I was sitting in the second seat of the second row of hard, brown chairs when the news came down. It hit me like a Sunday sermon, sending fear through my veins as if I were a little girl scrunched too tightly into the pews, the air thick with Catholic guilt and incense.

I’ve heard this news before and I know how to recognize it. The challenge is that I have also figured out how to avoid it. Recognizing this news as it is about to land, I close my ears, close my heart, and try my best to live life as if I’d never heard it, and never will again.

Why? Because I am human. Because I haven’t quite figured out how to handle this news that I’m supposed to receive. I haven’t quite figured out how to handle the fact that I’ve received it before – through other ways, forms and people – and that ultimately, I must come to accept it. One day when I am stronger, I tell myself. Goose bumps dot every pore. I shudder and suddenly wish the room had more people, or that I hadn’t chosen to sit so far in the front.

By then, having let my guard down for the seconds it took to be aware of my own reaction, it’s too late. Whether or not I’m strong enough to receive it, the news hit me. It’s suffocating, deafening, unbearable almost, in its weight.

Maybe it’s the Bible Belt Catholic in me, but the immensity of this news, of this calling, strikes fear into my heart.

Yes, fear.

The palpable kind – the kind that signals whatever you’re experiencing is real and undeniable. That it can’t be avoided. News like this is an inconvenient reminder that I am called to something bigger, and that despite my embarrassing number of attempts to deny it, the call will not be denied. Not surprising, but still freshly understood.

My thought process goes something like:

Oh, here this comes again…

*stares around room, tries to find some other distraction, literally starts praying for my ADD to kick in – p.s. why doesn’t it work when I need it to, rather than grabbing me when, say, I should be doing something important?*

…Dammit it, it’s still here. Then again, so am I. This isn’t so bad…

…Oh, wait, I remember why I hate this so much…

…This means work. This means responsibility. This means risk…

…Pfft, risk? That’s never stopped me before. I take risks all the time, and I don’t usually fail. I’m not afraid of failure! I can do this. Right?… 

*hoping to find something that will take my mind elsewhere*

…Come on. Stop lying to yourself, Ryan. It’s not a fear of failure, it’s a fear of SUCCESS. It’s a fear of your own potential, woman. It’s a fear of having to do something about it RIGHT NOW. It’s a fear of yourself as you are. What’s THAT about?…

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten, just far enough to know what’s going on. As someone more terrified by the idea of possibility than failure, the idea that I might actually be capable of something big is absolutely arresting.

So arresting, in fact, that on more than one occasion I’ve needed to move away from it. I felt the weight of that calling and my potential to answer it were too much to handle. That, ladies and gentlemen, was cowardice at work. I’m proud to say that I haven’t made a mistake of that magnitude in years, but please, add an intention to your prayer lists that I keep on the good path.

And so, my desire to avoid another moment of cowardice was the only motivation I needed to land in the second seat of the second row of those hard, brown chairs. The same hard, brown chairs where I would once more hear the call to be something beyond myself and the boundaries that, for too long, have been bolstered rather than removed.

I suppose I knew these things before I walked in the room, before I got my coffee and whole wheat muffin, before I picked up the paper with vocation in its title, before I entrenched myself in a full day of necessary discomfort.

I suppose I knew these things. So when the news hit me, like a sermon striking fear into my heart, I had only to remember: You brought yourself here. Today you are receiving the news. And that means the news is for now. That means the news is for now.  

Ryan Vale McGonigle

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