughts for all the people who live in terrifying circumstances because of wars and terrorism, because of earthquakes or mud slide, because of politically unstable dangerous environment or domestic abuse… the list is very long and the news constantly remind us of such circumstances.

fear and trembling on the floor in the dark


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 humbled me. My rational brain could explain it by jet lag, travel fatigue and stress, but at the very same time, my mind knew 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 try constantly and honestly to practice what I believe in, which is faith and trust in God. It also occurred to me later on that night that I should have prayed right away…. It shows that I still need to practice to call on Christ immediately in an emergency. When I started writing about it, I thought that this whole incident really took me by surprise, but as I started to wonder about it, I did notice that, by then, I had downgraded it from terror to incident.


- Should I write about it? I mulled it over for a couple of 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 kindness 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!
- But foremost in my mind is the fact that it is liberating for me to be able to now laugh about it. Plus writing, journaling, articulating as clearly as possible a personal incident is very cathartic. When I think of myself trying to touch and feel each furniture in the dark, I now find it foolish enough to smile about it!


- Am I reminding everyone to pray when in need? Oh Yes, I have no problem with that, putting myself in the first ones needing to be reminded to “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 needed 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 and put it in alignment with the one in SF. But by 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…


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